Legal repercussions

Film-maker Robert Clouse had to be careful when writing his biography on Bruce Lee, which was published on August, 1988 – the fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. release of their collaboration: Enter the Dragon. By comparison, his book about the making of the film had been published in June, 1987 – the fourteenth anniversary of when Bruce succeeded in having the film no longer be titled Blood and Steel or even Han’s Island. By 1988, Robert still had a working relationship with the Golden Harvest film company in Hong Kong, as can be seen by his presence in a 1988 documentary called The Deadliest Art a.k.a. The Best of the Martial Arts Films. It was released in 1990 like a pair of 1988 Golden Harvest films which Clouse had directed – the China O’Brien duology starring Cynthia Rothrock. Ironically, his business relationship with G.H. had ended after that. It’s something of an irony that he was never called upon by them to helm the first movie of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film trilogy.

Not many people give Clouse credit for how he tap-danced around the elephant in the room: the shadiest areas of Bruce’s life when writing the biography about him. He doesn’t reference Bob Baker at all (not even a photo), and he even goes out of his way to cite The Way of the Dragon as the first time that Bruce worked with Caucasian martial artists in a film. Bearing in mind that Bruce had treated Clouse to a screening of Fist of Fury and would have said something about Baker being his student/friend (if not his drug courier). Clouse’s biography was written when the estate ran by Bruce’s widow was in full swing. Represented by attorney Adrian Marshall, Linda Lee had already attempted to sue the Chinese film-makers behind Super Dragon in November 1974 because they dared to make a movie about her husband. Ironically, Linda never sued Bruce’s mistress for doing the same thing in 1975. Betty Ting Pei’s Bruce Lee and I was produced by Shaw Brothers but they hid behind a fake company called B & B Film Co. in case of an impending lawsuit.

Linda tried to get Super Dragon banned but failed (according to the January 1975 issue of Kung Fu Monthly). This is why Linda set out to do her own biopic. In Super Dragon, she is made out to be the villain. The August 1978 issue of Fighting Stars reported how much money that she received after suing the people behind Super Dragon and Golden Sun – both Ho Chung-Tao movies are called Dragon Dies Hard in different territories. Linda maintained that her late husband’s defining characteristics were used without permission of the estate. A Superior Court judge in Los Angeles had then established that the name, likeness, lifestyle and character traits of Bruce belong to his estate. The judge ordered that Allied Artists, Hallmark Productions, Esquire Productions and Winthrop Amusements, Inc. make a $25,000 settlement to the estate. Film producer Ng See-Yuen didn’t get sued when he made Bruce Lee: True Story (a.k.a. Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth) but then Linda isn’t made out to be a shrew in that one. In the Bruceploitation sub-genre, many film-makers came out with films which had Bruce Lee in the title but weren’t about him, so they never got sued either.

The makers of a Taiwanese Bruceploitation movie called Bruce Lee: The Star of All Stars didn’t get sued by Golden Harvest for incorporating clips from two scenes in Fist of Fury where Bruce’s character was in disguise. Despite the title of this Ho Chung-Tao movie, it is not a biopic despite how many biopics that Ho starred in. Also known as Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger, it is about a lookalike friend of Bruce Lee who investigates his death. The original Mandarin version contains dialogue that isn’t present in the Western release due to either footage being excised or dialogue simply being rewritten. In the original version released in Hong Kong (with burnt-in English subtitles), Betty Ting Pei is known as Betty Chen. In a dialogue scene between the lookalike and his friend, it is mentioned that she had a boyfriend who is a jockey. This confirms something that Fan Mei-Sheng told Bey Logan which the latter had reported on the Bruce Lee Lives forum. Back to Ng See-Yuen’s Bruce Lee: True Story, it’s the only biopic where someone filmed Bruce’s grave in Seattle.

