The idea for the future film is inspired by the true-life duel between Lee and Wong Jack Man, who was China’s most famous kung fu Master.
The no-rules fight took place in San Francisco in 1965, when the city’s Chinatown was controlled by Hong Kong triads.
Writers Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen Rivele are using this true event as a jumping-off point for a wider-canvas action movie in which Wong and Lee team up to battle a band of Chinatown gangsters.
Wilkinson and Rivele are best known for their biopic work. The duo’s credits include Nixon, the 1995 drama directed by Oliver Stone that netted them an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay, and 2001’s Ali, directed by Michael Mann.
“We’re actually not trying to re-tell the story of Bruce Lee,” London said. “I think that’s a natural impression people might get. The idea, actually, is to take that battle, which has been so mysterious and so powerful and so interesting to so many, and tell the lead-up to that story, which is Wong Jack Man’s arrival in San Francisco.
“We’ve created a back story. There is a lot people that know about why Wong Jack Man came to San Francisco, but we’re trying to create a dramatically satisfying story about why he’s there. So we’re taking license. That’s why we say it’s going to be inspired by that fight and isn’t a literal telling of it.”
London said the writers – Wilkinson and Rivele – have the belief that Jack Man was trying to help Lee to become the best version of himself and was trying to teach Lee lessons.
London said the fight sequences will be shown through the eyes of the people who were there. One of those was Lee’s wife, Linda, who was eight months pregnant at the time with the couple’s son, Brandon.
“There will be a slightly stylized quality to the actual fight sequences,” London said. “That will allow different people who were there to come away with differing conclusions of what happened. … The whole idea is that the 13 people who saw that fight came away with very differing ideas of what happened. The fight itself will be impressionistic.”
Jack Man is reclusive and rarely does interviews and has rarely spoken of that fight. London said producers will approach him after finishing the screenplay. He said he hasn’t reached out to Lee’s family, either.
Lee’s daughter, Shannon, who runs the Bruce Lee Foundation, said that the fight was significant in her father’s life because of the impact it had upon him.
“It was a pivotal moment in his life because he was very disappointed after the fight,” Shannon Lee said. “Happy that he won, obviously, and happy he won the right to teach whoever he saw fit is what the challenge was over, the fact that he was teaching non-Chinese people the art of kung fu.
“He was very upset and my Mom said he was sitting outside and had his head in his hands. He told her that he felt the fight had gone on a lot longer than he thought it should and he felt tired and winded from having to run to chase [Jack Man]. He felt his training had let him down. … He thought it should have been over a lot faster, and it was really from that that he started to change his whole thinking on martial arts.”
London said no timetable is set to begin filming. He said “if we’re lucky, we’ll make the movie next year.”
On one hand it really is great that Bruce Lee is not forgotten, and that people in the film industry continue to make movies about him or based on stories influenced by him or his life.
On the other hand – hasn’t there been enough of Bruce Lee? The somewhat recent 50-episode TV-series “The Legend of Bruce Lee” never really became popular, despite that fact that it had some very well-known martial artists appearing in episodes (such as Mark Dacascos, Michael Jai White and Ray Park).
Another Bruce Lee story – assuming Wilkinson and Rivele are are writing it – will probably be a big-budget movie especially for general audience. This way, “Birth of the Dragon” might as well go both ways, either the audience will like it, or it will bomb at the box office.
A much more interesting would have been, maybe, making a film on Chuck Norris, who is still alive and doing movies from time to time?
Norris’ life has plenty of moments that could make a great film, and Ray Park could easily reprise his role as Chuck Norris (played him in “Legend of Bruce Lee).
The film could feature Norris’ time in the army, his first steps in the movie business, his karate career, and of course the infamous “Chuck Norris jokes”.
Anyway, time will show, maybe the companies will forget about Lee, and focus on Norris instead.
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