I have to establish the history before I get to the motive. It was stated back in 1973 (the year of his death) by none other than James Coburn (who wanted Bruce to film The Silent Flute for 20th Century Fox) that Lee said to him (when they were in Hong Kong):
“If Paramount can give Brando a million bucks, the Shaws can do the same for me.”
It was a vengeful ploy to make a prestigious Kung Fu film with the biggest studio in Southeast Asia on his terms. R.R. Shaw had already sent a correspondent to name his price. Various writers begun preparing scripts, and names of directors began to get tossed about. Chor Yuen (楚原) was said to have the uppermost advantage because of his acquaintanceship with Bruce, who was to be directed by Cheng Kang (程剛) instead of Chang Cheh (張徹).
Raymond Chow, a former Shaw Brothers employee who can be found on Google as 鄒文懷, was well aware of the Shaws tampering with Golden Harvest’s biggest cash cow. At every level inside the production of Enter the Dragon, Run Run also had people who reported information on the project (i.e. spies working on a spy movie). Most G.H. employees were reasonably paranoid. R.R. believed that it may not finish due to the difficulties between the oddly coupled H.K. and U.S. studios.
Working for S.B. at a production cost and a pay-rate that G.H. could not match would’ve meant the end for Ray. Not to mention the truly tremendous loss of face, being that it was he who gave Lee his shot to superstardom. A Shaw production would’ve been more lavish than the Hollywood glamour that Enter the Dragon (龍爭虎鬥) was meant to be. Before getting into the film industry, Ray worked for Taiwan’s equivalent to the C.I.A. – National Security Bureau (meaning he could cover his tracks).
Naysayers will say that the truth would’ve come out by now, but you also have to account for the mysterious absences of Richey Edwards and Jimmy Hoffa. Some people know what happened to their bodies, but that doesn’t mean they are going to come out with the truth – even if they are on their deathbeds (therefore taking it with them to their graves). Ray initially didn’t want Bruce to do Enter the Dragon because he didn’t want to lose him to the U.S. studios.
Enter the Dragon was Lee’s chance to prove that he could’ve easily played David Carradine’s Kwai Chang Caine i.e. a serene master. Ray, sympathizing with Lee’s loss of face, saw that working with Warner Brothers opened up possibilities more endless than what Shaw had (although The Way of the Dragon inspired S.B. to collaborate with Italian film production companies). If he could develop strong ties with W.B. then he would never have to worry about S.B. again. Because of the “now or never” nature of the Americans, the shooting of Game of Death (死亡遊戲) was postponed so that Enter the Dragon could begin.
Ray used Bruce to make a name for himself overseas by giving interviews to the H.K. press, stating that Bruce was like a stupid child who owed his success to Ray’s fatherly advice. Ray said that he was the puppet master to Bruce’s senseless puppet, but this backfired. W.B. were not interested in Ray’s goldenly harvested dreck (G.H. was still something of an upstart than a major global player). Bruce, not the self-deprecating type, felt betrayed by his cohort (even though they weren’t cohesive). Chaplin Chang recalled that Bruce had a tendency to hurl mother-prefixed insults at Ray’s face.
Lee intended for his G.H. offshoot company (Concord) to co-produce with S.B. (even going as far to pose for costume test shots in more guises than what is shown in this article’s featured image of a G.H. brick wall). Before he could defect, Lee died after the post-production of Enter the Dragon came to an end. In a posthumous interview, Ray stated that he didn’t view the Game of Death footage for a long time because he was too upset. That’s odd, considering that he sent a camera crew around to film his dead friend’s home for a documentary titled Bruce Lee, the Man and the Legend.
They also filmed the grieving Lee family, the funeral services, Bruce’s body and Ray escorting his widow to the airport. These cinematic grave-robbers returned to film more shots of Bruce’s house as the removal men stripped the place. In a matter of months, this so-called tribute to the late Lee was being shown in H.K. cinemas. Ray still harbored hopes of breaking into the U.S. scene (Game of Death was the key to the Stateside gate). Bruce’s script was disregarded with indecent haste and replaced with a dim scenario which would hopefully convince the U.S. market that Ray could produce films just as tawdry as their own.
