Movie Reviews

Birth of the Dragon – A Terrible Bait and Switch

If you would like to know more about the infamous battle between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man, click here. The article will do a much better job than this film ever will.

Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of 1960s San Francisco, BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is a modern take on the classic movies that Bruce Lee was known for. It takes its inspiration from the epic and still controversial showdown between an up-and-coming Bruce Lee and Kung Fu master Wong Jack Man – a battle that gave birth to a legend.  (IMDB)

Starring: Philip Ng, Yu Xia, and Billy Magnussen

Writers: Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson

Director: George Nolfi

Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (United States)

Running Time: 103mins

Trailer: 

For showtimes and more, check out Birth of the Dragon on movietimes.com.

For those who don’t know, this film has countless 1-star reviews on IMDB and after watching it, this was understandable considering that this has to be one of the most deceiving films in years, perhaps in the last decade. A film about Bruce Lee and his battle with the Kung Fu master Wong Jack Man is an interesting enough concept on paper and the trailers looked cool but the problem was that the film was none of that at all.

Sure the battle was there, however, it was a smaller than expected part of the rest of the story. Bruce Lee (Ng) and Wong Jack Man (Xia) were relegated to secondary characters in a story in a boring and unoriginal love story involving a bland man named Steve (Magnussen), who was one of Lee’s students, and a woman named Xiulan Quan (Jingjing Qu). This led to their battle but it did so in a very contrived way.

There are many differing accounts of the infamous battle as there is no physical record of it but basically, Chinese martial artists wanted to keep Kung Fu within China so they frowned against its teaching to non-Asians. Being secondary to the love story, these cultural issues were pretty much irrelevant to the story. In the film, Bruce Lee was an arrogant jerk and Wong Jack Man was an exiled zen master pulled into action to give Lee an attitude adjustment.

The final battle could have redeemed the rest of the film although just like the rest of the film, it was underwhelming. It was so overproduced that it removed any potential excitement. Things like unnecessary camera effects and an obtrusive score took away from what was happening which was a shame because the best part of the film was the fight choreography. It was also unfortunate that there was very little of it seeing that this is a martial arts (adjacent) film.

The acting was mediocre and extremely cheesy across the board but that was more due to the terrible script and direction than anything else. The dialogue was terrible, bordering on cringe-worthy and the characters were unlikable. Ng and Xia had decent chemistry as Lee and Wong Jack Man, however, it just got wasted here. Magnussen was the worst by far as he simply looked lost (and not just because he was the only white actor in a predominantly Asian cast) and never fit.

Overall, this was a bait and switch where people thinking that they’ll get a Bruce Lee biopic will get a contrived, convoluted, and cheesy pseudo-action film with decent fight choreography but also with a terrible script, terrible directing, and mediocre performances.

Score: 3.5/10

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