Bruce Lee biopic at the centre of “whitewashing” controversy

Birth of the Dragon reportedly treats the icon as a "caricature".

Bruce Lee in Game of DeathImage Columbia Pictures

Bruce Lee became the biggest martial arts movie star of the 70s thanks to classic films Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon.

His legacy lived on in action movie stars like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, and now he’s the subject of a new biopic that’s running into controversy.

Birth of the Dragon, directed by Bourne Ultimatum writer George Nolfi, centres on Lee challenging legendary kung fu master Wong Jack Man to a no-holds-barred fight in Northern California.

Inspired by a true story, it sounds like ideal fodder for anyone pining for old school martial arts action.

Except it’s not…

The film’s real focus is on Lee’s fictional white friend Steve McKee (played by Billy Magnussen) and Lee’s duel with Wong Jack Man is used as the starting point for a mafia thriller, reports The Guardian.

IMDb uses who’ve seen Birth of the Dragon are up in arms about the film, with Bawlife writing: “[The] film reduces Bruce Lee to a side character in his own story to force a white guy into the lead … Asian males can never take the lead role.

“Only the sidekick even in their own movie … White people, would it kill you to stop inserting yourselves into everything?”

Meanwhile, chrisleeisworking said the movie paints the film star as “a caricature” and “is spitting on the memory of Bruce Lee”.

Maybe it’s time to give Jason Scott Lee’s Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story another whirl instead?

Watch the trailer for Bruce Lee biopic Birth of the Dragon:

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn