Ninja in the Dragon’s Den is the best ninja movie. It is that rare kind of exploitation movie – it surpassed the instigator of a trend. Corey Yuen had no problems with the studio’s attempt to find a Jackie Chan clone, hence why he was not against having Conan Lee starring in his directorial début. The result is no less Chansploitation than the Bruceploitation movies which feature actors with names like Bruce Le, Bruce Li and Dragon Lee. Tiger on the Beat, with Chow Yun-Fat as the star, was a Chan clone movie in disguise. By 1987, many had wondered what it would be like if Jackie made a movie with Chow. Both movies inspired Joel Silver (a U.S. producer) to cast Conan and hire Corey for the martial arts directing of Lethal Weapon 4. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jet Li was the last addition.
Conan cemented his clone status by starring in a video movie called Rumble in L.A. Ironically, he could’ve been a Hollywood movie star had he not left Hong Kong prematurely. Granted, his departure was to do with being blacklisted after letting his greed be fed by a fickle-minded H.K. producer who seduced him away from the founder of Seasonal who made him. Even Lee Van Cleef was smart to capitalize on his success in Italy before moving to Hollywood, likewise with Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood. Look at Bruce Lee – he made it in Hollywood because he had been in his fair share of Hollywood TV shows.
By comparison, Jackie obviously did not become an instant success in Hollywood because people didn’t know who he was. Bruce may not have already been a national institution but he was at least recognizable. From the cynical perspective of the U.S. market, Jackie came out of nowhere whereas Bruce’s emergence was seen as a long time coming. To examine this further, the success of Kung Fu and re-runs of The Green Hornet didn’t exactly result in Pan-Asian U.S. TV shows. Henry Sanada, his co-star in Ninja in the Dragon’s Den, has become something of a staple of U.S. television by gracing the likes of Lost, Revenge and The Last Ship.
Then again, we are living in the golden age of television. Even his roles in Helix and Extant are more dignified than what Conan did by guesting in a dodgy episode of MacGyver. By dodgy, I mean that The Wish Child was a rip of The Golden Child. Following his deportation from Hong Kong, Conan should have exploited his newfound fame by working in Japan before moving to Taiwan (where his presence wasn’t that of a pariah). The irony is that his English is more relatable to an American audience than Bruce or Jackie yet he lacked the influx of opportunities that each guy received on either side of the globe.
Conan’s mistake in his foray to seek full-time employment in Hollywood was that he was given roles in B-graded movies where it’s impossible to feel degraded after appearing in something as opulent as Ninja in the Dragon’s Den. It wasn’t even a case of being a big fish in a small pond. He would probably have gained a better career by not focusing on martial arts roles. It wasn’t like his English was bad. In fact, he speaks with a non-Oriental accent. In spite of his fall from grace, he still managed to grace the covers of several issues of Inside Kung Fu. Although you can tell that the filler articles were tantamount to making mountains out of mole hills.
Speaking of geography, it’s a perfect example that the left hand of the West doesn’t know what the right hand of the East is doing. Usually, publicity articles are puff pieces but the aforementioned issues really are nothing much than damning with faint praise. You know that you have limited chances of success when even Jackie can’t score a gig like starring in an A-list Hollywood movie. In the ’80s, the closest that Jackie got to being a mainstream movie star was the Cannonball Run duology. Even then, it was an extended cameo (a running gag role) because of the ensemble nature. For a star like Jackie, a Hollywood role should have been like a prize. Conan should have used Jackie’s failure as a warning.
If Conan stayed with Seasonal, he would’ve starred in their English language productions before making it in Hollywood; like how Jackie starred in Rumble in the Bronx, First Strike and Mr. Nice Guy before being asked to star in a Hollywood movie (Rush Hour). As for Jackie not being persona non grata after breaking his contract with Lo Wei (the infamous Bruce director), Lo wasn’t entirely respected. Ironically, things got so bad for Jackie that he was forced to work in Hollywood for over a year.
In Golden Harvest’s official statement, he was ready to crack the big time. The local press quickly suspected that the reality was extradition (Conan more or less extradited). As for Jackie epicly failing, it was because he didn’t contractually demand to have final say like Bruce did for Enter the Dragon. By that point in his career, Jackie had more experience in choreographing fights. Yuen Woo-Ping was smarter to demand total control of the fights in The Matrix.
Considering that Battle Creek Brawl was going to be directed by Robert Clouse (who directed Enter the Dragon), Jackie should’ve put something in his contract about control over the fights. After all, he proved himself to be worthy more than Bruce did. Ironically, he was being told to fight like him despite being given some allowance to do his own style. Jackie had a better track record as a movie star and a director. As a matter of fact, it would have been better if he directed Battle Creek Brawl.