Bruce had been in three films that had scenes which took place in graveyards: Fist of Fury (1972), The Way of the Dragon (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973). Some people like to blame Bruce’s death on a curse, but he would have died sooner if that was true. Director Lo Wei, who Bruce got into severe legal trouble with, claimed that it was bad luck for Bruce to make a movie with death in the title i.e. The Game of Death. Again, Bruce would have died in 1972 before the project got put on hold to make way for Enter the Dragon. Robert Clouse never revealed if he had seen Super Dragon when writing Bruce Lee: The Biography. Reading in between the lines, it seems like Linda spoke “off the record” to Clouse about Bob Baker and, in turn, he followed her instruction “to the letter” by not saying anything about Baker’s relationship with the Lee couple. Perhaps Clouse took it one step further so that people would wonder why Baker doesn’t exist until all is revealed, hence the drug letters that came out last year. Presumably, when Linda had read Clouse’s manuscript and realized that he had also held to his word about not mentioning the commonly known stories of Bruce getting sick from marijuana leaf and taking hash brownies with Bob Wall (another martial arts actor), she then allowed him to use photos from her collection.

One of the most important rules in storytelling is sometimes it’s what you don’t say that speaks volumes. Jean Cocteau, French artist of many mediums, believed that you should never state what you can imply. Besides Baker, Clouse didn’t say anything in his book about Bruce doing business with George Lazenby in the final week of his life. This is because he didn’t believe it. Perhaps Clouse asked around and found that the only people who name-dropped Lazenby were Andre Morgan, Raymond Chow and Linda. None of the Chinese biopics reference Lazenby. Andre and Raymond worked for Golden Harvest, but they have given conflicting stories as to what Bruce’s final day consisted of. As a former Bond, Lazenby was a big deal, so Bruce liked to brag when updating friends overseas of his progress and projects. For a guy who claimed to have spent time in Bruce’s house during his final days, he doesn’t seem to recall specific details of the home like the electric shock pads for Bruce’s muscles and how almost every door had a key. If we can get photos of Bruce with Andre in his office then why not Lazenby in there too? If a person can let you into their home, they can let you into their office.

Furthermore, not even Brandon Lee had referenced Lazenby in any of his interviews. As Robert Clouse states in his book, Bruce was inundated with offers from around the world. More to the point, he was not contractually obligated to stay with Golden Harvest or even Concord – the company which Bruce had formed with Raymond Chow (seen below). Clouse referenced Andrew Vajna making constant visits to the set of Enter the Dragon in his book about the movie, but Clouse didn’t reference their upcoming collaboration: The Green Bamboo Warrior (Bruce’s next Hollywood film), which Andy was going to produce. This was going to be done after Bruce did a period film about Nin Kang-Yiu for the Shaw Brothers film company. Clouse claimed that Bruce only did the Shaw screen tests so as to put Raymond in his place, but what he failed to mention was that Bruce had sent a letter to R.R. Shaw in June 1973 which stated that Run Run should consider the period of September to November to be one where Bruce would exclusively offer his services to the company. Also, Bruce had got George Lee (one of his American friends) to make an axe that was to be used by Bruce in the film.

Again, Clouse couldn’t afford to rock the boat which was his association with Golden Harvest. Lying by omission only makes you a villain if you are not being threatened and you don’t have any loved ones to worry about. It strikes me as odd that Wu Ngan wasn’t mentioned in Clouse’s biography. Wu was Bruce’s assistant on the set of Enter the Dragon but Clouse didn’t mention him in the other book either. Wu was Bruce’s butler during his final Hong Kong years. This was a relationship that was made complicated by the fact that Wu’s family worked as servants for the Lee family when both boys were children. Both Bruce and Wu were said to be childhood friends, but Wu didn’t join him when Bruce left for America as an 18-year-old. In fact, Wu had been living in London for a number of years by the time that Bruce convinced him to live with him in Hong Kong during the fall of 1971. Some may put forth the notion that Clouse couldn’t write about Wu Ngan due to the word-count restriction which inhibits authors. The dozen pages which are spent on rehashing tales from the Enter the Dragon book could easily have been dispensed in favour of the man who was also a member of Bruce’s stunt team (seen in the middle below).

The March 1992 issue of Martial Arts Masters (Inside Karate’s special edition series) contained an article by Robert Clouse called The Last Days of Bruce Lee. The sub-heading on the contents page was How did the Little Dragon really die? Who or what killed him? The director of his immortal classic gives his version. Upon reading it, I was much disappointed to learn that it wasn’t so much a new article as a combination of the final three chapters in his biography i.e. chapters 16–18: Honeymoon’s Over, A Time to Die and Who Killed Him? The timing of the article was strange. It was a couple of months before Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story began filming, so perhaps Clouse was peeved about not being asked to direct, and wanted to remind people that Bruce wasn’t as saintly as whatever the new biopic was going to depict him as…especially since Linda’s 1989 book removed references to Bruce’s hash use and traces of cannabis in his system when he died.

