“Birth of the Dragon” stars Philip Ng, Xia Yu, Jin Xing, and Billy Magnussen. Released on August 25, 2017, the film is about a young martial artist who challenges a kung fu master to a duel.
The film is directed by George Nolfi, who also directed The Adjustment Bureau and wrote screenplays for films such as Ocean’s Twelve and The Sentinel. This may come as a shock to you guys, but…I haven’t watch a lot of Bruce Lee movies. I remember watching parts of Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, which is a biopic of Lee’s life, but the films that actually starred Bruce Lee? Not a single one. But that doesn’t prevent me from checking this film out. What’s interesting about this action film is that it mainly focuses on the younger Bruce Lee and his controversial fight with Shaolin Master Wong Jack Man. Before then, I never even heard about this part in Lee’s life, mostly because I wasn’t that interested in learning about the personal lives of certain celebrities. So you’re probably wondering what I thought about this so-called “biopic”. Well, I thought it was fine. It’s not as great as I wanted it to be, but I somehow had fun watching it.
While the film is inspired by an actual event, it does add a few different things into its 90-minute running time. One of them being the focus of the protagonist, who is, in fact, not Bruce Lee. Yep, the film decided to place its focus on one of his students, Steve McKee, who is played by Billy Magnussen. I thought his performance was decent, but I can definitely understand that this strategy will upset a lot of Bruce Lee fans, especially since his character’s motives weren’t as highly interesting as Lee’s. Speaking of which, Philip Ng did a very nice job portraying the young martial artist. It’s not the best portrayal I’ve seen, but he managed to make his character fun to watch at times. The action sequences that are portrayed in the film, especially the fight between Lee and Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu), were my personal highlight, in my opinion, thanks to action choreographer Corey Yuen. The action was swift and very entertaining without the over-reliance of heavy editing. As for the story itself, it’s not worth remembering compared to the actual Bruce Lee films. The film is like a phony Bruce Lee film that has Lee as a supporting character, with the main character being…Billy Magnussen. I appreciate the fact that they had it take place during the early days of kung fu in America, but its execution on its storytelling fell very flat right from the get go. Even the characters lacked the right amount of depth to emphasize the reason why the film must be seen. It had a good setting and it had a very interesting concept, but it wasn’t able to take full advantage of them, and that is a darn shame.
Overall, “Birth of the Dragon” lacked the proper balance of its soul despite its entertainment values. As a biopic, it didn’t pack that much of a punch (or a kick) due to its weak storyline and its lack of strong characters. As an action-packed drama that acts like a phony Bruce Lee film, it’s a fun watch. I thought Philip Ng’s performance was enjoyable and the action was nicely choreographed and well-shot, even though everything else is simply uninspired. If you’re interested in seeing it regardless, I would recommend either watching it at a matinee price or wait for a rental. As for the die-hard fans of Bruce Lee, well, that’s completely up to them.