Either that or hire George Roy Hill since he actually directed a movie that took place in the ’30s (a 1973 classic titled The Sting). Before production had commenced on Enter the Dragon, Bruce got Clouse to view The Way of the Dragon so as to see who was the boss. The surface reason was to acclimate to the H.K. atmosphere but the ulterior motive was so that Clouse would be aware of his reputation.
Although Jackie didn’t want to be in Bruce’s shadow, this is the one instance where he would’ve benefited from following his footsteps. Otherwise, having the same producers, editor (Peter Cheung) and composer pretty much amounts to little more than nothing. Even choreography control would have been a lost cause since he still had to deal with woeful production values. To put this into perspective, the budget was a million higher than the budget for Project A (a 1983 movie which cost 3 million but is more pic).
Miracles (1989) cost 6 million dollars but looks like it could have been a Hollywood production. Battle Creek Brawl, on the other hand, has the sort of historical inaccuracy that is associated with a H.K. movie trying to tell an American story (such as Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth and The Dragon Lives). It also had a ho-hum script. As far as what became known as The Big Brawl goes, Michael Allin should have been hired because he contributed more than Robert did.
This is all the while taking into consideration that his script for Enter the Dragon was far from perfect. In retrospect, Bruce should have hired Roman Polanski (who he gave martial arts sessions) to direct Enter the Dragon given how he described Lo Wei as not exactly being as good as him. I’m sure that he rated Chor Yuen higher than Lo. A man of Bruce’s special stature needed someone worthy. Naysayers will dismiss Roman’s involvement as wishful thinking, but his character in The Tenant treats a woman to a screening of Enter the Dragon (whose French title was Operation Dragon).
His final scene is opposite a cinema which is screening it. I’ve looked at Roman’s schedules and there was definitely a sizable-enough gap in 1973 that would have allowed himself to direct Bruce before moving on to working with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in Chinatown. Enter the Dragon would have made the list for the top ten highest-grossing films in 1973. Here is the list: The Sting (number one), The Exorcist, American Graffiti, Papillon, The Way We Were, Magnum Force, Last Tango in Paris, Live and Let Die, Robin Hood and Paper Moon.
Enter the Dragon grossed 22 million dollars in the U.S. whereas Paper Moon grossed 30 million. If Bruce lived long enough to be interviewed by Johnny Carson, Paper Moon would not have been in the top ten. As for the H.K. box office, the only reason why it didn’t break box office records was because the distributors rose the admittance fees to capitalize on the fact that it was Bruce’s final complete movie.
Noel Parrott mentioned this in his review for the South China Morning Post. They wouldn’t have done this had it been known that there was another Lee movie on the way. It was noted by Bruce Thomas (the author of Fighting Spirit) that it was down to Bruce being unrecognizable, but there was already a big difference between the way that he looked in The Way of the Dragon when compared to his image in The Big Boss.
Of course, the box office for Game of Death would have been better had Lee lived. I think that a collaboration between Lee and Polanski would have just about pushed the other movie out of the equation from both sides of the equator. One of Roman’s trademarks is the key use (or feature) of water in a scene. Bruce is often quoted about being like water, so it would have made for compelling cinema if his character finds himself in rooms which have waterfalls and ponds.
This means that the spy reel of the female corpse being fished out would have added prominence. It also would have meant that Lee’s sister would have been thrown onto the waterfront as a sign to potential whistleblowers. The love scene between Roper and Tania could have been done on a waterbed while preceding a scene where another hooker is fished from a riverbed. Roman would have more than obliged to direct given how he was proven wrong in suspecting Bruce (instead of Charles Manson) as the killer of his wife (Sharon Tate). Roman would have wanted to symbolize letting water flow under the bridge.
After all, it was her former boyfriend (i.e. Jay Sebring) who helped Bruce get started in Hollywood during the swinging sixties. Another of his trademarks is claustrophobia, which would have benefited the mirrored room finale. Even though it was Clouse’s idea, Roman would still have envisioned it because he is also a fan of The Lady from Shanghai, which informed his directorial début (Knife in the Water). As for what sparked the creativity, it was a H.K. restaurant where the producers were having lunch.
Unlike Clouse, Roman wasn’t near-deaf. Even though Enter the Dragon was dubbed, the vocal acting could have been improved. As for the on-set acting, enunciation influences the facial expressions to be more pronounced. It takes a real master of the craft to understand how the voice can affect the face. Exerting the mouth means that the cheek muscles are being manipulated to the point that a ripple effect causes the eyebrows and maybe the eyelids to be exerted.
Actors who enunciate are never accused of being wooden. Roman wouldn’t have allowed John Saxon’s agent to successfully demand that his character not be killed, especially since there is an awkwardness that stems from the fact that Williams never converses with Lee. As an afterthought (after I saw the movie recently), he would have made Bruce’s character practice what he preaches by not letting his eyes off Oharra as he bows. To digress, Enter the Dragon has many flaws.
