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film review

Yu Xia and Philip Ng in Birth of the Dragon.

George Nolfi's Birth of the Dragon is being sold as the true story of how cocky, prestardom martial-arts instructor Bruce Lee (Philip Ng) settled his ideological differences with Shaolin master Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia) via a legendary fight behind closed doors. In reality, it's about a struggling white actor (Billy Magnussen) begging both martial-arts notables to help him free a girl he's sweet on from Chinese mob-controlled sex slavery.

White-saviour complex and bait and switch aside, Nolfi fails at almost everything he attempts. What could have either been an original look at cultural appropriation (since Lee was ostracized for training white people) or just a fun movie about a big fight becomes a dull, self-serious affair where everyone speaks in well-crafted, clichéd sound bites instead of realistic dialogue.

Xia's humble sifu lends more gravitas than this dreck deserves, and a rousing, improbable finale in which Lee and Man take on the mob together offers some great fight choreography, but it's all too little, too late.

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