Movie review : Birth of the Dragon

WHEN I went to see Birth of The Dragon, I expected to see the story of how the talented but cocky Bruce Lee (Ng) met with Shaolin master Wong Jack Man (Yu), and how the encounter changed the lives of both men.

I did get that story, but not in the way I expected.
Set in 1960s San Fransisco, years before Lee made his iconic appearance in Enter the Dragon, it tells the story of Lee, a man full of ­confidence to bring kung fu to the West.

He teaches it to all who walk through the doors of his school. However, his brand of Wing Chun is crass, and lacks elements of ­spirituality.

Then enters Shaolin master Wong. After giving in to his pride and almost killing a tai chi master during a sparring ­presentation in Hong Kong, he travels to the US to repent for his sins and remind himself of ­humility by working as a dishwasher.

Wong represents the old way that gives weight to inner spirituality and peace, while Lee is the embodiment of brash ­arrogance open to the world.

Because of their different ideals, Lee ­convinces himself that Wong has come to confront him for ­teaching kung fu to non-Chinese.

If only Lee and Wong had remained the focus of this movie, then we could have an entertaining story.

Instead, it adds in the plot of how a guy named Steve McKee (Magnussen) wants to get it on with Xiulan Quan (Qu Jingjing).

McKee is one of Lee's ­students and is your typical all-­American guy. After a chance encounter with Xiulan, he becomes infatuated with the girl, who knows ­Chinese medicine, has taught herself English, and who aspires to learn western medicine but gets tricked into becoming a servant for the triads instead.

When Lee refuses to help ­McKee, the boy goes to Wong and becomes his student ­instead.

Almost every motivation in the movie, from how the two martial arts masters meet, to why they agree to fight and the fall of the triads, has a direct connection to McKee's ­obsession with Xiulan – which is pretty ridiculous.

Cut out McKee and Xiulan, and you'll have a great movie with decent action, a captivating story, and, to my surprise, good acting.

I give points to Ng for providing a convincing performance, and being able to transition from being a jerk to a good friend and ­philosopher.

Points also go to Yu who played the cool monk whose subtle ­expressions conveyed his shift of emotions between pride, anger, realisation, and peace.

It's a pity Birth of The Dragon misses its mark completely.