The first flaw is that it would have made sense for Williams to be sought for recruitment given that he is an outlaw for beating up corrupt policemen who are racist. Roper, by comparison, isn’t a wanted criminal for simply being in debt with gangsters. The second flaw is that, by film’s end, Bruce doesn’t have much dialogue. In fact, most of his dialogue was taken out for pacing reasons. I suspect that those scenes would have been left in if the spy was played by James Coburn (who was trained by Bruce).
Coincidentally, Coburn tried to help Lee make The Silent Flute (which Roman rejected). In the original version of Enter the Dragon, there was a scene where Mei Ling (Betty Chung) was talking about the unexplained disappearance of Williams. It would have been cool if, like The Untold Story, his body was being used to feed the old men in the cells. Maybe the deleted footage is being held back for a 50th anniversary Blu-ray. Bruce’s death made the footage more valuable.
The third flaw is that Han’s daughters (who happened to be his bodyguards) don’t fight in the finale. If Enter the Dragon had been a H.K. movie, Mei Ling alongside Lee and Roper would have fought them after chasing Han away from the outdoor arena. If Bruce had died during the making of the film, they would have filmed such a scene but under the condition that there are reshoots which would allow Williams to only be held captive like Roper instead of being killed off.
The fourth flaw was that a Shaolin monk wouldn’t allow himself to be a government agent unless he left the temple. The fifth flaw is that Roper doesn’t get killed by Bolo, yet Williams gets killed by Han. The sixth flaw is that there were deleted scenes between Roper and Tania that could have easily replaced unnecessary scenes featuring Bruce, especially considering the commercial intentions of the U.S. producers. Artistically, Tania’s deleted scenes would have made her final scene more touching.
The scene where Oharra informs Lee about the uniform requirement is useless when it’s pointed out in the next tournament scene. As for reminding the audiences about Lee having a vendetta, there was already a reasonably-paced flashback in the first act. Considering that most of Bruce’s philosophy scenes were done away with, they should have got rid of Lao’s tutorial. The seventh and final flaw is that Bolo is a useless character in that he can’t be a bodyguard when you have Oharra acting as Han’s bodyguard for when he is outside his own island.
The counter-intuitive editing is second to only The Medallion in the martial arts genre. Even though he has a muscular physique, Bolo is a gratuitous character who may as well have been there for sexual appeal. The main villain’s daughters would have been more effective in homicidally punishing his guards because of their number. The moral of the story would have been greater in that if you can’t defeat the daughters then how can you possibly put down the father.
Roman, like Bruce, believed that cinema should make you forget that you’re sitting in a theater. Roman knew Bruce better than all the other Hollywood directors, so I’m surprised that he was never considered. As for what would have happened, I believe that Roman would have been a better candidate to revision (instead of actually complete) Game of Death because he would have filmed it in such a way that you perceive Bruce’s replacements (of which there were three) as being played by one doppelgänger.
He would have been smart enough to bring back Michael Allin as the writer. This means that Roman would have directed Jackie in Battle Creek Brawl. Roman’s taste in absurdism and black humour would have elevated these movies. However, this also means that he wouldn’t have directed Gymkata (this is not Clouse’s most dismal movie as reported). Clouse should never have been the go-to guy for G.H.
Roman was already more successful with critics and audiences. It’s with the benefit of hindsight that he has been come to known as being more cosmopolitan because of his preoccupation with foreign culture. Back in 1973, he would have been smart enough when it came to casting Enter the Dragon. Bearing in mind that Roper was originally intended to die, it would have been pointless for Rod Taylor and William Smith to be rejected in favour of Saxon. Jim Kelly was taller than the two of them but his character only died because of John’s agent.
I suspect that Smith didn’t get the role because he did a test reel as the lead character that Bruce wanted to play in Kung Fu (the reel was directed by Jerry London). Having Kelly’s Williams character fight Bolo would have made for a more convincing fight, but it would have been better for Lee to fight Bolo being that it is Williams who would have been wanting revenge against Han for the death of Roper. One of the questions that has been asked concerns Bolo being fought by Roper instead of Lee.
If Lee fought Bolo, Roper would have to fight Han because of Warner Brothers wanting to appease the prominently Caucasian audiences. Roper had to fight one of the two guys. A decision was made to not have him fight Han (a choice that made Saxon realize that he wasn’t the star) because the quality of the martial arts action would have dipped considerably. Muse on this for a moment: a musclebound young man takes on a toned 32-year-old before a middle-aged everyman takes on an old guy.