Clouse died in 1997, which makes it weird that we never got to read an interview where he talked about Rob Cohen’s 1993 biopic and Death by Misadventure: The Mysterious Life of Bruce Lee – a documentary that was released in the same year. Did he sign a gag order? Clouse wasn’t even interviewed in another 1993 doc: The Curse of the Dragon. They had to use archive footage from The Deadliest Art, the aforementioned 1988 documentary by Golden Harvest. Legally, Warner Brothers were on shaky ground since they didn’t list Clouse in the closing credits nor did they list the G.H. doc. Clouse knew the names of the doctors who treated Bruce, so it’s not like he didn’t know who to interview about Bruce’s drug use. This is strange since there had been three biographies in the mid-seventies which referenced Bruce’s vices – Alex Ben Block’s The Legend of Bruce Lee (1974), Don Atyeo’s The King of Kung Fu (a 1974 publication co-authored by Felix Dennis) and Linda’s The Man Only I Knew (a 1975 publication which was mostly ghost-written by Alan Shadrake).

In 1975, Clouse was going to direct a biopic produced by Barbra Streisand’s boyfriend, and featuring Chuck Norris as himself. Filming was to begin in June. The final draft was written on Clouse’s 47th birthday: March 26 (this date was confirmed as such in his book and record sites despite what IMDB claims). Bruce would have turned 47 in 1987: the same year when The Making of Enter the Dragon was published. Linda’s book was published in America circa April 1975. The most famous audition was held on April 14. Clouse’s biopic was to be titled Bruce Lee: His Life and Legend, and he found his star in the form of Alex Kwok (who was to be renamed Alex Kwon). Ironically, the British version of Linda’s book is called The Life and Legend of Bruce Lee. Even more ironic was that this version was published on February 5, 1975. Below, she was with two of Bruce’s youngest fans: Justin and Tanya Bailey. Unfortunately, the film didn’t go past the audition stage due to creative differences between Clouse and Linda.

It’s been suggested that the film didn’t get made due to several biopics coming out from Hong Kong, but most of those films came out after the cancellation: Bruce Lee and I (January 1976), He’s a Legend, He’s a Hero (October 1976), Bruce Lee: True Story (same month, same star) and Legend of Bruce Lee (same year, same star). Besides, those films wouldn’t have received the widespread distribution that the Clouse biopic would have gotten (forgotten?). A bunch of Chinese film-makers had ripped off Bruce’s concept for The Game of Death by making a movie called The New Game of Death (1975), but that didn’t stop Golden Harvest’s Raymond Chow from releasing the real McCoy. It was suggested that Chow changed Bruce’s storyline due to the imitators stealing his thunder but most of the rip-offs came out after Clouse had been hired to finish the film: Duel with the Devils (1977), The True Game of Death (1979) and Enter the Game of Death (1981 in H.K.).

The fact that Duel with the Devils came out in 1977 is cause for concern enough seeing as how that was the same year when Clouse resumed filming of The Game of Death, which would end up being released without the definitive (i.e. you can’t call it “The” when the story has been changed so much and with plenty of footage abandoned). What also bothers me about Duel with the Devils is the connection that it has to Bruce in other areas. The movie stars a martial artist who attended Bruce’s funeral, Dorian Tan Tao-Liang, and a martial artist who didn’t attend, Angela Mao (seen below). Both worked for Golden Harvest, but it was Angela who was supposed to be on good terms with Bruce. In an August 1977 issue of a newspaper called Toledo Blade, Clouse was quoted as saying that the released version of The Game of Death was going to show Bruce on screen for 40 minutes, and the film was going to be released before Christmas of that year.

