This is an odd, romanticised take on an incident in the early life of Bruce Lee in San Francisco, almost like a superhero “origin myth” story. It is based on the semi-legendary private bout he had in 1964, before he became famous, with the Shaolin master Wong Jack Man. Philip Ng convincingly impersonates the cocky, athletic Lee, and Wong – who is incidentally still alive at 77 – is played by Yu Xia. In real life, their fight may have been due to Wong disapproving of Lee teaching kung fu to Westerners, or it may have been a regular alpha-male faceoff. It certainly had nothing to do with the fanciful explanation concocted here: a gallant contest to appease local Chinatown gangsters who would stand to gain from betting and so agree to release a beautiful girl (Jingjing Qu) from their servitude. The ancestor-worship myth is disconcerting. ( I. had a not dissimilar problem with Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster, about Bruce Lee’s renowned teacher Ip Man.) The film goes in for a little wuxia-style magic realism for the fight, allowing the combatants to float through the air. But it doesn’t offer much enjoyable action, and doesn’t convince in any way as a picture of what Lee’s life was really like.
Birth of the Dragon review – unconvincing Bruce Lee origin myth
The romanticised touches don’t help this account of a private bout involving the martial arts star, pre-fame, in San Francisco
Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian's film critic