The 2016 Bruce Lee biopic Birth of the Dragon is now available on Netflix and has already attracted a big audience. The film sits at number nine on the streaming service's Top 10 Movies in the U.S. Today chart. Birth of the Dragon was met with overwhelmingly negative responses from critics. Shannon Lee, Lee's daughter, also spoke out against the movie when it was released.
Birth of the Dragon is centered on Lee's 1965 duel with kung fu master Wong Jack-man, with Philip Ng as Lee and Xia Yu as Wong. Although that was a true event, Birth of the Dragon was criticized for minimalizing it and shuffling it into the background of a story about a fictional white actor named Steve McKee, played by Billy Magnussen. In his zero-star review for the film, RogerEbert.com critic Scott Tafoya was dumbfounded that such a movie was made in the 21st century.
"How, this far into the 21st century, does a film like this get made?" Tafoya wrote of the film. "One that shunts Bruce Lee to the status of secondary character in a lazy and boringly familiar star-crossed romance? There are entire books and countless articles about the Wong Jack Man & Bruce Lee fight, and this film invents things wholesale to pad its running time? Why? Who could possibly be expected to care about fictitious Steve McKee and his quest to save an equally fictitious love interest from a likely even more fictitious crime boss?"
The Globe and Mail critic Andrew Parker wrote that the film fails to live up to anything it promises. Although it was sold as a movie about Lee's fight with Wong, it actually focused on Magnussen's character trying to convince martial artists to help him save a girl from a Chinese mob. On social media, viewers felt the film "whitewashed" Lee's life by putting a white character in the center.
Before Birth of the Dragon was released, Shannon spoke out against fictionalized stories that use her father as a jumping-off point. She also announced plans to develop a biopic about her father approved by Bruce Lee Entertainment with producer Laurence Grey. "There have been projects out there involving my father but they've lacked a complete understanding of his philosophies and artistry," Shannon said in a statement to The Guardian. "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."
Unfortunately for Netflix subscribers who want to see a real Bruce Lee movie, you're out of luck. None of his films are available on the streaming platform. Fist of Fury (1972) and The Way of the Dragon (1972) are available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.