Martial arts movies have a long history of fictionalizing real-life people. It’s happened countless times with Wong Fei-hung, who’s been portrayed on film by Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Sammo Hung, among others. There’s also Shaolin monk San Te, who was turned into a screen icon by Lau-Kar Leung and Gordon Liu in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Shaolin Master Killer). And of course, we have a few different Ip Man movies, most notably starring Donnie Yen.
It looks like Bruce Lee will be getting that fictional treatment now thanks to Birth of the Dragon, a movie we first reported on back in 2013. While 1993’s Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story was estate-approved, I’m not sure the family of Bruce Lee was involved in this new film. Hong Kong star Philip Ng (Once Upon a Time in Shanghai) portrays Lee in the movie.
Give the Birth of the Dragon trailer a watch below.
The film looks heavily fictionalized even though it’s inspired by true events, to a point where it seems totally fiction. The outsider perspective on Bruce Lee is off-putting to me as well. I’m much more interested in Bruce Lee than the trailer’s narrator, and while I understand the need for an audience surrogate in certain situations, this doesn’t seem like a good use of that trope at first glance. I also wonder about the depiction of Bruce Lee as a cocky braggart prone to thumbing his nose and thumb-pointing. It misses out on the poetry and philosophy that Lee brought to the martial arts as he developed Jeet Kune Do.
Still, I’m interested in the clash in martial arts philosophy, though, which seems like it could be a strong exploration of tradition and expansion. I mean, that may be part of the Asian-American experience of immigration and cultural assimilation in a nutshell. And the fights look all right, which means Ng must have had say in how they’re choreographed.
Here’s an official synopsis for Birth of the Dragon:
An affectionate nod to the classic Kung Fu films of the 1970s, BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is a dramatization of the true life but much disputed fight between Kung Fu greats Bruce Lee and Shaolin Master Wong Jack Man in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1964. Based on Michael Dorgan’s magazine article, “Bruce Lee’s Toughest Fight,” the film is written by Chris Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele, the Oscar-nominated screenwriters of “Ali” and “Nixon”. They wove together many conflicting accounts of the actual fight and added in fictional characters Steve McKee (based on Steve McQueen who studied with Bruce Lee in the later 60s) and female lead Xiulan, whose fates become entwined in the outcome of the fight. A tribute to the films of Bruce Lee, that inspired generations of martial arts fans, the film is directed by George Nolfi (“The Adjustment Bureau”) and stars Phillip Ng, Xia Yu and Billy Magnussen. The Chinese/American co-production is produced by Kylin and Groundswell.
What do you think? Will Bruce Lee become a cinematic folk hero like Wong Fei-hung or Ip Man? Is that something you think should happen? Let us know in the comments.[via Collider]