The legend of Bruce Lee knows no bounds, man is considered by many to be the baddest man to walk the planet. If you are a man who is at least in your late 20s, you probably grew up watching all the ass-kicking great films of Bruce Lee from Enter The Dragon, Fists of Fury, and Game of Death. The legend of Bruce Lee has only grown nearly 35 years after his death…so some people may be upset that Birth of the Dragon, a film produced by WWE Films of all places, isn’t exactly the Bruce Lee film you are expecting.
The film is based on the private fight between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man that has been a controversial topic to this very day because only a few people actually saw the fight first hand. Lots of different accounts about what happened that day, but with no video evidence, no one really knows for certain. Given the heated accounts of that fight from both sides, the writers had to change a lot of the story around to be respectable to both Lee and Wong, however, this also handicaps the story from being something so much better.
Set in San Francisco during the mid-1960s, before Bruce Lee was the megastar we all know him as he was an up and coming movie star by night and a Kung Fu teacher by day. Bruce ran a small Dojo where he drew ire from some in the community for teaching Kung Fu to Americans, more especially whites. When legendary Shaolin monk, Wong Jack Man, arrives in San Francisco, Lee is convinced that he is here to destroy everything that Lee has built in America. Lee is convinced he must fight Wong Jack Man and defeat him if he is to protect his legacy.
The details of the fight between Wong and Lee are controversial as both sides claim many different accounts of the story and neither was happy with the other’s account. So to do a retelling of this story while being respectful to both parties involved, the film creates a third man named Steve McKee who plays the medium between the two fighters. McKee plays a student of Bruce who serves as the moderator between Lee and Wong. Steve’s story arc with him trying to save a girl from the world of human trafficking allows the film portray the conflict between the two martial artists in a positive light instead of a show of ego that it was. Many of you expecting this to be a biopic of the life of Bruce Lee will be sorely disappointed because this film is about the conflict with Lee and Wong, not a life story of either.
The problem with having Steve be a central character is that the story has to hit all the action movie clichés to stay balanced. They handcuff themselves in trying not to offend the two iconic figures that they limit what they can do explaining the motivations of the fight. The fight scenes are well done, but not spectacular same goes for the acting.
Birth of the Dragon only scratches the surface of the life of Bruce Lee and the biggest crime here is that the runtime doesn’t allow a greater story to be told. With that said the film is fine and is at least enjoyable, but if you are looking for a more in-depth story about the battle these two had in the bowels of the Bay Area, you are better off doing your own research.