This harks back to a cardinal rule in martial arts cinema – the best fight has to be the final one. Look at The Matrix, Neo’s fights with Agent Smith are not up to the quality that was set forth when Morpheus challenged Neo. As for Enter the Dragon, the best fight is the first one (a challenge match featuring Sammo Hung). It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that one can say that Kam Kong would have been more imposing as a villain than Shih Kien (a.k.a. Shek Kin). I first saw him in Jackie’s Half a Loaf of Kung Fu.
I’m one of the few people who believe that Bruce would still have imitators even if he was alive. There would have been many producers wanting to climb to the top of the heap by confusing U.S. audiences. The Triads who like to exert their presence would have caught on to the idea of finding a clone to put the heat on Bruce. Speaking of whom, if he completed Game of Death, there would still have been rip-offs because there is only so many styles that you can put into a pagoda. This may have forced Bruce to be a James Bond imitator, because there is only so much that you can do within the martial arts genre.
This lends credence to what Bey Logan claimed about Bruce being the potential star of Total Recall. Andrew G. Vajna was one of Bruce’s acquaintances and formed the company that produced the movie. Maybe Bruce would have played the T-1000 in Terminator 2 (such a match-up would have rivalled RoboCop Versus The Terminator). Mike Leeder is quite convinced that Bruce would have been the star of John Woo’s The Killer. My problem with the latter route is that Chow Yun-Fat was always John’s idol.
Fred Weintraub claimed that Bruce loved women, so we may have seen him as a playboy spy who has to seduce women in order to investigate realistic things like insurance fraud as opposed to nabbing villains wanting worldwide domination. It would have been similar to, if not completely like, Timothy Lea’s Confessions franchise (which resulted in three sequels). I’m sure that he would have wanted to dispel the notion that Chinese guys have small penises.
On that note, maybe we would have seen him play Patrick Tse’s character in Wong Jing’s Hong Kong Playboys. If Bruce had lived, one project that he would have done was where Bob Wall and himself are F.B.I. agents. Therefore, he was moving in a more realistic direction that would have enthralled those wanting a piece of escapism that would actually inform their lives. The movie would have been called Drug Terror.
Bruce would’ve been more popular had he made a movie about a hippy activist. There could’ve been all kinds of references to his real-life drug-taking. His character’s name would be Herb. He stashes weed in pots which he makes. He has friends who he calls buds. He lives at a house whose door number is 420. He has a love interest named Mary Jane. His catchphrase could be dope. He describes his drugs as joints.
When he treats a bong as a talking stick at a party, the guests spout philosophy about grass being greener on the other side, the importance of being blunt and how it’s better to start a blaze than be left out in the cold. Had Bruce lived, he would have collected issues of Marijuana Monthly. It was published by the mother and stepfather of Samantha Geimer (who Roman had taken advantage of when she was 13). Had things been different in 1973, the trajectory of Roman’s career may have forced him to only go for girls no younger than 18 because of the spotlight scrutiny.
I’m convinced that Roman would have directed Game of Death because of his strong interest in doppelgängers. In The Tenant (1976), Roman plays a man who lives vicariously through a woman. There is a scene where his character sees a girl wearing a mask which is a replica of his face. This makes me think even more that Raymond Chow should have got make-up artists to make a cast of Bruce’s face by using his corpse.
Such an effort would have resulted in the mask shenanigans that happened when a latex mask of Crispin Glover was placed on Jeffrey Weissman for Back to the Future II. Considering how long that it took for Bruce to be sent to the hospital, this absurd idea makes sense; especially when you look at the scene where Steiner (the villainous character played by Hugh O’Brian) uses his cane in the graveyard to prove that Billy Lo faked his death.
Other telling aspects beside The Tenant pertain to Roman’s potential involvement in Game of Death had Bruce got him to direct Enter the Dragon. In 2013, he had cast a doppelgänger (the younger Mathieu Amalric) for Venus in Fur. If it wasn’t for sexually breaking the law, Roman would have directed Sliver – an exercise in symmetry. Like Bruce, Roman never got to finish one of his ubiquitous dream projects – The Double.
Acting in this movie would have better prepared John Travolta’s dual acting for John Woo’s Face/Off. Like Roman, Bruce would have been the first Asian director to win an Academy Award for best director (according to Tom Bleecker). Perhaps Quentin Tarantino would have hired Bruce to choreograph the Kung Fu fights in Kill Bill (since Yuen Woo-Ping was hired for commercial reasons).
Like Roman, Bruce would have been hired more as an actor for other people’s movies such as The Karate Kid and maybe Highlander (with a revised screenplay that for those who always wanted to see him teach with a sword in any time setting). It’s possible that we may have heard him in Kung Fu Panda instead of Jackie, although this means that Jackie would still have been in the remake of The Karate Kid.