Unfortunately, reshoots in December were necessitated by Clouse not exactly being the best guy to film fight scenes. Ironically, he later told a reporter for Kick Illustrated in 1980 that he didn’t think that Bruce’s fights were that good despite the footage being hyped up as “the greatest” in the years between Bruce’s death and the film’s release. In fairness to clout-deprived Clouse, there are a couple of 1977 newspaper articles where co-star Colleen Camp is quoted as referring to Raymond Chow as the true director…hence the shots of Bruce from his other films. Clouse had as good of an inside track as any since Bruce had showed him some of the fight footage during pre-production on Enter the Dragon. In a July issue of a Canadian newspaper (The Leader-Post), Clouse claimed that Bruce had shot 10,000 feet of The Game of Death. Personally, I think that a good deal of that were out-takes.

Then again, Bruce did have it down in writing that he was halfway done with making the film by the time that Enter the Dragon was due to start production. In his Bruce biography, what Clouse had to say about the finished version of Bruce’s incomplete film sounds detached as if he is a film critic reviewing a film made by someone else. This suggests that the film was taken out of Clouse’s hands. This makes one question whose idea it was exactly for the film’s storyline to be changed so that it echoes Bruce’s real-life struggles as a star dealing with organized crime in the film industry. Clouse became Bruce’s friend because Bruce believed that Clouse was the only person other than himself who cared about Enter the Dragon being a film of quality.

Clouse’s screenplay for the biopic is intriguing with how he refers to one of Bruce’s childhood friends. Unicorn Chan is renamed Jimmy since that was the name of character who he played in The Way of the Dragon. He’s described at one point as wanting to wear a green satin jacket. Unicorn had worn a green satin shirt for the press conference that was to promote his own starring vehicle, The Unicorn Palm (retitled much later as Fist of Unicorn so as to capitalize on Bruce’s Fist of Fury). Look below. As for Wu Ngan, he is simply known as a “Chinese cook” in one scene that takes place in Bruce’s kitchen during his final Hong Kong years whereas Bob Baker is represented by a man playing a Russian on the set of Fist of Fury. Baker had a suspicious relationship with Linda Lee in that October 1973 was when she sent him a letter while he was working on a Kung Fu movie in Taiwan. What makes it suspicious is that the inquest into Bruce’s death happened in September.

In an ideal world, a biopic’s screenplay would contain a scene which addresses the fact that Linda hadn’t seen Baker since February 1973 when he arrived to act as Bruce’s bodyguard during an awarding ceremony at Saint Francis Xavier College. According to Doug Palmer’s Bruce Lee book, she denied that Baker was in H.K. when Bruce was handing out awards. The most fascinating thing for me about Clouse’s screenplay is that it refers to Bruce’s daughter Shannon as having an eye operation in 1973. Supposedly, Bruce had a conversation with Linda about it during the making of Enter the Dragon. This detail never made it through to any of Clouse’s or Linda’s books, though. Like his 1988 biography, Clouse says more with what he doesn’t say in his screenplay for Bruce Lee: His Life and Legend. There are no references to George Lazenby (not even a cipher with a suggestive alias) but there are also none that acknowledge the existence of Raymond Chow, who usually had his name changed when people wrote biopics about Bruce (including Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story).

As for chronicling his Hong Kong films, his childhood and adolescent films are ignored because they weren’t available for release. But then this has always been the issue with Bruce biopics because the emphasis is on his transition from martial artist to martial arts actor. His childhood friendships with Unicorn and Wu Ngan are never depicted, perhaps because people might find some incriminating links. For example, both men can be seen in a documentary that was filmed after Bruce’s life. Titled The Last Days of Bruce Lee, it was the opening featurette of a film (The Chivalrous Knight) that was produced by the film company (Sing Hoi) who had exploited Bruce’s name and image to sell Fist of Unicorn. Unlike Wu, Unicorn was referenced in Clouse’s biography.

Back to Bruce Lee: His Life and Legend, it’s similar to Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story in that Bruce’s death isn’t depicted. Unlike the Chinese biopics, The Game of Death is ignored by Clouse…but then the film was incomplete when Bruce died and hadn’t even been released yet by the time that it was 1975 – three years after Bruce began filming it. It was only in 1977 that the film resumed production, and this was with Clouse coming on board two years after failing to make Bruce Lee: His Life and Legend. The biopic wasn’t even referenced in Clouse’s biography. The subject had a home in the epilogue, but perhaps disclosing why it didn’t get off the ground would involve having to specify the legal issues surrounding lying by omission.

