"Mediocre Martial Arts Flick About the Legendary Bruce Lee"
What You Need To Know:
BIRTH OF THE DRAGON has lots of promise, but struggles to take off due to cringe-worth acting from Philip Ng [“Eng”] as Bruce Lee. Taking Bruce’s brashness, and exaggerating it to the nth degree without adding humanity makes it hard to root for him. Ultimately, BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is mostly appealing to fans of martial arts movies. It has some positive moral elements. Also, the violence is fairly moderate. However, there’s some light foul language and false religious ideas and philosophies in BIRTH OF THE DRAGON.
(PaPaPa, FRFRFR, BB, LL, VV, S, N, A, D, M) Very strong, sometimes mixed pagan worldview promoting Buddhist teachings, Eastern philosophies and prayers to ancestors, with some strong moral elements about the importance of learning when to fight and when not to fight, standing up for and protecting the helpless and weak, and being willing to give your life to worthy causes; 20 light obscenities (mostly a**) and one light profanity; moderate violence includes lots of hand-to-hand combat and martial arts fighting (nothing too brutal, but a man’s arm is broken), men are beat to a pulp (little blood shown), and a man’s chest is cut; no sexual scenes, but a reference to women being forced to work in brothels; upper male nudity; light drinking; smoking of cigarettes; and arrogance from main character.
BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is a martial arts action movie about the legendary martial arts instructor and pop culture icon Bruce Lee. This movie takes place before Bruce Lee made his big break on the television show THE GREEN HORNET, and the fight that influenced his career and birthed the Jeet Kune Do style of fighting from Bruce Lee.
Living in San Francisco in 1965, Bruce Lee is on the outs with the Chinese community because he teaches Caucasians Kung Fu in his martial arts studio. He’s also trying to break into the TV and movie world, which he believes could make him a big star. One of his students is Steve McKee, a young man from Indiana with too much aggression, but an eagerness to learn all he can about Kung Fu.
When Wong Jack Man, a Shaolin Master from China arrives in San Francisco, Lee’s sure that Wong is there to shut his school down. Meanwhile, Steve is infatuated by Wong, a master of martial arts who’s a legend in his own right. Wong tells Steve he’s not in China because he made a mistake, and he needs to humble himself in America by washing dishes at a cafe until his “soul is wiped clean.”
Steve convinces Wong to teach him what he knows about Kung Fu. Wong’s temperament is much more calm and subdued, while Lee is brash, arrogant and prides himself on teaching street fighting. Also, Steve falls for a waitress, Xiulan, who works at the restaurant run by Chinese gangsters. Xiulan was smuggled into America by the criminals who now own her, and Steve’s determined to help her.
Bruce Lee keeps prodding Wong Jack Man to a public fight, which Wong declines. However, Wong finally agrees to the fight so that he can reveal to Bruce Lee the error of his attitude and methods. The gangsters in Chinatown agree that, after the fight, which now has $15 million dollars in betting involved, they will free Xiulan from her enslavement.
BIRTH OF THE DRAGON has a lot of promise, but struggles to take off due to the cringe-worth acting from Philip Ng (“Eng”) as Bruce Lee. Taking Bruce’s brashness and exaggerating it to the nth degree without adding humanity to the man makes it hard to root for him. Wong Jack Man is by far a more compelling character. The story also struggles to be a cohesive one, due to multiple premises. That said, the fight sequences are beautifully executed and exciting, some of the best in recent years.
For a movie about Eastern practices being brought to America, there are some unique elements to BIRTH OF THE DRAGON. While there are definitely messages about Buddhism, finding ones “Chi,” and other Eastern philosophies, the movie doesn’t entirely side with Wong Jack Man’s worldview. By the end, when Wong Jack Man leaves America, he says “there is much to learn” from America, and “some to teach.” He also presents more moral messages than Bruce does. Wong teaches that fighting isn’t something to strive for or purposely seek. “When you find something worth giving your life for, then you fight,” Wong says. This is in stark contrast to Bruce, who’s always eager to get into a fight. By the end, both men learn something. They also learn to come together.
Ultimately, BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is mostly appealing to fans of martial arts movies. The violence is fairly moderate, and there’s some light foul language. Because of this, and the movie’s promotion of false religious ideas and philosophies from the East, extreme caution is advised.