Another irony is that No Retreat, No Surrender (the cash-in about Bruce’s ghost featuring the doppelgänger in Game of Death) would never have happened because the fights in The Karate Kid would have been too good to surpass. Corey would have been forced to research espionage in order to materialize the studio head’s idea of what was going to be Seasonal’s first English language film – a thriller about the C.I.A. that could have seen Jean-Claude Van Damme in a better role.
Bruce could have been cast in musicals (especially a Peking Opera one given the background of his father). Yuen Wah spoke highly of Bruce in a way that reminded of me of Donnie Yen’s first two movies with Yuen Woo-Ping: “No matter what type of music I played, he could easily create the impromptu dancing steps and combined Kung Fu in his dance. He would dance and at the same time punched and showed off his muscles, he immersed Yin-Yang in his dancing totally. I and the other stuntmen were completely in awe!”
Maria Yi reiterated the sentiment: “I never expect Bruce could dance so superbly well. After the outdoor shooting at Pak Chong, we arrived in Bangkok. One day, uncle Lo Wei took us to the nightclub for dancing. When the music began, Bruce rushed to the center of the dance floor and started dancing. He immersed himself in the music totally. His dancing was astoundingly wonderful, especially in the light dancing, I saw him dance extremely fast with a variety of steps and styles. I believe no one was able to match him. All the people in the nightclub were all astonished and mesmerised by his incredible dancing.”
Taking into account that Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jackie have done twin movies, there is something interesting about whether Bruce would have been swayed into doing something similar. Perhaps the title would have been Yin and Yang. Maybe he would have been the star of Duplicity – a Michael Keaton movie which is better than The Clones of Bruce Lee. Speaking of which, I’m astounded that there was never an imitator named Bruno.
After noting the connection between Sidekicks (about a Chuck Norris fan) and Looking for Jackie, maybe Bruce would have done something similar to No Retreat, No Surrender. It would have been a perfect way for himself to satirize the imitators. After all, Ron Van Clief claimed that Bruce was the prototype whereas others that followed were the imitation. Given that Bruce was more literate than people have given credit for, it would have been too easy for him to suggest that the title would be Dopey Doppelgänger.
Speaking of which, I’m surprised that there has never been an attempt to create a H.K. equivalent to Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. The closest to this happening is The Twin Dragons, but an epic period film would allow for a more faithful rendition. Maybe an idea was proposed but rejected. For example, Bey’s Canton Moon was rejected by every U.S. studio despite being a Kung Fu take on Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.
It would have been funded had it also been a remake of The Prince and the Pauper. As it turns out, the Chinese equivalent to the latter is a novel by Louis Cha (a.k.a. Jin Yong). The English title is Way of the Heroes. The story would definitely have appealed to Bruce because one the twins is a mischievous brawler whose obsession with pretty girls nets him half a dozen wives. Had Bruce regained his muscles, he would have been eager to do sex scenes so as to advertise himself to future lovers if not future wives.
If Bruce had lived, he could have been cast in some risque comedies. Taky Kimura (one of his best friends) claimed that he would tell some of the raunchiest jokes that you’ve ever heard, which means that he could easily have been swayed by the raunchy charm of Jing. When Bruce was younger, he loved reading Cha’s novels. I wonder what opinion that he would have made of the Shaw Brothers adaptation which is known in English as Ode to Gallantry.
The S.B. TV division produced an adaptative series titled Hap Hak Hang. It starred Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. I like to think that Bruce would have co-starred in the clone-oriented 1976 sequel to Westworld. The biggest problem with Futureworld is that it didn’t have an iconic character to live up to what was established with Yul Brynner. Instead of playing a character named Lee, Bruce could have played a businessman named Bryce (a reference to the price is right).
If this had happened, there would have been a TV reboot with Donnie Yen playing his character. Currently, Donnie is the de facto Bruce Lee with his roles in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Donnie was touted quite as the Bruce Lee of the nineties when Legend of the Wolf was released in the U.K. as The New Big Boss. This was self-inflicted since he did star in a Fist of Fury remake which was a TV series.
For over a decade, there has been talk of an Enter the Dragon remake. Directors in talks were said to be Spike Lee and Brett Ratner. Such an undertaking would only be worthwhile if they brought back facets from the first screenplay (which was used for the novelization). This draft is misjudged by critics. The narrative structure is misleading in a way that’s intriguing. The Williams flashback is an opening scene without the tampan framing device of being a flashback which hoodwinks onlookers into thinking that he’s the titular dragon.
What’s interesting is that the racist cop duo presume that he is a communist. The younger cop is jealous that the black martial artist is going via Hawaii in order to get to Hong Kong. Williams is prodded with his nightstick until he is shoved into the alley. The cops circle him. The older cop grabs him from behind whereas the younger cop punches his face. This adds uncertainty to the fight.
