Principal photography begins on November 17 in Vancouver, British Columbia, of Groundswell Productions’ BIRTH OF THE DRAGON. George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) will direct the martial arts action tale, which tells 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 and the FX pilot Snowfall) as Steve McKee. The film recreates the mid-1960’s fight between Lee and Wong from the point of view of a young martial arts student whose allegiance became torn between Lee and Wong Jack Man. 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. Ng was raised in Chicago where his family owns a successful martial arts studio. In his early twenties, after obtaining a master’s degree in Arts Education from the University of Illinois, Ng changed his plans and returned to Hong Kong to pursue a career in martial arts films.
Chinese actress Jinging Qu (Old Boys: The Way of the Dragon, Journey Through China) plays 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 script was written by Academy Award nominees Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele (Nixon, Ali, Ferrari).
The film’s action sequences will be designed by renowned martial arts choreographer Corey Yuen, a graduate of the Peking Opera School. Yuen gained fame in American cinema beginning with the 1998 film Lethal Weapon 4, followed by the 2000 blockbuster X-Men and six of Jet Li’s American works, including Romeo Must Die and The Expendables.
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,” said 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.”
Said Nolfi, “BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is a rare opportunity to make an action film with rich characters based on real events and real people. It’s a story about people from the East and West transcending their differences to work together, which is obviously a very timely story.”