Bruce Lee Unleashes the One-Inch Punch in ‘Birth of the Dragon’ Trailer
A Bruce Lee biopic is a dicey proposition. How could watching someone pretend to be the greatest fighter of all time (by all means, @ me) accomplish anything other than making the audience wish for the genuine article? We already had Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, but judging from the newly released trailer, Birth of the Dragon has a fair amount going for it. For one, it has the good sense to focus on a single period of Lee’s life, narrowing the film to his early years in San Francisco, when he was building his legendary reputation. It’s got George Nolfi for a director, whose previous effort The Adjustment Bureau was at the very least interesting. And in the lead role, it’s got Phillip Ng, an inveterate kicker of ass who can also pull off Lee’s signature bowl-cut.
The film revolves around the legendary closed-doors fight between enfant terrible Lee and established Grandmaster Wong Jack Man in 1965. The two champions of their craft decided that a final showdown to determine absolute supremacy was the only way to determine the shape of kung fu to come; there’s a curious thematic concern with the friction between traditionalism and modernism, expressed here in the methodology of fighting but a constantly recurring idea in Chinese art and art about China. Wong Jack Man has some old-fashioned ideas about the sanctity of martial arts, but Lee envisions a brave new world where styles and techniques could freely intermingle with one another. Think of it like The Emoji Movie, but with the act of punching instead of making little cartoon faces.
The film has already drawn some heat for making up a white character named Steve McKee (played by Billy Magnussen, who’s actually kind of great in the upcoming Ingrid Goes West, but that’s beside the point) who inspires Lee to take on Wong Jack Man’s challenge. Why invent a character where there previously was one, and why make him white? Both valid questions that the responsible parties have already attempted to answer. Birth of the Dragon will drop silently into theaters on August 25 before throat-punching audiences.