Bruce Lee obtained legendary status as a martial artist in part because of a 1965 fight in Oakland, Calif., against Chinese kung fu master Wong Jack Man. It was the last fight of Lee’s career.
For nearly 50 years, there has been much speculation and heated debate about what occurred inside of that gym, as very few people witnessed it. But the upshot of the bout is that it helped to develop Lee’s views on Jeet Kune Do, which is the forerunner of today’s mixed martial arts.
On Tuesday, Deadline.com reported that a movie about the fight that will be called “Birth of the Dragon” will be produced by QED International and Groundswell Productions.
Groundswell CEO Michael London told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday that the process of developing a screenplay has just begun.
It is not, however, designed to be a biography of Lee, who died in 1973, or the definitive account of the fight.
“We’re actually not trying to re-tell the story of Bruce Lee,” London said. “I think that’s a natural impression people might get. The idea, actually, is to take that battle, which has been so mysterious and so powerful and so interesting to so many, and tell the lead-up to that story, which is Wong Jack Man’s arrival in San Francisco.
“We’ve created a back story. There is a lot people that know about why Wong Jack Man came to San Francisco, but we’re trying to create a dramatically satisfying story about why he’s there. So we’re taking license. That’s why we say it’s going to be inspired by that fight and isn’t a literal telling of it.”
London said the writers — Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen Rivele — have the belief that Jack Man was trying to help Lee to become the best version of himself and was trying to teach Lee lessons.
London said the fight sequences will be shown through the eyes of the people who were there. One of those was Lee’s wife, Linda, who was eight months pregnant at the time with the couple’s son, Brandon.
“There will be a slightly stylized quality to the actual fight sequences”, London said. “That will allow different people who were there to come away with differing conclusions of what happened. … The whole idea is that the 13 people who saw that fight came away with very differing ideas of what happened. The fight itself will be impressionistic.”
Jack Man is reclusive and rarely does interviews and has rarely spoken of that fight. London said producers will approach him after finishing the screenplay. He said he hasn’t reached out to Lee’s family, either.
Lee’s daughter, Shannon, who runs the Bruce Lee Foundation, said that the fight was significant in her father’s life because of the impact it had upon him.
“It was a pivotal moment in his life because he was very disappointed after the fight,” Shannon Lee said. “Happy that he won, obviously, and happy he won the right to teach whoever he saw fit is what the challenge was over, the fact that he was teaching non-Chinese people the art of kung fu.
“He was very upset and my Mom said he was sitting outside and had his head in his hands. He told her that he felt the fight had gone on a lot longer than he thought it should and he felt tired and winded from having to run to chase [Jack Man]. He felt his training had let him down. … He thought it should have been over a lot faster, and it was really from that that he started to change his whole thinking on martial arts.”
London said no timetable is set to begin filming. He said “if we’re lucky, we’ll make the movie next year.”