During a Californian party in December 1964, two men at the top of their game embark on a confrontation that will go down in history. On the one hand, a sickly 24-year-old Buddhist monk, on the other an impetuous Chinese American of the same age, a certain Bruce Lee. “Birth of the Dragon”, just released in the United States, traces the face to face that revolutionized kung fu.
The handful of witnesses never agreed on what exactly happened that night at Bruce Lee’s gym: or how long the clash lasted, how many people were there, or even the winner. . All agree, however, that the meeting transformed Bruce Lee’s approach to kung fu and helped him become “The Dragon”, a world superstar who has democratized this previously confidential martial art all over the world. .
“My father owns a martial arts school and he has a friend who was a witness,” Chinese-American action star Philip Ng, 39, who plays Lee in Birth, told AFP. of the Dragon “. “I heard his story and it contradicts some of the things I read. I have my convictions and assumptions about what happened but one thing is certain, it is that after this confrontation, the Bruce Lee’s fighting method has changed, “he adds, confident that Lee won.
“Birth of the Dragon” is inspired by Bruce Lee classics like “Fist of Fury” and “Operation Dragon”, released after the star’s untimely death in 1973. The legendary Shaolin monk Wong Jack Man (played by Xia Yu) , arrives in San Francisco to observe the state of kung fu in America, and is immediately seen as a threat by Lee, who challenges him. Philip Ng figured Bruce Lee was far too well-known for a classic interpretation to work, and opted for a version he envisioned, mixing a Hong Kong accent and the hippy San Francisco slang of the ‘sixties. “.
The actor was born just after the star actor’s mysterious death from cerebral edema at the age of 32, but believes he has unknowingly prepared his whole life to play the icon. Ng, himself a kung fu movie star, mastered the art by studying in his native Hong Kong with Wong Shun Leung, who trained Bruce Lee. “He told me a lot of stories about Bruce Lee growing up, outside of kung fu and movies – things you don’t read in books,” says Philip Ng. “And having worked in Hong Kong in action movies for the past fifteen years, I’ve met a lot of people who were close to Bruce,” he argues. Lee was known for his generosity and sense of purpose. fairness but George Nolfi’s film portrays him as an arrogant prodigy and dismissive of tradition. Expert in Wing Chun, a style where punches predominate and are particularly devastating up close, Ng says the fight at the heart of “Birth of the Dragon” is the hardest he has ever filmed. “I have shot more than 40 cinema and TV films (…) and I have never played a battle like this. There were 500 figures! The most I have done before was maybe 300, “he said.
Bruce Lee’s widow Linda, now 72, describes in her 1975 book “Bruce Lee: The Only Man I Knew” how the close confrontation with Wong Jack Man convinced her husband to abandon Wing Chun to invent his own style, Jeet Kune Do, a spectacular cocktail of various kung fu schools that made him a global star. Wong – who always claimed to have won the meeting – later regretted agreeing to fight Lee, believing that he had yielded to a youthful vanity. He then spent the rest of his life teaching the Northern Shaolin Method – not to be confused with the Southern one – in San Francisco before retiring in 2005. Aged around 77, the only man alive to know who is the true winner of this mythical fight today lives withdrawn from the world.