There is a pivotal character named Marshall (named after Lee’s attorney whose forename was Adrian). In fact, there are many details based on Lee’s life. The initials of the character – Billy Lo. He has a Mercedes and an impulsive temper. His disguise consists of Ray Bans, Italian fashions and a beard. He has a Caucasian girlfriend. There’s also the suspicious inclusion of on-set accidents like falling set lights. This mimics the train wreck of a production that Enter the Dragon was. The most glaring omission is marijuana due to the implausibility of a stoned fighter who is not defective.
What should be a memorial to Bruce becomes an incriminating exposé that warns stars of the dangers incurred from resisting the services of syndicates. Why else would they have gone out of their way to include footage of Bruce’s H.K. funeral? The finished job was so bad that W.B. refused to distribute it, hence why Columbia distributed it in the summer of `79 instead of `78. `79 was when a hack director wanted his own godson to have his body hacked by machete-wielding Triads for refusing to finish Fearless Hyena II (whose lack of completion made it hackneyed).
With Lee alive, the incomplete Game of Death would always come second to what else would’ve been lined up. It would’ve been another Lee project as opposed to some magnum opus. Lee’s plan was to have his own company in the U.S. Lam Ching-Ying (林正英) claimed that he wanted to emigrate the best of the H.K. stunt community to America, thereby cleaning house to the point that many H.K. film producers were standing in the shallow end of the talent pool (if not a complete wasteland). One man who accepted his invitation was Bolo Yeung (楊斯).
For the same reasons that Lo Wei (羅維) anticipated the hacking of his Fearless Hyena star, Ray never worried about Jackie Chan (成龙) abandoning G.H. after making The Big Brawl. This was because he was an unknown, so success would be as limited as his English. Speaking of English, one offer that Bruce considered was to be a voice actor for a Hanna-Barbera TV series which was essentially like Jackie Chan Adventures. Linda has attested to her husband having a foul temper that went well beyond the verbal scale (which he admitted in a 1971 interview).
Even in the Linda-authorized Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, he goes into a blind rage (it’s fitting that there is a B-grade movie titled Blind Fists of Bruce Lee). In the month of his death, Bruce pushed Ray over a couch. Wu Ngan (affectionately known as Ngan Jai) was there to witness it. Bruce confided to his youngest brother, Robert, about it. I never bought into the story about Ray working with him on the script for Game of Death on the day that Lee died. It was already finalized (as was complexly detailed in a 2001 John Little book titled The Warrior’s Journey), so Ray is obscuring the fact because he needed an alibi to avoid prosecution!
The Equagesic excuse for his passing is hogwash. Here’s why – the medication that he took for his headache at Betty Ting’s apartment, Beverly Heights, was similar to the meds which he was taking for his back pain. I have a hard time believing that a single tablet caused Lee’s demise when, a few months prior, he collapsed with the same symptoms and he had not taken the drug. Too coincidentally, Ray was there on both occasions.
It was Ray who stated that Bruce collapsed at home while walking in his garden with Linda (which was partially reconstructed for the documentary so that people could imagine it). He retracted by stating that he was saving Linda from the swirl of gossip, despite there already being tabloids concerning Betty before Bruce died (they had an affair because she resembled a Japanese ex-girlfriend named Amy Sanbo).
It was Ray who introduced Bruce to the actress known as Ting-Pei (a.k.a. 丁珮). Ray played Cupid because Bruce’s two picture deal was coming to an end in early 1972. Like how Jackie was lampooned by Wong Jing (王晶) in High Risk (鼠膽龍威) as being something of a womanizer, Lee was a philosophical philanderer. The endlessly sterling Stirling Silliphant (R.I.P.) claimed that Lee bragged to him that he had got it on with two women on the night after Silliphant had turned down his invitation to go out with them.
