EXCLUSIVE: After the Sundance avalanche of movie sales, a splashy title that unveiled last fall at Toronto is securing a wide distribution deal. BH Tilt and WWE Studios are close to a pact for a wide North American theatrical release of Birth Of The Dragon, the George Nolfi-directed drama about the emergence of Bruce Lee as a martial arts icon. The film is set against the backdrop of 1960s San Francisco, and was inspired by the epic true-life showdown between the brash newcomer Lee long before Enter The Dragon and the Shaolin kung fu master Wong Jack Man. Lee is played by Hong Kong action star Philip Ng, Wong by Chinese star Xia Yu.
The outcome of the 1964 fight, held in private with few witnesses, has long been in dispute. Nolfi uses it as the jumping-off point for a coming-of-age story not only of Lee, but also a young Steve McQueen-inspired character who is the link between the two masters and makes possible the East meets West collision. The young man (played by Billy Magnussen) has his own subplot, a Romeo and Juliet romance with a young Chinese immigrant (JingJing Qu) under the control of the Chinese mob. He enlists the masters in his own conflict, in a mashup of fact and fable that captures the spirit of Lee’s ’70s martial arts films. The cut I saw before the film unveiled in Toronto has been finalized. They’ll set a release date after closing the deal.
BH Tilt is part of Blumhouse, the genre film company which just scored a monster hit with the James McAvoy-starrer Split. The distribution company first teamed with WWE on the upcoming pic Sleight. Good Universe is handling foreign sales on Dragon to kick off at the Berlin Film Festival.
The picture is a co-production with Groundswell, Kylin Pictures, and Anomaly Entertainment. Michael London, Janice Williams, James Hong Pang and Leo Shi Young are the producers. The script was written by Stephen J. Rivele & Christopher Wilkinson, who with Eric Roth and Michael Mann scripted the story of another iconic brawler, Ali. They based Birth Of The Dragon on the Michael Dorgan article “Bruce Lee’s Toughest Fight.” WME Global is brokering the deal.