Birth of the Dragon Blu-ray Review
Another watchable but ultimately unworthy film about a legendary and iconic star who has had more than his fair share of them
Birth of the Dragon Film Review
After far too many films about Bruce Lee's mentor, Ip Man, we get another one about Lee himself, the belatedly-released 2016 film Birth of the Dragon.Ostensibly an early origin story that sees young San Francisco martial arts instructor Bruce Lee face one of his greatest real-life challenges - Shaolin master Wong Jack Man, the writers and producers of Birth of the Dragon clearly had no faith in that being an interesting enough tale to actually tell, instead enshrouding the historical events in an entirely fictional tale of mob warfare and human trafficking.
Shot in late 2015, and released in 2016, Birth of the Dragon has taken quite some time to reach UK shores, and carries with it a bevy of critical disdain and audience disappointment - including reported criticism from Bruce Lee's daughter herself. Such criticism is not wholly unfounded, with the film a well-intentioned effort that still ends up little more than a cheap knock-off mostly because of that aforementioned lack of faith in the merits of the real events in Bruce Lee's life.
It's a shame that they had to take such liberties with the life of Bruce Lee.
Phillip Ng takes a bit of getting used to as Lee, bordering on being a parody of the iconic martial arts master, although that's all too easy to do given the countless loving impersonations Lee has had over the decades since his untimely death. Ng also doesn't have much to work with, arguably taking something of a back seat in what is purportedly his own story, as the fictional American character of Steve McKee does most of the legwork, getting involved with the girl who is 'owned' by the mobsters, and brokering the contact between Lee and Wong Jack Man.
Hell, even Xia Yu's Wong Jack Man is a more interesting and better-developed character, but both martial artists are essentially supporting the fictional nobody american - played by a nobody actor and easily the biggest telegraph that this is straight-to-DVD fodder.
The fight scenes are admittedly impressive, but the more incredulous aspects of the plot are almost always those that give birth to those same scenes (and conclude those scenes), leaving you rolling your eyes almost throughout.
It's a shame that they had to take such liberties with the life of Bruce Lee, but it's even more of a shame that most of those liberties involve telling a story that barely features Lee himself. Whilst the 1993 film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is probably quite dated by now, at least it had better intentions than this, and more faith in the power of the iconic star.
Birth of the Dragon Blu-ray PictureBirth of the Dragon comes to Region B-locked UK Blu-ray courtesy of Altitude, who afford it a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded high definition video presentation framed in the movie's original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 widescreen.
It's generally a pretty good looking piece, boasting an opening sequence replete with the vibrant orange tones of Shaolin monks' robes set against the background of a teal sky and rich green landscapes on both sides. Detail remains strong, bringing the characters into clear focus with some nice secondary textures for the clothing and sets.
A solid video presentation.
Clearly preferring exterior scenes, the interiors look a little more drab by comparison, with Lee's training 'warehouse' the worst offender, whilst at least the mob-owned properties are given some more lavish decor (and better lighting).
The film is stylised, with some sequences looking a little colder than others, but generally the design of the piece has done well to make something out of nothing, clearly playing with a very limited budget and turning in something that doesn't immediately smack of being straight-to-video.
Birth of the Dragon Blu-ray SoundThe Birth of the Dragon Blu-ray release does a decent enough job in the audio department too, afforded a strong DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix which delivers the punches and kicks with gusto, allows the score to engage, and promotes the dialogue evenly.
A strong audio mix.
Hardly a bombastic affair, the various martial arts moments are lively enough, and whilst few bones get crunched (until perhaps the final scene), the impacts are delivered well, hitting home and occasionally even bringing in assistance from the surrounds and LFE channel.
It is a largely front-dominated offering but for the score, which permeates the rears and gives the track a broader feel. Exterior crowd scenes and bustling streets also do broach out into the vast expanse of potential that the track affords, but it's not always immersive, just solid and faithful to the material.
Indeed even the fight sequences mostly only expand into the broader array through a drum beat of scoring that bounces around your living room. It's a nice, at times even maybe impressive track, but still relatively small in scale.
Birth of the Dragon Blu-ray ExtrasJust an Interview with star Phillip Ng.
Birth of the Dragon Blu-ray VerdictUltimately Bruce Lee movies are seldom going to get better than the ones actually starring Bruce Lee himself, no matter how dated or limited in effects and scope they were, nothing can beat the power and presence of the real man himself.
Arguably the Ip Man series had the right idea - albeit milking it for all its worth - by telling a tangential story which didn't rely upon any one actor having to live up to the legacy of Lee. The Birth of The Dragon doesn't escape the pitfalls that go with this territory and, despite a few nice action sequences, struggles to even get beyond that straight-to-video feel about the production.
Nothing can beat the power and presence of the real man himself.
The Blu-ray release affords strong video and audio as well as a single solitary extra, leaving it a decent enough package for fans of the film to pick up but otherwise likely a recommended rental, one which has been available on Sky's NowTV for several months now and will probably pop up on Netflix within the next few months.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £9.99
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