When Williams escapes, he chuckles when he steals the squad car. The next scene explains why Blood and Steel would eventually be known as The Deadly Three. The scene that ensues is what became the Roper flashback. The order of these introductions is opposite to that in the movie. I prefer this alternate structure because not only does it establish that this is Bruce’s first American movie but the fighting gets better. The use of scenery also becomes more expansive as the story continues. The only thing that stops all three from being identical is that Lee isn’t running away from something.
Anyway, Roper’s personal assistant was originally a white brunette whose bare legs were showing but the studio clearly felt that there was already a white woman to attract the white guys in the audience. As for the man himself, Mike Roote’s tie-in book implies that Smith was the original choice (making Rod the second). The description is that of a protruding jaw, heavy shoulders, a large chest, powerful forearms and a slim waist. This would have made him ideal when pitted against Bolo, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
When a thug tells Roper before attempting to beat him, the thug tells Roper that his beating will hurt Freddie more than it will hurt him. Instead of Lee talking to the old man about his book, we get a scene where Braithwaite is driven in Bruce’s favourite car (a red Mercedes) by a Chinese chauffeur whose destination is the Shaolin temple. When Braithwaite arrives at the temple, he sees a sparring match between two students who are dressed in Kung Fu suits instead of shorts and gloves.
Instead of it being Bruce versus Sammo, the description implies that it was Sammo (a stocky guy) and Yuen Wah (taller but as slim as a boy). Following on from this is the scene between the abbott and Lee, which was removed from the U.S. theatrical cut but not the H.K. one. After Braithwaite talks to Lee in the garden and the tutorial with the male teen, the story continues to the meeting where Lee is informed by an old man about the truth of his sister’s death.
Lee is a bespectacled writer. The old man is the counsellor and protector of the family. In retrospective, he might as well have been Lee’s father. The fact that the credits list him as old man is lazy. The screenplay is actually superior to the movie in that we know why Lee didn’t know what really happened. He was told by the old man that his sister was at an inn near the river because the sounds of the water were a placebo to her sickness.
It’s relayed that the old man actually does have a name – Ling. He should have been called Ming, especially seeing as how Michael Allin wrote Flash Gordon and went as far as having the Ming in that movie get killed in a similar fashion to Han. In the Tandem publication of Enter the Dragon, Oharra is meant to be of German as well as Irish descent.
The fact that he was meant to have a reddish gold beard suggests that the character was initially intended to be played by Bob Baker (who fought Bruce in what would be known in the U.S. as The Chinese Connection). Angela Mao’s character is supposed to be 20 years of age. It’s actually her who has the hidden knife that scars Oharra. She even uses the knife on one of his fellow would-be rapists by sticking it into his jaw to the extent that he has broken teeth and a bloody nose. This makes her death seem like Karma.
After this comes the scene where Braithwaite shows Lee his projector reel. It’s weird that Bruce ordered rewrites because the first draft showed that Lee was quite savvy to biology and Western drug party culture. Clouse wanted Lee to be world-weary where Bruce didn’t want to be seen as a sell-out. In the finished print, this scene comes before Lee hears Ling’s revelation of Su Lin.
The difference between the first draft and finished one is that the projector reel shows Oharra failing in his job as the bodyguard of a Spanish dictator. Unlike the movie, Braithwaite shows Lee another reel of film after the latter wants confirmation that he will get a phone call. The reel shows that Braithwaite intends to leave Lee in the dark. The footage is two months old. An unidentified man is walking down a street at night.
The reveal is that it is Lee. He was the target of a test ambush that was organized by the sketchy organization that Braithwaite works for. The footage shows Lee’s ability to hide in the dark and fight against multiple attackers. This extended part of the scene should have been left in because the insinuation is that the month of the footage was the same as when Mei Ling was sent to work on the island as an undercover operative.
This is insinuated when Braithwaite tells Lee about her after the footage is shown in all its glory. A piece of narration that should have been expressed as dialogue is that she is 22 going on 23 – the same age that Su Lin would have been had she not committed seppuku (a.k.a. harakiri or Samurai suicide). The organization was named F.A.D.E. before producers worried that the movie would be perceived as being in the same ilk of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The next scene is the travelling montage that was shown in the title sequence. When Roper loses to Lee when betting on the big mantis, Williams jokes that he should stick to horses. Peter Archer would never have played Parsons because his character was established as a Korean Taekwondo specialist. It was changed to an Australian so as to cover as much of the global market as possible.
When the Korean throws his kicks to Lee so as to boast his restraint, he asks Lee if he is bothered by the style. Lee responds by saying that he isn’t worried about other styles because the other stylists should be worried about his style. This should have been left in the final cut. Bolo was supposed to be Turkish. Bruce was meant to have the one-liner about how a woman like Tania can teach you a lot about yourself, to which Roper responded by asking: “Who, me?”
