Principal photography on Birth of the Dragon is set to begin today, in Vancouver, British Columbia. A Groundswell Productions film, Birth of the Dragon will be helmed by The Adjustment Bureau‘s George Nolfi and will tell the story behind the legendary 1960s fight between Shaolin Master Wong Jack Man and the young Bruce Lee.
The international cast is headed by Tony Award nominee Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods,Bridge of Spies) as Steve McKee. The film recreates the mid-1960s fight between Lee and Wong from the point of view of a young martial arts student whose allegiance became torn between both men. To this day, people still argue about who won the famous fight, but one thing is certain: after his battle with Wong, Bruce Lee reinvented himself and his style of kung fu.
Mainland Chinese actor Yu Xia (In the Heat of the Sun, The Painted Veil) will play Wong Jack Man. The 75-year-old Wong, who remained silent about the fight for many years, currently lives in the Bay Area, and retired from teaching martial arts in 2005 after 45 years.
Hong Kong-born Philip Ng (Once Upon A Time in Shanghai, Vegas to Macau) will play Lee with Chinese actress Jinging Qu (Old Boys: The Way of the Dragon, Journey Through China) set to play Magnussen’s love interest, Xiulan. The movie’s villain, a ruthless crime boss named Auntie Blossom, will be played by iconic Chinese artist, opinion leader and television host, Jin Xing. The film’s action sequences, meanwhile, will be designed by renowned martial arts choreographer Corey Yuen, a graduate of the Peking Opera School.
Financed by Kylin Films, Birth of the Dragon is being produced by Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner Michael London and his producing partner Janice Williams, along with Wilkinson, Rivele and Kylin’s James H. Pang. Leo Shi Young, David Nicksay and Nolfi are executive producers, and Helen Y. Zhong, Jaeson Ma and Joel Viertel (who is also editing the film) are co-producers. Kylin was represented in the financing transaction by Ed Labowitz of Alexander, Lawrence, Frumes & Labowitz, LLP, and Groundswell by David Boyle.
“We’re thrilled to be telling one of the great untold stories in martial arts history, especially at this unique moment when China and Western audiences are opening up to each other as never before,” says London. “To work with a Chinese film company like Kylin on a story that has so much significance in China has been a wonderful collaboration, and, we hope, the first of many.”
“‘Birth of the Dragon’ is a rare opportunity to make an action film with rich characters based on real events and real people,” adds Nolfi. “It’s a story about people from the East and West transcending their differences to work together, which is obviously a very timely story.”
Birth of the Dragon is written by Academy Award nominees Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele (Nixon, Ali).