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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Birth of the Dragon (Blu-ray)
Birth of the Dragon (Blu-ray)
Universal // PG-13 // November 21, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted February 15, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

The life of martial arts icon Bruce Lee has been covered time and again in various books and movies, and for whatever reason the 1993 film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story has been the one I remember the most of all. Side note: Holy crap, that came out 25 years ago? Nevertheless, Birth of the Dragon looks at a particular event that was chronicled in that movie and expands on it more on its own.

Adapted from an article which recounted Lee's 1964 fight with kung fu master Wong Jack Man, George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) directed. A 24-year-old Lee (played by Philip Ng, Invisible Target) is running a Kung Fu school in San Francisco when he is confronted by Wong Jack Man (Xia Yu, The Painted Veil), who has come from China and has heard about Lee's exploits. In the middle of the conflict is Steve McKee (Billy Magnussen, Bridge of Spies), a white student of Lee's who becomes more intrigued with and enamored by Man's presence and fighting style.

Birth of the Dragon couldn't be faulted if it took the conventional route of examining the impact Lee's fight with Man and how this changed his philosophy in the years following it, but the film makes a bolder choice of looking at Man's time in America, and uses McKee as the conduit for it. While the choice is commendable, the choices involved in McKee's subplot are a little more conventional and underwhelming. There is a love interest for Steve in a soft-spoken Chinese woman, but there's also a gangster named Auntie Blossom (Xing Jin, The Protector) that is protective of her and of her criminal enterprise. Think Dirty Dancing but with more punching and kicking.

Magnussen executes this subplot without complaint or notoriety, but the fact that it's in here in the first place, taking up the screen time that it does, with Lee almost in an antagonist role, makes Birth of the Dragon feel like a bait and switch of sorts. Ng handles the role as best he can but at times it feels like he's channeling Jason Lee's performance. Yu is okay, or at least as much as an enigmatic kung fu master from the 1960s can be, so it's maybe a dimension at best. The roles for women weren't really fleshed out dramatically and it shows in the film.

With the mysteries that involve Bruce Lee's life and death, it's only natural that Hollywood would take a dramatic crack at the egg or two. But Birth of the Dragon almost throws Lee in as a backstop without showing us how Man was influential (known or not) to Lee's revisualization of martial arts in America, that the event feels glossed over, even when it comes to the fight itself. If taken out of the context of Lee's life, the film is okay in a vacuum, but it's not doing that, and it hurts itself in the process.

The Blu-ray Disc:
The Video:

Universal rolls Birth of the Dragon to Blu-ray with the usual AVC encode to go with this 2.40:1 high-definition jawnt, with the results being quietly impressive. Image detail was better than expected in facial pores and hair, and blacks present a good contrast in the darker lit moments of the film. It's not without a moment or two of source noise, but it's a very good transfer, better than I was expecting.

The Sound:

A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track comes with Birth of the Dragon which is agreeable and pleasant. Punches and kicks include low-end when needed for dramatic emphasis, dialogue is consistent as can be and directional effects and channel panning are present though not consistent through the film. There is immersion through moments in the film like the exterior city shots or crowd noise in this penultimate fight between Lee and Man, but nothing that is going to blow your doors off, it's just a solid listen.

Extras:

Four quick segments totaling less than six minutes (5:37) comprise the making of look at the film: "Becoming the Dragon" looks at Ng's transformation, while "Building the Story," "The Stunts" and "The Fight" are all self-explanatory looks at various aspects of the production.

Final Thoughts:

If you're looking for even substantive dramatic interpretation of Bruce Lee's life or the events in it, I think that Birth of the Dragon comes up hollow in that regard. I understand the need to show Wong Jack Man and the characters around him, but the movie spends too much time doing so and the main source of interest in the first place, Bruce Lee, is hurt by this in the end. Technically the disc is fine, though the supplements feel a little thrown away. I think I'll just stick to watching the old biopic about Bruce Lee rather than this contained (and needlessly expanded) portion of it.

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