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Soundtrack review: Birth of the dragon (H. Scott Salinas & Reza Safinia – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Birth of the dragon (H. Scott Salinas & Reza Safinia – 2017)


Set against the backdrop of 1960s San Francisco, BIRTH OF THE DRAGON is a modern take on the classic movies that Bruce Lee was known for. It takes its inspiration from the epic and still controversial showdown between an up-and-coming Bruce Lee and Kung Fu master Wong Jack Man – a battle that gave birth to a legend. The score was written by H. Scott Salinas and Reza Safinia and I was very curious to hear how their two styles combined.

I like the opening cue “Prelude into China fight” because it uses the solo flute and the Asian percussion to set the Chinese backdrop of the story; I feel as if I’m in the middle of a festival in China town in San Francisco (which I visited) when this cue develops and the composers get the martial arts movie sound right from the start. If this score had been written by someone like Tan Dun the Chinese strings would have been more clear and sensitive; here, maybe since the story takes place in America, their edges are sort of roughed with rock inserts. The sound of “Birth of a dragon” is much more modern than I would have expected from a movie set in the 60s; it’s a permanent combination of a sensitive motif, be it flute or string, and a more aggressive electronic one.

The first moment I connect with the score is “Chip on your shoulder” because it runs more smoothly and it’s the most melodic from the beginning of the score. I like “Kung Fu comes from within” because it’s almost ambient in sound with drops of elegant piano and quiet string motifs building up to en emotional conclusion. “China flashback” is another sweet cues that goes full Oriental with the string instruments. “Wong is ashamed” is again an emotional and vulnerable flute drive cue that is right up my alley.

I can hear in the music that it was written by two different composers; there are subtle inflexions where the stitches are and this helps make the music sound conflicted at times which is how I imagine the story asks it to sound; both composers like to use few instruments and this creates a small and personal scale score.

Ah, “Training montage”; this is a cue title I wish for in every fighting movie, be it boxing or martial arts. Of course the most legendary and best ever is Vince DiCola’s from “Rocky IV”. Here I get the feeling that the training is more mental than physical and I think Reza Safinia wrote this one because it has that neurotic industrial quality his music usually has.

“Birth of the dragon” is not a loud or epic score; the two composers did what they do best and wrote a textural composition that works well for a movie about becoming a martial artist. There are a few bursts of dark electronic action that punctuate the more intense moments. What I liked best besides the violin motifs was the constant melancholy in the music, or maybe it’s not melancholy but seriousness. Mark this as an interesting and varied score to hear.

Cue rating: 84 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 11 / 47

Album excellence: 23%

Chip on Your Shoulder
Kong Fu Comes from Within
China Flashback
Wong Is Ashamed
The Jump
Casino Fight

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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