• Guy Jeffries

Birth of the Dragon


Director: George Nolfi.

Starring: Philip Ng, Yu Xia, Billy Magnussen, Jingjing Qu.

I’m always going to take the bait when it comes to the iconic Bruce Lee. So when a film such as this boasts to tells an untold history of the legendary martial artist, my intrigue is automatically peaked. Bruce Lee is somewhat of a hero of mine, an inspiration having watched his films since childhood and being a proud owner of his insightful Tao of Jeet Kune Do. So could my opinion of both Bruce and this film be slightly warped?

Adjustment Bureau writer/director George Nolfi, gives us a film based on a 1980 Official Karate Magazine article “Bruce Lee’s toughest fight” written by Michael Dorgan which attempts to detail the controversial and unruly-anything-goes fight between Lee and Shaolin Kung Fu master, Wong Jack Man back in December 1964 in Oakland, California.

A fight that only a handful of people witnessed, with the number of them still being in dispute today about the duration of said battle. It is said, as the title of the article suggests, Bruce Lee’s hardest fight and reputed to be the confrontation that changed his perspective on his classic style of Wing Chun, stating it to be too restrictive and ineffective; possibly resulting in the birth of Lee’s very own fighting style Jeet Kune Do.

But strangely, the film doesn’t actually remain focused on Lee and switches unceremoniously between Wong Jack Man and another character adeptly named Steve McKee; being quite the obvious hint at Hollywood legend Steve McQueen, who was training with Lee at the time, among other famous Hollywood greats.

Whilst Ng does a good convincing and brave portrayal of Lee, the character feels more of a support than instead of being the star. I say brave because the film does dare to portray Lee unfavourable as an egotistical narcissist. Ng’s uncanny likeness and physical performance certainly does Lee justice, myself even preferring him to Jason Scott-Lee’s performance in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and Kwok-Kwan Chan from Ip Man 3 and The Legend Of Bruce Lee TV Series.

It’s hard to comment on Yu Xia’s performance as Wong Jack Man simply because very little is actually known or seen of him. What I do know is that the real life man is a legend in his own right. Not much can be said for Magnussen’s performance especially if supposedly being McQueen, he’s done the king of cool absolute no justice.

The story itself flickers about faster than Bruce Lee’s punches though the film in its entirety lacks any impact any of the characters so deserves. It’s sadly overdramatised, more so towards the grand finale where both fighters become somewhat superhuman making the story totally unbelievable to an almost disrespectful and comical level.

What could have saved this film from being a totally shame, would have been the action sequences, but unfortunately it’s way below par of any decent martial art film; it’s messy, especially when it goes from mediocre, grounded street brawls to over-elaborated and unrealistic Kung fu fights.

I’m not sure what Bruce Lee would think of such a film, but I’m pretty sure Wong Jack Man would either care very little or have utter disgust for the film. It truly lacks the respect and honour to make this a worthy Bruce Lee picture.

Running Time: 6

The Cast: 4

Performance: 4

Direction: 4

Story: 6

Script: 5

Creativity: 7

Soundtrack: 5

Job Description: 2

The Extra Bonus Point: -5 for being misleading.

38% 4/10

#GeorgeNolfi #PhilipNg #YuXia #BillyMagnussen #JingjingQu #YueWu #SimonYin #TerryChen #RezaSafinia #HScottSalinas