For over a decade, there has been talk of an Enter the Dragon remake (too many remakes nowadays). 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 draft of the screenplay, which were used for the novelization. This draft is misjudged by critics because of Bruce Lee hating it so much that he threw a tirade which rained on the screenwriter’s parade. 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 baton 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 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, albeit his sister is.
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 Roper, Mike Roote’s tie-in book implies that William Smith was the original choice (making Rod Taylor the second). The aping (thus apt) description is that of a protruding jaw, heavy shoulders, a large chest, powerful forearms and a slim waist. This would’ve made him ideal when pitted against Bolo, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to the book, 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 escorted by a Chinese chauffeur in Bruce’s favourite car (a red Mercedes) 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 (which is still prior to 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 family’s counsellor and protector. Retrospectively, 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’ve 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.
Next up is the scene where Braithwaite shows Lee his projector reel. In the finished print, this scene comes before Lee hears Ling’s revelation of Su Lin. It’s weird that Bruce ordered rewrites because the first draft showed that Lee was quite savvy to biology and Western drug party culture. The director wanted Lee to be world-weary whereas Bruce didn’t want to be seen as a sell-out. 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 after the latter wants acknowledgement that he will get a phone call. The reel shows that Braithwaite intends to literally 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’ve 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’ve been expressed as dialogue is that, age-wise, she is 22 going on 23 – the same age that Su Lin would’ve 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 as The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The next scene is the travelogue that was shown in the title sequence. When Roper loses to Lee upon betting on the big mantis, Williams jokes that he should stick to horses. Peter Archer almost never played Parsons because his character was meant to be a Korean Taekwondo specialist. It was changed to an Australian so as to cover as much of the global market as possible. Bolo was supposed to be Turkish. 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 practitioners should be worried about his style. This should’ve been left in the final cut. Bruce was meant to have the one-liner about how a woman like Tania can teach you a lot about yourself, to which Roper would have responded by asking: “Who, me?”
The bald boy in Fist of Unicorn, Mang Hoi, was in the boat sequence because Hoi in Cantonese means sea. Mang Hoi, ahoy! Ahna Capri spoke of a deleted scene involving Bolo beating up one of the island workers. In the novelization, it’s Oharra who gives the savage yet succinct beating because the man accidentally drops a crate into the sea. The “deadly three” witness this. 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. This suspense-setting scene implies an acutely astute 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 because you couldn’t put your finger on it.
Williams responds that they didn’t know until the finger was put on them. This 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 disgraced guards get killed on the next 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 the guards 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, and 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 another 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 fight for their lives at the tournament. The first action that would’ve 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 unconvincing fight that John Saxon had. In an ideal world, Yeung would’ve played Tony Liu’s character whereas William Smith could play the Turk. This would’ve left 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 is propelled 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 impressing 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.
This foreshadows the conclusive appearance of Williams (who was previously unconscious yet still alive). 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’ve given a more accessible feel to Enter the Dragon. At any rate, it’s fascinating 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. Allin was wanting to appease the producers by having Tania inspect naked women of 3 kinds – Oriental, Occidental 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 snidely acknowledging that there is no misunderstanding between himself and Han, the latter asks him to confirm about his debts in America. After hearing the neutral 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 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.
The concept is not unfathomable, given how there was Japanese-themed publicity in the late `70s for two movies from the East and the West – one of which was a Bruceploitation movie titled Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger. Going from the image above, you would think that someone would have put two and two together. Unfortunately, the closest that we will get to seeing a gory Bruce Lee movie is Bruce Le’s cameo in a 1982 Italian slasher movie titled Pieces.
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 commands Roper 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 that 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 he is fighting more than ten. He is overwhelmed until Lee steps in and the prisoners help them even the odds.
The prisoners have weapons. A sore war! 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 considerably more believable is that it’s a sword fight as opposed to a bodybuilder losing to an older 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’ve been fitting if her character died the same way that Lee’s sister died. To imagine how this would’ve 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’ve 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. The moral of the story is that wanting to avenge a woman can lead to other women being desecrated.