Birth of the Dragon: Anger over Bruce Lee biopic

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Birth of the Dragon (2016)Image source, James Dittiger
Image caption,
Hong Kong actor Philip Ng portrays the late martial arts legend in the 2016 biopic

Fans of Bruce Lee are criticising a new biopic of the late martial arts legend, accusing it of "whitewashing and burying" his legacy.

Birth of the Dragon follows the kung fu star's early years in the US and showcases his controversial fight with master Wong Jack Man in 1964.

Directed by George Nolfi, the movie debuted at the Toronto Film Festival.

But many fans have protested against Lee's portrayal, saying the star took "a subdued role in his own biopic".

"Is this a joke? I was here to see Bruce Lee but they put the focus on some white guy," wrote IMDb user ticklegear in a scathing online review.

"Instead of celebrating what a beast Bruce Lee was, they made him out to be some insecure and jealous loser. Seemed more like a character assassination, rather than a biopic."

He added: "A terrible film - I wouldn't recommend it as it tarnishes Bruce Lee's true history with half-baked lies."

Image source, Groundswell Productions
Image caption,
The film seeks to tell the early life of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee

Others who caught early previews criticised Hong Kong actor Philip Ng, describing his portrayal of Bruce Lee as "a dumb-ed down, one-dimensional character".

Many said US actor Billy Magnussen, who played fictional friend Steve McKee, became the "unfair focus" of the movie instead.

One said: "The plot was terrible and the casting choice was even worse. How is it possible that the main character became a sidekick to a Caucasian man?"

Another user said the film "disrespected the legacy of Bruce Lee", and recommended boycotting it.

"The movie serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes regarding Asian women, men and culture."

Image source, AP
Image caption,
To many, the new biopic did not do justice to Bruce Lee's legacy

The film is the latest to court controversy over "whitewashing" in Hollywood. US actress Scarlett Johansson caused a stir by taking on the lead role in the Hollywood remake of the Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell, which was traditionally an Asian character.

Director George Nolfi has defended his film.

"To be able to watch this white guy become a fully formed man, with Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man becoming these surrogate father figures to him, even though they were about the same age… I thought that was very unusual in Hollywood filmmaking," he told

But Lee's daughter Shannon has distanced herself from the biopic and has announced plans for a second Bruce Lee movie, currently in the works.

She told a UK newspaper: "There have been projects out there involving my father but they've lacked a complete understanding of his philosophies and artistry.

"They haven't captured the essence of his beliefs in martial arts or storytelling. The only way to get audiences to understand the depth and uniqueness of my father is to generate our own material."

Reporting by the BBC's Heather Chen in Singapore.