Jon Benn cites Lee as being constantly flirtatious on the set of The Way of the Dragon, because there were many pretty women. John Saxon claimed that Lee recommended that they go out with some of the Chinese women. Bob Wall claimed that Bruce collected issues of Playboy (the irony wouldn’t be lost on Bob that there would be an issue featuring Bruce 40 years down the line). Bob Baker deserves to be distrusted more than Wall, since it’s possible that Baker had an affair with Linda while Bruce was filming his directorial début in Rome.
Bruce was paranoid about people contaminating his food and drinks in the last months of his life (there are Enter the Dragon production pics of himself holding a Thermos flask). Ahna Capri saw a stuntman near his flask, Lee freaked out, so the kid was fired. It has been suggested that the cause of his downfall was Nepalese hashish. It made sense except that people tend to calm down when ingesting it. A circulated allegation is that he removed his sweat glands because of the Chinese Pussy Galore.
With Lee being a health nut, he wouldn’t prohibit his body from removing toxins. His sweat made his muscles defined in Enter the Dragon. He was both brainy and brawny. He was such a devout reader that he was an uncompromising researcher. If a man can be paranoid about enemies then he can certainly be paranoid about his health. One of the side effects of excessive hash intake, especially if it’s been laced, is severe paranoia. If weed is laced, the drug-taker can be prone to acts of violence akin to roid rage.
The question is whether Bruce was given laced weed so as to trigger a tantrum that would allow for an excuse to end him. Without lacing, hash addicts can still have dilated pupils and loss of memory or consciousness. Although he didn’t want to live as an elderly man (similar to how Kurt Cobain felt), he didn’t want to die yet. The fact that Bruce didn’t flee H.K. to film overseas (such as a Caribbean island) shows that he was too self-assured to be totally paranoid.
Consider this – you’re Bruce, you’re slowly being poisoned by someone who has access to you and what you eat, drink or wear. Imagine that you only trust your meek butler. One of the symptoms of consuming Nitrophenolic and Nitrocresolic herbicides (or pesticides) is thirst. Charles Lowe (a.k.a. the second unit camera operator for Enter the Dragon) witnessed Lee drink copious amounts of saké. Anorexia was another symptom. His overtraining is seldom blamed, but he told Dan Inosanto that having a film career didn’t allow much time for training.
Mitoshi Uyehara confirmed this in a book titled Bruce Lee: The Incomparable Fighter. It was published in the same year as Robert Clouse’s brief biography about Bruce – 1988 (the year of the dragon). When Bruce was pronounced dead, Linda asked Betty if she could back up the story that he died at home. The next day, Linda had his stuntmen over for a banquet to celebrate his life. One man, Billy Chan Wui-Ngai (陳會毅), recalled that the guys were gossiping about how he was slain. She reprimanded in a hysterical tone – If I do not want to know how he really died, then why should you?
The sneaking suspicion was backed up by Peter, Bruce’s oldest brother, about Ngan (a childhood pal and butler that had his own family live with him at Bruce’s final home). Bruce’s assets were in Ngan’s name (Bruce was a tax scammer), so the latter received a large sum of money from Linda’s lawyer to sort this out after Bruce died. He quickly returned to England. In 1974, two insurance companies only paid half because they were unable to obtain a copy of the autopsy report, not because of what it included but what was missing pointed to something much more.
Lee had bruises on his face which were consistent with someone who had been attacked. His forehead appears to be branded by an iron which was then used to singe his left eyebrow so that onlookers got the hint from the angle. The left side of his neck was swollen – a target of intense intent. The bottom of his neck looks slashed and pierced (scary discoloration). His H.K. coffin photos show that his neck was covered in a weird way.
Nancy Kwan (who Lee choreographed for The Wrecking Crew) had a friend in the police force who oversaw the investigation, and he claims that there was one shoe missing. This made some believe that Lee was taken to Betty’s apartment with one shoe. The message was wait until the other shoe drops. Basically, the police were told that he died in Betty’s bedroom whereas the press were told that he died at Linda’s house.
Betty initially distanced herself from it by claiming that she was shopping with her mother during the dragon’s demise. I suspect that there was domestic abuse which could only be resolved by gangsters suppressing him, otherwise he could easily oppress a martial artist. Ed Khmara (writer) and Jason Scott Lee wanted Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story to be the Chinese answer to Raging Bull, but the powers that be forbade that. In 1976, Betty married an actor/gangster named Charles Heung (向華強).
