Birth of the Dragon

Birth of the Dragon Information

Birth of the Dragon is a 2016 martial arts action film directed by George Nolfi and written by Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele. The film stars Philip Ng, Xia Yu, and Billy Magnussen. The film is a fictional account on the "supposedly" true story revolving around the young martial artist Bruce Lee, who challenged kung fu master Wong Jack Man in 1965 in San Francisco. Principal photography began on November 17, 2015, in Vancouver. It was selected to be screened in the Special Presentations section at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. The film was released on August 25, 2017, by Blumhouse Tilt and WWE Studios.


In 1965, in San Francisco, Bruce Lee, spurred by his student, Steve McKee, challenges Shaolin monk and kung fu master Wong Jack Man to a martial arts fight.


  • Philip Ng as Bruce Lee, founder of Jeet Kune Do.
  • Xia Yu as Wong Jack Man, the Shaolin Master who Bruce Lee fights.
  • Jin Xing as Auntie Blossom, a gangster.
  • Billy Magnussen as Steve McKee, Bruce Lee's student and main protagonist.
  • Jingjing Qu ??? as Xiulan, McKee's love interest.
  • Simon Yin as Vinnie Wei


On February 19, 2013, it was announced that a biopic titled Birth of the Dragon about young martial artist Bruce Lee was in development, writing Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele. QED International and Groundswell Productions would finance and produce the film along with their Bill Block and Michael London, respectively. While Wilkinson and Rivele would also produce the film. On May 30, 2014, George Nolfi was announced to be the director of the film, and Janice Williams was also attached as producer. In June 2015, there was a casting call for the role of Lee, in search for a 20 to 30 years old martial arts expert. Mike Moh was under consideration for the titular role. On November 16, 2015, the film's cast was announced and it included Billy Magnussen as a martial arts student, Steve McKee; Philip Ng as Bruce Lee; Xia Yu as Wong Jack Man; Jingjing Qu as McKee's love interest, Xiulan; and Jin Xing as the brutal crime boss, Auntie Blossom. Chinese company Kylin Films came on board to finance the film, while QED left the project, Groundswell would still produce the film. London would be the producer along with Janice Williams, Wilkinson, Rivele, and Kylin's James H. Pang, while Leo Shi Young, David Nicksay, and Nolfi would executive produce, and Helen Y. Zhong, Jaeson Ma, and Joel Viertel would co-produce the film. Corey Yuen came on board to design the film's action sequences, which is set in 1965 in and around Oakland and San Francisco, about the actual fight between Shaolin Master Jack Man and the young Lee.


Filming was previously scheduled to begin on October 28, 2015, at the North Shore Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia. Principal photography on the film began on November 17, 2015, in the Metro Vancouver area. Filming would last through January 24, 2016.


Box office

In North America, Birth of the Dragon was released on August 25, 2017 alongside All Saints and Leap!, and was projected to gross around $3 million from 1,618 theaters in its opening weekend. It made $1.1 million on its first day and $2.5 million over the weekend, finishing 8th at the box office. The film's low opening was attributed to Hurricane Harvey hitting Texas and surrounding areas causing theaters to close, as well the boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor on the Saturday.

Critical response

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 27% based on 11 reviews, with an average rating of 3.9/10. On Metacritic, the film has a score of 37 out of 100 based on 10 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.

Scott Tafoya, reviewer for Roger Ebert, gave the movie a thumbs down, writing, "How, this far into the 21st century, does a film like this get made? One that shunts Bruce Lee to the status of secondary character in a lazy and boringly familiar star-crossed romance? There are entire books and countless articles about the Wong Jack Man & Bruce Lee fight, and this film invents things wholesale to pad its running time? Why? Who could possibly be expected to care about fictitious Steve McKee and his quest to save an equally fictitious love interest from a likely even more fictitious crime boss?" Andrew Parker, reviewer for "The Globe and Mail", also gave the film a negative review, saying: "In reality, it's about a struggling white actor begging both martial-arts notables to help him free a girl he's sweet on from Chinese mob-controlled sex slavery."

The film has drawn accusations of "whitewashing" from fans and critics, who said that the Bruce Lee film unfairly focused on a fictional male Caucasian character, Steve McKee, who is presented as Lee's friend. This also drew criticism to the film's advertisement of being based on "a true story" as the main character is not real.

Shannon Lee, the daughter of Bruce Lee, distanced herself from the film, saying that the film, like others about her father, "lack a complete understanding of his philosophies and artistry. They haven't captured the essence of his beliefs in martial arts or storytelling." She went on to claim that Bruce Lee did not engage in street fighting when he was an adult living in America.

The film won the Golden Angel Award at the 12th Chinese American Film Festival.

See also

  • Portrayal of East Asians in Hollywood

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