It's been 23 years since the last major Hollywood biopic on Bruce Lee. While we're a full generation forward, the 20-odd year interval wasn't sufficient to outlast the durable media biases that afflict how minorities, in this case, Asian-Americans, are depicted.
Birth of the Dragon will pull in fans off the street by claiming to tell the story of Bruce Lee, an iconic figure in American history. However, they may be surprised to find that the movie actually has very little to say about Lee. About his love life. About who he is as a human being. In fact, he is dealt with in such a stylized, mysterious manner -- and not as a full human being -- it's unclear the movie gives the viewer anything more than he already knew. Instead, Lee's primary purpose is to serve the white protagonist Steve McKnee in various ways.
First, the film gives short shrift to the actual epic fight between Lee and his rival. We do not even know how that fight impacted Lee's life afterwards, what he learned from it, or how it changed his fighting style. But we do know Lee went through all that trouble, and the animating force behind it was that Lee's rival was against Caucasians like McKnee being trained to fight. What's happening here is that - this really isn't about Lee. It's more about some character we've never heard of but somehow has the country's greatest martial arts fighter fighting on his behalf.
It doesn't end there. Lee, a role model for Americans, including Asian-Americans, is seen as flat. He is shown as without a romantic interest. In contrast, McKnee has an Asian Girlfriend...and lo and behold he needs Lee to fight for him again to get the girlfriend back after she's abducted by "bad Asians". And Lee does.
I think we came to watch Bruce Lee. Not Bruce Lee aid some random fictional nobody on his mission to belong, and then his mission to get back said nobody's girlfriend.