Another such guy was a friend of Bruce named Michael Chan Wai-Man (陳惠敏), who spoke of how the police and crooks of the `70s were interchangeable. Before Bruce left H.K. at the age of 18, he had unwittingly beaten up the lowlife son of a high-ranking police officer. It’s been reported that Michael was the one who told Ray that Bruce was dead. Ray allegedly asked who else met their ends. Michael was a high-ranking member of the 14K Triad, who are the main rival of the Sun Yee On (whose chief deputy happened to be threatened by Bruce as referenced in my timeline).
According to Dr. Peter Wu, Lee’s use of hashish was the only possible reason for his collapse in May of 1973. Peter demanded him to stop using it. Lee was inhaling cannabis since the late `60s, so he knew his limitations. He was also eating hash brownies, so he knew the outcome of that as well. Very rarely does someone die from a fatal reaction to cannabis intake. An antigen (or foreign substance) was added to what he ingested without his knowledge.
Many addicts take drugs that have been laced with an antigen which gives them a sickly reaction. The result can be either a death-bed or a sick-bed. Bruce should’ve changed his supplier. In The Incomparable Fighter, Bruce was quoted as telling Uyehara that you notice everything more sharply with marijuana. Bruce opened up about being near-sighted to Joe Hyams (as typed in a 1979 book titled Zen in the Martial Arts). He also revealed that he wore contact lenses since he couldn’t see an opponent at a far distance. Contrast this with Clouse, who was hard of hearing. Yin-Yang symbolism!
Chuck Norris, in Against All Odds (a memoir which is his sixth book), alluded to Bruce’s steroid experimentation being known among his peers. Richard Ng (吳耀漢) described Bruce in his final month, July `73, as strung out. Ng mimed a syringe motion to his arm. You should ruminate for a bit that Lee was only sick in H.K. and not in the U.S. He almost dies and comes to the U.S. for a check-up by the top doctor of neurology at U.C.L.A. who happened to be the doctor of Paul Heller (one of Lee’s producers). They found no cause for Bruce almost passing in the previous fortnight.
Bob Wall laments in the impartial I Am Bruce Lee documentary that M.R.I. scans weren’t commonplace back then. If you go into a coma, almost die, get very sick, have pale skin, spend the duration of a week not talking without slurring like you’ve had a stroke, you come back to the States to be checked out by a top doctor, have numerous tests on top of that, and there is nothing found, then that means something is happening to you in the other place where you live. Think about it; if the cause of himself passing out and almost passing away is serious then, for sure, they would’ve found something wrong at the top clinic.
The cause might as well have been asbestos (Brittany Murphy also met her maker by this at the age of 32). David Tadman (the mind behind I Am Bruce Lee) was lucky enough to have interviewed two policemen who were on the force at that time. They say that it was a cover-up. Furthermore, Mang Hoi (孟海), Sammo Hung (洪金寶), Yuen Wah (元華), Peter Chan Lung (陳龍) and many others will tell you that foul play was afoot. Lam Ching-Ying didn’t have to go on the lam because he kept his cards close due to the Triads having as much influence in H.K. as Jews in Hollywood.
Ray has a Machiavellian mind, so he had to explain Bruce’s head injuries by having to claim that they were the by-product of filming fight scenes. Even George Lee (a Jeet Kune Do student) claimed that, in June `73, Bruce admitted that H.K. was getting nasty and he wanted out. James DeMile (Bruce’s first student) was so convinced that Bruce had been murdered that he mounted an investigation. He came to the conclusion that he was poisoned by people who he antagonized in the H.K. film industry.
Death by chronic cyanide poisoning is difficult to detect and can be confused for a natural death. I will quote James Coburn’s observation from his final encounter with Bruce (as quoted in The Bruce Lee Story by his widow and Tom Bleecker): “Towards the end of his life, Bruce seemed to be carrying a great weight – something bad set in. He was being hit on all sides by everybody…and he had to have his guard up all the time.”