Birth of the Dragon

Philip Wan-Lung Ng, left, stars as Bruce Lee and Yu Xia as Wong Jack Man in "Birth of the Dragon."

Groundswell Productions

This is a schlocky tale of chop-socky.

At its core is a controversial battle between the renowned Bruce Lee (Philip Wan-Lung Ng, “Wild City”) and Kung Fu master Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia, “Papa”) that happened in the 1960s.

Steve McKee, played by Billy Magnussen (“Bridge of Spies”), is a student of Bruce Lee. He is torn between his loyalty to Lee and Wong Jack Man.

McKee wants to be a tough guy, and has been training under Lee’s approach. When Wong Jack Man arrives in the United States, it seems inevitable that he will want to take Lee on.

McKee, who goes back and forth between the two, meets girl (Jingjing Qu, “Ulterior Motive”) who works as an indentured servant in the restaurant of crime boss Auntie Blossom (Jin Xing, “The Protector”). Of course, mobsters are involved in all this carrying on.

What the movie has going for it is the excellent choreography by Corey Yuen (“The Transporter”). Watch the way he uses slow-motion and eye-catching costumes that flow through the action.

Additionally, this is a hard-working ensemble. Ng, a talented martial artist and fight choreographer, works his tail off here, and even gives a great rendition of Lee’s recognizable fighting scream. He gives Lee’s character confidence and charisma. It’s hard to believe that Yu Xia, who gives a solemn, spiritual aura to his Wong Jack Man, is not a veteran martial artist.

I understand that the movie was cut after it was shown at the Toronto Film Festival, where audiences criticized it for its focus on the McKee character instead of the two Asian legends. That character still has far too much screen time, especially considering that it’s a fictional character who’s taking center stage along with two actual fighters.

To give you some idea of the steam this movie is not building among audiences, I saw it on a Friday night and ended up as the only viewer in the auditorium. The flick took a harder beating with early word-of-mouth than its central characters do on the screen, obviously.

Who’s left to see this movie that’s probably headed to DVD very soon? Lee aficionados might see it regardless of its worth as a biopic or a film just because it’s about Lee. Fight fans might want to see it just to take in the admittedly entertaining fight choreography (there are a couple of noteworthy sequences toward the finale).

But most audiences would be better served watching “Dragon” or “Fists of Fury” again.