Birth of the Dragon (2016)
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Birth of the Dragon will pull in fans off the street by claiming to tell the story of Bruce Lee, an iconic figure in American history. However, they may be surprised to find that the movie actually has very little to say about Lee. About his love life. About who he is as a human being. In fact, he is dealt with in such a stylized, mysterious manner -- and not as a full human being -- it's unclear the movie gives the viewer anything more than he already knew. Instead, Lee's primary purpose is to serve the white protagonist Steve McKnee in various ways.
First, the film gives short shrift to the actual epic fight between Lee and his rival. We do not even know how that fight impacted Lee's life afterwards, what he learned from it, or how it changed his fighting style. But we do know Lee went through all that trouble, and the animating force behind it was that Lee's rival was against Caucasians like McKnee being trained to fight. What's happening here is that - this really isn't about Lee. It's more about some character we've never heard of but somehow has the country's greatest martial arts fighter fighting on his behalf.
It doesn't end there. Lee, a role model for Americans, including Asian-Americans, is seen as flat. He is shown as without a romantic interest. In contrast, McKnee has an Asian Girlfriend...and lo and behold he needs Lee to fight for him again to get the girlfriend back after she's abducted by "bad Asians". And Lee does.
I think we came to watch Bruce Lee. Not Bruce Lee aid some random fictional nobody on his mission to belong, and then his mission to get back said nobody's girlfriend.
In the idea that the "birth of the dragon" was the transition from Bruce Lee's generic focus of Kung Fu and other martial arts into the consolidated uniform art of Jeet Kune Do, this movie highlighted the event that sparked that transition in an entertaining way. Combining some historical information with an enticing cinematic focus, intertwined with some fictional inclusions of characters and story for the sake of making it an entertainment film rather than direct informational documentary, I was satisfied overall with the viewing and find that it paid decent homage to the memory of Bruce Lee by showing a human element of imperfection during the beginning of his career.
Allowing us to see into the information of his time before becoming a cultural icon was refreshing, and influenced me to read into Lee's history during those years and before. Again, the film does include uses of fictional elements in order to help propel the story in a standard acceptable for entertaining viewership, and as such does not convey an entirely truthful set of events, only a summary with cinematic filler.
I recommend seeing this film to see what you think of it, and afterwards reading about the events around the conflict between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man yourself, as there are some interesting details to be found.
Stop focusing on what is dividing this country today because this country is made up of EVERYBODY, and all colors.
Here are the 3 angles: This was a 3 dimensional movie about how people grow (not literally) because of 3 main characters: #1 Steve - He went from "I learn Kung Fu to gain respect," (self) to "I am willing to die for someone else." (love others unconditionally). Personally, he was a stumbling, bumbling quirky guy with a quirky Asian friend (there were amusing parts to their characters.) #2 WJM - He learned from nearly killing someone to being able to have self control. Thus, he liberated himself from his tormented past. (Wouldn't it be nice to learn from your past and be victorious when presented with a similar challenge?) #3 Bruce - He went from bragging all the time to learning some humility and maturity (even working together to form 2 heroes that saved many women's lives in the end.) He learned how to liberate his own style and re-create himself so he definitely grew into an even more awesome martial artist and STAR.
What a powerful, inspiring life message for us all! THANK YOU director for honoring these things: respect for one another (WJM and Bruce), teamwork, living unselfishly, wisdom of Kung Fu, self-actualization. Asians win, Whites win. the beautiful Asian art of Kung Fun wins. Win - WIn.
It turns out Birth of the Dragon was NEITHER, giving the focus instead to an obscure side character, and failing to entertain on the action front.
First, let's talk about the pacing. After slogging through the first half of the film, we finally get to the fight that's been promised, which actually turns out OK. But after that, we're dragged through a shoehorned side-plot about the side character's love life, which feels quite empty after it's been resolved.
After leaving the theaters in disbelief that I actually spent money on this movie, I looked on the internet for alternatives to scratch my action flick itch.
Lo and behold, the 1993 biopic DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY was a MUCH better action film, and a fantastic character study on the legend of a man we know today.
Overall, if you're looking for a biopic, skip this movie and watch DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY instead. If you're looking for an action film, watch literally ANY OTHER movie than this one.
The movie shows a younger extremely talented Bruce Lee that maybe had one final thing to learn from a Master before making a notable adjustment into becoming his best self. I'm not sure if that was how he was in real life at the time or if this is an inaccurate portrayal. But it says in the Movie that Bruce did notably alter his fighting style after the event.
I didn't regret watching the movie. Would watch again in a month or so with people people who haven't seen it.(Also if anyone cares to know Bruce Lee is truly an inspiration in my life and I honestly don't think this movie shames him...)
It is a shameful act by the writers and the directors of the movie to use Bruce Lee's fame to dupe his worldwide fans into watching this piece of junk.
If I can give it 0 out of 10, I would; but unfortunately it's only have a rating scale of 1 to 10. Avoid this movie at all cost if you're a Bruce Lee's fan.
