Birth of the Dragon

First Hit:  Although this is a poorly done film, I liked knowing more about what it took for Bruce Lee to create his empire.

The sad part of about this film is that it didn’t make the real story the main subject of the film. What came on to the screen was a love story between one of Lee’s students and women who was enslaved by the owner of a Chinese restaurant. However, there was enough in the film about how Lee learned there was more to Kung Fu than just the physicality, to make me sit through the rest of the drama.

Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) was a self-promoting wizard who wanted his Kung Fu school to grow and do well. He is driven by money and fame and will try anything to achieve this, even trying to create a homemade film. Because he teaches both white and Asian students, his school and method are frowned upon by the traditional Chinese martial arts based community.

One school that frowns upon his technique is the Chinese Shaolin Temple and order of priests who use Kung Fu. Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia) is a priest from this Shaolin Temple. He comes to America because he’s serving penance for almost killing someone during a demonstration match. He decides to do this by working in a restaurant as a dishwasher.

One of Lee’s students, a white man named Steve McKee (Billy Magnussen), wants to meet Man and heads to the dock to meet him as he arrives in the US by boat. Lee learns of this and leverages this connection to send a message to Man. He tells McKee to tell Man that Lee wants to challenge him to a fight. Lee knows that if he wins this sort of challenge, it'l raise his popularity and create more fame and money. Man refuses to fight him.

Here is where the film fails to be true to the real story, McKee asks Man to fight Lee to free a woman, Xiulan Quan (Jingjing Qu), from the clutches Janet Wei (Lillian Lim) owner of a famous Chinese restaurant and the person for whom McKee has fallen in love with. That Man fights Lee for this reason, denigrates the story, but supposedly makes it palatable to a wider audience.

In the end Lee does learn something about fighting from his heart. Man learns that Kung Fu can be spread beyond China. McKee gets the girl.

The choreography of the major fight scene was splendid at times and other times seemed a bit forced.

Ng was OK, outside of a few Bruce Lee type squeals while fighting, I didn’t get a "Bruce Lee" from his performance. I got someone who wanted to imitate Lee. Xia was strong and I liked what he brought to the part. McKee was a OK for a character that wasn’t really part of the real story being portrayed here. Qu was sweet in her role as enslaved love interest. Lim was good as the woman in-charge of the restaurant and the Tong she commanded. Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson wrote a very altered screenplay from the real story. George Nolfi did a good job directing most of the fight scenes, but the story and screenplay, lacked a level of authenticity that took away from the real story.

Overall:  I liked the film conceptually more than its reality.