New Bruce Lee Biopic Accused of ‘Whitewashing’

A new biopic of legendary martial arts star Bruce Lee has come under fire from Lee’s daughter Shannon, producer of a rival film, who called ‘Birth of the Dragon’ part of a Hollywood anti-Asian conspiracy to “relegate us to sidekicks, nerds and emasculated  asexuals”

A new biopic of legendary martial arts star Bruce Lee has come under fire from Lee’s daughter and fans who are accusing it of “whitewashing” and burying his legacy.

Birth of the Dragon (龙之诞生), which premiered recently at the Toronto Film Festival, follows the kung fu star’s early years in the US and depicts his controversial fight with master Wong Jack Man in 1964.

But IMDb users who say they have seen the film protest the film’s emphasis on the Caucasian character mastering martial arts and dating an Asian girl is offensive.

While Hong Kong-born American actor Philip Ng (伍允龍) plays Bruce Lee, and China actor Xia Yu (夏雨) plays Wong Jack Man, many fans have expressed concern that they get less screen time than American actor Billy Magnussen, who plays Lee’s fictional friend Steve McKee.

One user said that Birth of the Dragon “reduces Bruce Lee to a side character in his own story to force a white guy into the lead,” while another says that the film “serves to perpetuate negative stereotypes regarding Asian women, men, and the culture.”

Lee’s daughter Shannon, whose Bruce Lee Entertainment is spearheading a rival biopic about her father, took to Instagram on Friday to lodge her own protest calling the film “a travesty on many levels”.


“I think this film is a step backward for Asians in film not to mention that the portrayal of Bruce Lee is inaccurate and insulting,” Lee wrote. “I am disappointed that such a project would be funded and produced.”

Director George Nolfi likened the role of the Steve McKee character to the narrator in The Great Gatsby, in an interview with Deadline in September.

“The reality is, Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man did not know each other for a long period before the fight and they weren’t heavily involved with each other after the fight,” Nolfi said.

“From a narrative standpoint, you needed eyes on the story that would allow you to have a run up to the fight and…I don’t want to spoil what happens after the fight..but you needed that to get to our third act.”

The Chinese-American co-production obtained its entire US$31 million production budget from China’s Kylin Pictures, which is owned and led by well-known Chinese producer Pang Hong.

The furor follows a number of recent cases of alleged “whitewashing” in movies including Scarlett Johansson’s casting in a remake of the Japanese anime classic Ghost in the Shell, Tilda Swinton’s casting in Doctor Strange, along with Matt Damon’s starring turn in the upcoming The Great Wall.

Earlier this week Disney vowed to cast a Chinese female actor in the lead of their upcoming live-action remake of Mulan.