It's perspective forces the viewer to indulge in racism against people of color. The racism is very subversive and is spread by more than just one movie. Movies like these are bountiful in Hollywood(denigrating Asian culture).
I noticed a very disturbing pattern in Hollywood. They do not want Asian men in the lead role even in their own biopic.
In 1964, Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) is a skilled and cocky master teacher running his own Bay Area martial arts studio. He also has some of his students appear in crude Kung Fu movies which Lee produces, directs, writes and stars in. Lee is a controversial figure, both in central California and even back in Asia for his teaching emphasis on "kicking ass" over spirituality, for turning Kung Fu into mass entertainment and (especially) for teaching Caucasians. One of those students is Steve McKee (Billy Magnussen, playing a fictionalized version of actor Steve McQueen, a real-life student of Lee's). Steve is a promising student, but increasingly has doubts about Lee's philosophy and whether Lee can help him reach his potential.
And then Lee learns that a famous Chinese martial artist Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia) is coming to San Francisco, but isn't sure why. He thinks it's because Wong wants to spy on him. Or maybe Wong wants to punish Lee for teaching Kung Fu to whites. Either way, Lee is unswayed and unafraid. Steve's attitude is different, however. He is intrigued by the new arrival and eventually gravitates to Wong and his more spiritual approach to life – and Kung Fu – and tries to persuade the master to take him on as a student. Meanwhile, Steve becomes an intermediary between Lee and Wong, delivering messages between the two rivals as they challenge each other and then negotiate the terms of one decisive, high-stakes fight.
This is where the veracity of the film's story gets even murkier. The set-up for this battle royale involves a fictional young Chinese woman named Xiulan (Jingjing Qu). She, as many others like her, was brought to the U.S. by a Chinese crime lord called Auntie Blossom (Jin Xing) who forces these girls into servitude – sometimes of the domestic variety – and sometimes in one of her "houses". Steve falls in love with Xiulan and wants to free her from her virtual slavery. Xiulan's fate becomes part of the motivation for the Lee-Wong match. Such a fight between the two men did actually take place, but it happened indoors, it was not filmed and there were relatively few witnesses. Consequently, reports of the fight – from how long it lasted to who won – have varied widely from the very beginning and remain a source of controversy to this day. The movie's portrayal of the fight is very entertaining and it does take sides in how it shows the fight playing out, but the actual fight sequence and its aftermath in the film's story can only be viewed from the perspective of significant creative license. However, one aspect of the fight's result does stand on its own merits. That being the significant impact the fight had on Lee's continuing rise to fame and on his style as a martial artist. No spoilers here, but you can read all about it online.
"Birth of the Dragon" is an entertaining piece of biopic fiction. But Movie Fans' reactions will depend on how they view the large amount of fictionalization in the story (including forcing that story into a recognizable Hollywood formula) – and what they think of how the climactic fight is portrayed. Based on Michael Dorgan's article, "Bruce Lee's Toughest Fight", screen writing partners (and Oscar nominees) Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson ("Nixon", "Ali", "Pawn Sacrifice") and director George Nolfi ("The Adjustment Bureau") give us an interesting version of actual events. Action movie and martial arts fans will likely be entertained, while dedicated Bruce Lee fans will probably be intrigued, if nothing else. (Although some will find the emphasis on Steve McKee's character unnecessarily distracting). Through the pleasing efforts of the filmmakers, the serviceable acting of the supporting cast and the fairly strong performances of Phillip Ng, Yu Xia and Billy Rasmussen, Movie Fans get an unspectacular, but enjoyable story which reveals at least some truths about the rise of one of the greatest and most influential martial artists of all time. "B+"
Birth of the Dragon is a fictional retelling of the real fight between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man. Most of the story focuses on the lead up to the big fight and the growing tension between Lee's "street" approach to Kung Fu and Wong's "spiritual" approach. Eventually this leads to Lee challenging Wong to a no holds barred fight that is as much a fight against the lead character's inner selves and martial arts philosophies, as it is against each other. Ultimately the fight between Lee and Wong leads Lee to fundamentally re-evaluate his fighting style and shows him grow and mature as a person, and an instructor, into the man the world usually associates with Bruce Lee.
The story uses the fictional character of Steve McKee as a link between Lee and Wong, a pseudo narrator, and a catalyst for the film's final act. McKee is often used as comic relief, utilizing a fish-out-of-water type of comedy as he struggles to understand Chinese martial arts culture. Contrary to one of the film's more negative criticisms, McKee is at best a secondary character to Lee and Wong, the every-man standing in the shadow of giants. This is amply demonstrated in the film's final act where McKee rushes in to save his love interest from the Triad and promptly gets his you know what kicked. Fortunately for McKee, Lee and Wong arrive to save the day in what is one of the most satisfying conclusions to a martial arts film in years.
Birth of the Dragon does have it's faults. The film had a limited budget and this is sometimes apparent in the set pieces and costumes.
This film has received a surprising amount of negative criticism and negative reviews most of which appear to have been made by people who didn't actually watch the film. Here are some problems with those criticisms.
1. There is no "whitewashing" in this film. Lee, Wong and many other characters are played by Asian actors. McKee is a fictional character. Can anyone actually point to a charter that was whitewashed?
2. The film is not anti-Asian. It portrays Lee and Wong as virtual supermen. Lee is initially portrayed as being "cocky" (something that has been said about the real Lee on multiple occasions), but he matures through the film. Some people appear to consider this racist. This criticism completely ignores Wong, who is portrayed as the best/wisest/most ethical person in the film by far.
3. The film focuses primary on Lee and Wong, McKee's story is important but serves as little more than a vehicle to advance the narrative of Lee and Wong (and to provide more fight scenes).
Please note that this film is a work of fiction and does not closely reflect history. Hong Kong martial arts movies have been doing this for years with both Bruce Lee, and his teacher, Ip Man (as well as NUMEROUS other historical figures) and this film's approach is similar to those.
All in all Birth of the Dragon was a surprisingly enjoyable film. Viewers should ignore the nit-picking criticism and watch the film for what it is, a fun piece of historical fiction in the vein of Hong Kong martial arts movies.
Second, Bruce is portrayed as aggressor, which he was not. Wong Jack Man challenged him because he was teaching Westerners. He did not want Chinese teaching Kung Fu to Americans.
Third, there is a pause in the fight? To declare a winner? No way! Bruce beat Wong in a matter of minutes! The fact that it took what he considered to be too long is what led Bruce to start the formulation of Jeet Kune Do. That fight made him start thinking about how fighting could be more efficient.
This film is garbage. It made me throw up a little bit in the back of my mouth to watch this travesty.
The things they got right: It portrays Bruce as an Asian. It takes place in the 60's. That's about it.
Did I say that this is garbage? Because it's garbage.
This is my first review. It is garbage. Complete and total garbage.
To this day Kung Fu is secretive and not self promoting. When Bruce decided to break from this tradition of being humble, not promoting Kung Fu, etc. he made a lot of enemies (which may have lead to his demise).
Many people were triggered by the idea that moving to Cali from Hong Kong and attempting to get into the movie biz was seen as treason by many in South China and was distinctly self promoting. They Idolize him, rather than seeing him as a person that was obviously once young and possibly silly like we all are and had to grow up.
If you want a story that portrays Bruce as a real person and not the caricature he played in his movies, which many in the west now Idolize, then this film is the one for you.
This is A STORY of how Bruce Lee became the Bruce Lee we all think we know and love, and it's fantastic.
THE KUNG FU IS AWESOME TOO. =D
I have practiced Kung Fu in Hong Kong and can't wait to show this movie to my extended family/Kung Fu practitioners that are about what Bruce's age would be if he were alive today and have more of a mixed/broad/different range of emotions when you mention Bruce Lee's name.
On an additional note about all the calls of racism. I have no idea what these people are talking about. The white guy is just a Kung Fu novice (Bruce's student) and gets beat up several times. He is used as the glue for the story binding Lee and Jack Man, but that's it, he doesn't save the day or anything. There is no white washing... and there is nothing Anti-China... the scenes in China are amazing and this level of reverence for Kung Fu is rare when compared to the other Kung Fu movies I have seen.
Bruce's Grandma was white, but hey whose counting, people just like to get upset when they can about skin color, etc.
This movie is an 8 IMO, but I am giving it a 10 to counter all the triggered folks that went over board on the 1s.
Article the movie is inspired by: http://www.kungfu.net/brucelee.html
I must admit, I am a big Bruce Lee fan. This is based loosely on an article written by Michael Dorgan called 'Bruce Lee's Toughest Fight'. When Bruce Lee first came to San Francisco in the early 1960's-and before he became famous-there was a fight between him and a Shaolin Kung Fu monk that supposedly changed people's lives, both his and the monk's. Bruce had opened a martial arts school and taught anyone that wanted to learn. Most of the Chinese martial artist did not like Bruce teaching non-Asians and let him know it-usually by getting into fights. Wong Jack Man was a Shaolin master that came to San Francisco for reasons of his own, but ended up getting into the legendary fight with the up and coming Bruce Lee in an abandoned warehouse that only about a dozen people witnessed. Philip plays Bruce and Yu plays Wong. Billy plays one of Bruce's students-the lone Caucasian in the film- that is based loosely on one of Bruce's real life students, Steve McQueen. Here, he is called Steve McKee and in my opinion, he could have been left out of the movie-he had a side story that was not that interesting. The actual fight is pretty good with both men getting some lumps as well as giving some-it wasn't lopsided in either man's favor. After this fight, Bruce developed his own fighting style, Jeet Kune Do, which in itself is the forefather of mixed martial arts. It's rated "PG-13" for martial arts violence and language and has a running time of 1 hour & 43 minutes. I enjoyed the fight scenes and I would buy this one on DVD.
The script is cheesy in parts but the core story rings true.
Bruce Lee was a bully. The script gets that right.