Birth of the Dragon doesn’t look like it will become the definitive depiction of Bruce Lee’s life and there were a few things which irked me but it’s a fun Saturday night movie with plenty of fight scenes and a likable cast.
Plot: Young, up-and-coming martial artist, Bruce Lee, challenges legendary kung fu master Wong Jack Man to a no-holds-barred fight in Northern California.
Review: A new movie based on the life of Bruce Lee is always exciting but when the trailer appeared for Birth of the Dragon the other day fans were immediately up in arms as this story looked heavily fictionalized. I don’t know every detail of Bruce Lee’s life so I couldn’t tell you what is real or made up but if you can put that to the side you might end up enjoying the movie.
The story is set before Bruce Lee goes to Hollywood and takes place in San Francisco with Lee as a sifu to a group of students including a wayward young man called Steve McKee (Billy Magnussen).
Philip Ng isn’t exactly a dead ringer for Bruce Lee looks-wise but he has a few of his mannerisms and he clearly has the martial arts skills; alas there is a little bit of wirework which doesn’t make sense in a movie which is meant to be set in the real world. There isn’t a lot but a few moments irritated me as it looked unconvincing and took me out of the fights.
The biggest surprise about the movie was the incredibly light tone which made it practically a comedy; there is a lot of humour which keeps thing breezy but while watching my main thought was “wow, Bruce Lee was a bit of a dick” which I’m sure he wasn’t but that’s how he was portrayed in this movie.
He comes across as incredibly arrogant and almost more like the villain compared to Yu Xia’s tranquil Wong Jack Man. While watching I wasn’t thinking I wanted Bruce Lee to win; I wanted Wong Jack Man to teach him some humility which isn’t something I ever thought I would have said.
The film is incredibly well paced however, with fight scenes every few minutes and despite the odd piece of wirework they are well done with fluid camera work so you can see everything that goes on. The fight between Lee and Wong is satisfying but don’t expect much in the way of blood as this looks like it will be a PG-13 movie.
Billy Magnussen’s Steve McKee was likable enough but a little bland and his side story wasn’t nearly as interesting as Lee’s/Wong Jack Man’s. Why is he even the main focus of the story when we’re all here to see Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man?
The movie is never less than fun though and like I said the light tone keeps things moving. Our audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy the film and there was a lot of laughter throughout so it seemed to have been popular.
Overall, Birth of the Dragon doesn’t look like it will become the definitive depiction of Bruce Lee’s life and there were a few things which irked me but it’s a fun Saturday night movie with plenty of fight scenes and a likable cast.