Put away the nunchuks Bruce Lee enthusiasts, this piece is only loosely based on true events; that event being the widely mistold bout between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man in 1965. It is told once more by director George Nolf (The Adjustment Bureau) and writers Stephen J. Rivele (Ali) and Christopher Wilkinson (Nixon), in a way that might let you down when it comes to story development, still manages to raise you up due to the electric portrayal of Bruce Lee by rising talent Philip Ng (Invisible Target).
For those ignorant to this famous bout it was best told by Linda Lee Cadwell – the wife of Bruce Lee for nine years up until his passing. During Lee’s attempts at spreading Kung Fu to all kinds of people, be it women or men, black or white, a Shaolin monk got wind of this and decided to let Lee know about his disapproval. This sparked an invitation from Lee to Wong to take part in a no holds barred fight, which after a measly three minutes, Lee managed to force Wong to accept defeat. Due to the fight having taken place privately with only a handful of spectators invited (Linda being one of those), the telling of it had been bent and twisted and snapped into two manageable pieces to suit what the public would’ve preferred to have happened.
The way that this moves away from what’s been said before is specifically the length and development of the bout itself and the inclusion of the damsel in distress and the hopeless romantic played by Jingjing Qu (Peking Willow) and Billy Magnussen (The Big Short). This was included both for dramatic effect and due to the creative decision in having Wong Jack Man being portrayed as a calm individual with no intention to fight. With that in place, Wong’s given a reason to fight Lee and that reason is to free the damsel Steve is infatuated by, from the gangsters that keep her captive working in their restaurant.
Since Lee’s passing he’s been imitated and cloned for years by aspiring actors hoping to gain success, yet given the demands of portraying such a man of numerous physical feats, not many have succeed. Philip NG has managed to be excluded from that long list of failed attempts and put himself under the light, alongside the memorable performance by Jason Scott Lee in Dragon: A Bruce Lee Story. Given Philip’s years of training in mixed martial arts he came able and had the freedom to focus on other areas in order to portray Lee accurately, one of which being his accent.
With credits such as Fast & Furious (2009) and Man of Steel (2013), it’s no surprise that this piece came with a distinctive aesthetic by the talented hands of Amir Mokri, which only managed to encourage the piece from feeling uninteresting on both the eyes and the ears. The disappointment lies within the predictable plot – giving the viewer the assumption that the piece was produced NOT for a strong thinking audience but rather those willing to sit through an all too familiar story.
It should be understood that if your intention of viewing this film is solely for the benefit of being entertained, this piece won’t disappoint. It’ll also provide all the many fans of Bruce Lee another piece to binge watch in admiration of an individual that influenced more change than anyone thought possible. George Nolf has provided an entertaining tribute.
Dir: George Nolfi
Scr: Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson
Cast: Philip Ng, Billy Magnussen, Yu Xia, Jingjing Qu
Prd: Jason Blum, Michael J. Luisi, Kelly Mullen
DOP: Amir Mokri
Music: H. Scott Salinas, Reza Safinia
Runtime: 95 mins
Birth of the Dragon is released on DVD & Blu Ray on the 4th of June 2018