Birth of the Dragon: 5 Facts About Young Bruce Lee’s Ordeal to Becoming a Legend

Bruce Lee is one of many people whose death is believed to have come too soon. Regardless of this, the actor and martial arts instructor, has still been able to have the most influence on the culture, thus leading to a number of film projects to be made about his life. One of the most recent films about the life of the martial artist is Birth of the Dragon, which focuses on the events surrounding his early years, particularly his controversial fight with kung fu master Wong Jack Man.

5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Birth of the Dragon

1. Birth of the Dragon Revolved Around the Controversial Duel Between Lee and Wong Jack Man

In 1964, when both men were in their twenties, a young Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man fought each other in San Francisco. The circumstances leading to the fight and the result of it have been contested by both parties as it was unrecorded and held privately, leaving much to speculation by the media and Kung Fu enthusiasts.

This went on to become the focus of the plot of Birth of the Dragon which depicted Lee as an owner and operator of a Kung Fu Academy while Man was a master who was on a pilgrimage from China to observe the kung fu scene in the United States. Because Lee is teaching kung fu to white people, he feels he would be punished by the master and thus tries to seek an audience with him. The pair later end up getting into a verbal confrontation at a Karate Championship where Lee challenges the master to a fight that did not happen.

As the film unfolded, one of Lee’s white students falls in love with a Chinese girl that is owned by a local gangster. In a bid to get her freedom, the white student agrees to ask Lee and Man to fight each other in order for the gangster to make a profit from bets. The two would go on to agree and would fight in front of only 12 witnesses at an empty warehouse.

As the fight progressed, both men showed their excellent fighting ability that ultimately led to them stopping and showing their mutual respect with a bow, thus ending the fight as a draw. This prompted the gangster to continue to hold the girl as well as all the bets until one man concedes and the other declares himself the winner. Left with little to no option, Lee and Man team up to fight the gangster and his gang, beating them up and helping the girl attain her freedom.

2. Mike Moh was Initially Considered for the Titular Role

American-born actor Mike Moh, who played Triton in Inhumans (2017) and Ryu in Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist (2014) and Resurrection (2016), was initially considered to play the role of Bruce Lee. The role however later went to the Hong Kong-born American actor Philip Ng who is better known for his roles in Zombie Fight Club (2014) and From Vegas to Macau (2014).

3. The Film was Shot in Canada

While the film was set in and around the Chinatown areas of Oakland and San Francisco in California, the United States of America in 1965, it was actually shot in Vancouver, Canada in 2015. Principal photography was done in the Metro Vancouver area as well as in the North Shore Studios.

4. It Finished Eighth at the Box Office in its Opening Weekend

Birth of the Dragon
The cast of Birth of the Dragon (image source)

On the 25th of August, 2017, Birth of the Dragon was released in North America. It was projected to gross around $3 million on its opening weekend that also saw the release of films like All Saints and Leap!. As things would eventually pan out, the film finished eighth at the box office, making $1.1 million on its first day and $2.7 million over the weekend.

Hurricane Harvey, the boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, and the large number of critical reviews that panned the movie were cited as the reason for its eventual poor outing. At the end of the day, the film would go ahead to make only $7.2 million from a production budget of $31 million.

5. The Film Drew Criticism for Advertising as a True Story

In the build-up to its release, producers of Birth of the Dragon made sure to advertise the film as a true story of the life of a young Bruce Lee. This fact was later called into question due to the presence of a fictional white character (Lee’s white student) who the film appeared to have focused on instead of Bruce himself. This further led to accusations of whitewashing as the daughter of the legendary martial artist, Shannon Lee, went on to distance herself from Birth of the Dragon. She added that it lacked a complete understanding of her late father’s philosophies and artistry as it also failed to capture the essence of his beliefs.

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