Ahna spoke of a deleted scene involving Bolo beating up one of the island workers. In the novel, it’s Oharra who gives the savage yet succinct beating because the man accidentally drops a crate into the sea.
When Lee is walking to his room, he slowly walks so as to assess how he is going to be stealthy at night. Like in Game of Death II (a.k.a. Tower of Death), we see Lee going in his room before noticing a book written by himself which implies an awareness that Han has of his guest. When Roper enters his own room, it’s readily apparent that it’s meant to reflect his Hugh Hefner wannabe status – right down to the waterbed. His drink of choice is Chivas Regal.
At the banquet, Roper tells Williams that the palace reminds him of Vietnam where you couldn’t put your finger on it. Williams responds that they didn’t know until the finger was put on them. This would have complemented the finger one-liner that Lee imparted to Lao. Another example of the narrative economy of the adaptation is that the second night when Lee fails to get down into the underground facility is the first night, which means that this is also the first and last night of Williams. This means that the disgraded guards get killed on the following morning instead of two mornings later.
Williams describing Lee as a human fly makes more sense when he climbs a wall before entering through a window. Prior to Han’s announcement that they will be murdered by the island’s executioner, he treats the guests to the sights of training drills. Lee slyly asks Roper if he slept well. Roper admits that he didn’t. He talks about the spectacle looking like compulsory Calisthenics. Lee smugly responds that it’s compulsory enlightenment. The fight between Bolo and the four guards was conceived better because one guard had a sword whereas the other fought with a stool.
The outcome of the fight makes Bolo seem impervious to blades and impenetrable to wood. The last guard suffers the most because he is blinded before Bolo uses the sword to split his head. After their deaths, Han makes a speech about international warriors meeting ends which are not untimely. He addresses Williams in his last sentence by hinting that he knows that he trespassed. The tournament begins on the next morning, which adds a harrowing edge to the psyche of the guests.
It makes for a unique pun – the tourists are fighting for their lives at the tournament. The first action that would have been seen would be Williams landing on the ground because of the Korean. When Roper deliberately gets his ass handed to himself for gambling sake, he is losing to someone whose description is essentially the actor who renamed himself as Bolo Yeung. In this light, the narration of the fight actually makes more sense than the fight that John Saxon had.
In an ideal world, Bolo would have played Tony Liu’s character whereas William Smith could play the Turk. This would leave Rod Taylor to play Roper. Rod was the least muscled of the two Roper hopefuls who failed to get the gig.
When Lee fights Oharra, the latter tries to stab him in the back with a knife instead of a pair of broken bottles. He fails and tries to stab his heart but gets pushed away with such force that the knife is inserted in himself. Han tells Lee that he doesn’t need to apologize for the disgraced deceased.
After Tania tells Williams to go to Han’s office, Williams tells Roper to meet him by the garden afterwards. When Williams rebels against Han’s wishes, he spits on Han. It’s only after this action that Han goes to the back of the room to alert a sextet of guards to surround and exterminate. In the movie, it was a quartet. When Williams berates Han as a comic book villain, he beats 4 of the guards while making satirical sounds that would accompany comic book fights: “Zap! Crack! Wham! Bam!”
This is a throwback to the origin of the screenplay being inspired by a comic book titled Terry and the Pirates. The description of Han as being bespectacled is based on Han Ying-Chieh, who was the first choice for the role after having impressed the W.B. producers with his performance in The Big Boss. The fact that it’s Williams who meets his maker means that the novelization had to have been the second draft. Before Han approaches Roper to go on a tour of the island’s underground factory, the latter is standing by a garden pool where he can admire the reflection of the sunset which makes the sky, trees and rocks have a red tint.
Not only does this foreshadow the conclusive appearance of Williams (who was previously unconscious yet still alive) but it ties in with what I typed before about Polanski’s water motif. Han appears in the reflection and engages Roper in a conversation by referring to himself in third person. Roper responds by treating Han as a third person albeit passive-aggressively. This makes what happens next in the movie seem ominous in a more confrontational way.
When Han shows Roper his servants, there is truly an array of women – Indians, Africans and Caucasians of varying natures such as a redhead. There’s even an Egyptian lady. This would have given a more accessible feel to Enter the Dragon. At any rate, it’s interesting that the museum scene happens afterwards instead of before. The original approach made sense because Han would want to show the pleasures of the island before getting down to business.
When at the museum, Mei Ling is hiding behind a curtain after failing to find the radio needed to communicate to F.A.D.E. After Roper identifies the Opium, Han tells him that it’s only an investment which is a means to the end. Roper replies by saying it’s a dead end. After saving the cat, this is another example of a line that he won’t go beyond. Instead of Roper giving a speech on economics which shows that he already knows Han’s plan, it’s Han who gives the economy lesson. Here, Roper still wants to know why Opium is Han’s drug of choice.
Han replies that Opium is a drug for the corrupt, so it’s merely a case of preaching to the choir than corrupting a goody-two-shoes. Han takes Roper to a ward where Tania is showing her true colours. She is a quality inspector who determines where the sex workers will work in. Allin was wanting to appease the producers by having Tania inspect naked women of 3 kinds – Oriental, Occidental (Caucasian) and African.
The reveal of Williams is more surprising because his hanging body is blocked by a stack of crates which are removed by a crane operator. Williams died because of his body being completely wrapped with barbed wire. Instead of Roper acknowledging that there is no misunderstanding between himself and Han, the latter asks him to confirm about his debts in America. After hearing the confirmation, Han tells him that those debts will be taken care of. Roper doesn’t show a sign of rebellion.
The next dialogue scene is one which has intrigued many a Lee fan who tried to read his lips in Game of Death II. Lee tells Mei Ling that the radio has to be down there in the cavern. She offers to show him the elevator but he insists that he has to come in the same way as before – outside. The reason being that the elevator will be guarded or have some kind of alarm. If they get caught, they would know about her. Before he can say to her what might happen to her, she tells him that the guests are prisoners who will never be allowed to leave.
He tells her that Roper and Williams will join him, but she counteracts that Roper has joined Han whereas Williams has disappeared. Roper enters his own room, grabs some Scotch, tries to find a glass but can only find a vase with lotus blossoms inside. He chucks out the contents outside the window, fills it with Scotch and drinks his sorrows away. Tania enters, tells him that everything has been taken of and seduces him by being intimate.
He appears to be more compliant than heartbroken. He tells her that they should go to Macau for celebration. She doesn’t want to leave because it requires Han’s permission. He only succeeds in getting her into bed. When behind her, his face is one of frustration about being conned one more time. This scene mirrors the meeting between Lee and Mei Ling. The difference is that Lee succeeds in wanting to go further inside the island whereas Roper fails to move away from it. Lee and Roper are opposite sides of a coin.
When Lee sets out to leave his room for the final time, the way that it’s described is identical to the scene in the movie where he leaves in the catsuit for the first time. This would suggest that this is another example of scenes being rearranged by the editing instead of the writing. When some of the guards find themselves trapped by the prisoners behind the bars, there is gore in the form of eye-gouging and throat-ripping. This got me thinking that Bruce would have gone on to make a Kung Fu zombie movie. Kung Fu Zombie and Zombie Rivals don’t quite live up to their titles.
When Roper is brought out in the morning for Han, the latter admits that he was wrong to accuse Williams as the spy. Bolo uses a sword to cut Lee free (or rather Bruce loose). The scene cuts to Mei Ling seducing a guard before using her wrists to injure his collarbone. She frees the prisoners. After Han tells Roper that he is going to fight Lee, Roper wants him to clarify about wanting Lee to be killed. Han tries to convince him that Lee’s spying result in the death of Williams.
Han reassures Roper they were going to fight anyway because they are the finalists of the competition. Instead of saying that there’s a line that he won’t go beyond, Roper claims that a man has to choose between fighting another man and fighting with him. After Han declares that he will find someone for Roper, he starts anointing random Karatekas to take out the rebellious tag-team. Roper jokes that this is one Hell of a mess that Lee got him in.
Lee replies that if you have a pure heart then you will have the strength of ten. Roper jokes that they are fighting more than ten. Roper is being overwhelmed by the attackers until Lee steps in and the prisoners help them even the odds. The prisoners have weapons. Bolo has a Japanese sword (a katana). Bruce wants to fight him but Roper wants to do the honours since he believes that he was responsible for executing Williams.
What makes the fight believable is that it’s a sword fight as opposed to a bodybuilder losing to a man of average build. The narration mentions that the sword that he is fighting with is different to the fencing swords that he used when he was studying at university. It’s only after Bolo’s death that Han is shown to be missing a hand. Lee doesn’t fight Han in the mirror maze. After killing Han, Lee arrives to visually convey gratitude to Roper.
Lee laughs when he sees the army show up. It confirms his suspicion that Mr. Braithwaite would always be late. Tania is nowhere to be found. It would have been fitting if her character died the same way that Lee’s sister died. To imagine how this would have played out, her being chased by prisoners is intercut with Lee chasing Han. The suspense is heightened when Roper is nearing his fight with Bolo. She finds a knife and goes in the pool that Roper was standing over before Han’s tour.
She commits suicide. Similarly, it would have been apt if Mei Ling was pursued by guards whose chase is intercut with Lee’s fight with Han. The setting: she goes near the radio room whose window was smashed when Han’s men tried to escape from Lee’s snake. She picks up a shard of glass, goes in the pool which Williams fell in and commits suicide. Both women are identical victims of attempted rape.