In Clouse’s book, he mentioned that Betty Ting Pei released a biopic titled Bruce Lee and I. It was released in America as Bruce Lee: His Last Days, His Last Nights. Ironically, it was advertised in the October 1975 issue of Hong Kong Movie News (a Shaw Brothers magazine) with Bruce’s name nowhere to be found in the text. What Clouse didn’t disclose is that the movie was released a year after the 1975 auditions. More to the point, it was released in the same month (January) when Raymond Chow and Linda finally settled their legal dispute about money that was owed to her. The June 1986 issue of Inside Kung Fu’s The Best of Martial Arts Movies contains an interview that was regurgitated from a 1980 issue of Kick Illustrated. I was expecting nothing more than a repeat of what Clouse would later say in his books, but I was surprised by the occasional anecdote.

When asked if Bruce’s attitude was genuine or a bit of a put-on, Clouse claimed that it was a bit of both. It was the image that Bruce felt he should project. As such, he made friends and enemies quickly. Clouse also said: “You see, with Bruce, the smallest slight he would exaggerate – not all the time by any means, but dependant on his mood – to the point where it was really a huge thing for him. And in those late night discussions with his friends – the stuntmen and the rest of his sycophants – sometimes he’d build up this huge case against someone and then he couldn’t back down. For instance, there’d be a tiny line in a local paper about him…something negative, and boom! – that was it. He wouldn’t be able to work that day, or he’d challenge somebody to a fight.”

With a tendency to hold grudges, it’s easy to picture Bruce as being someone who would fight to the death. After all, it’s “Who Killed Him?” not “What Killed Him?” that is the title of a chapter in Clouse’s Bruce bio. Speaking of which, it doesn’t include something that he mentioned in the aforementioned interview: Bruce having fainted a couple of times on a film prior to Enter the Dragon. This explains the fainting scenes that we see in Super Dragon and Bruce Lee and I. Unlike the other biopics, these ones depict Betty as having a gambling problem that got her into trouble with the local hoods in Hong Kong, and with Bruce being caught in between. In the May 30, 1983 issue of People Magazine, William Cheung confirmed that Betty had a gambling debt. However, both films don’t depict him as being killed by H.K. hoodlums; just succumbing to a fatal headache. In Bruce Lee: True Story, Ng See-Yuen pulls off the mean feat of showing a trio of different fates for the viewer to decide – fatal headache, gangland killing and faking his death in order to be a recluse who will return 10 years later.

Coincidentally, Clouse’s version of The Game of Death has Bruce’s character fake his death in order to nab the bad guys. When Warner Brothers conducted the talent search to find the next Bruce Lee, one audition was held in Hong Kong. Raymond Chow had to have been aware of this. Tom Bleecker was Linda’s co-author for her 1989 biography, The Bruce Lee Story. They married in 1988 and divorced in 1990. I wonder if he had compared notes with Robert Clouse when the latter was writing his 1988 biography. Although the 1989 book contains an epilogue, Linda doesn’t reference the ill-fated biopic that she was involved with. Tom later wrote a 1996 biography called Unsettled Matters which referenced Unicorn Chan but not the Fist of Unicorn production and scandal. Nevertheless, he does reference Bob Baker and Wu Ngan many times. The fact that Clouse referenced the Unicorn scandal but not these two men seems like a deliberate decision was made by the two authors to omit info so that someone like me would spot the connection and deduce things on their own.

In retrospect, it’s all too clear now that Clouse may have been the source of Bleecker’s claim about Bruce being so angry with Michael Allin’s script for Enter the Dragon that he took a swing at Linda. In the July 1988 issue of Inside Kung Fu, it was revealed that Clouse succeeded in selling the film rights of his biography to Universal. As such, it was imperative for Linda to put Universal in a position where they could think twice. Besides the implication that Linda didn’t want people learning too much about Bob Baker, one of the reasons why Clouse didn’t mention him in his 1988 biography was because, otherwise, journalists would have been pestering Baker for interviews. Baker was so much of a recluse that his only “interview” was at a Bruce Lee convention in England circa the early nineties. He died in 1993 due to a bad liver. This was a couple of weeks after the death of Bruce’s son, Brandon.

Even if Baker had been mentioned in Clouse’s book, the average journalist would still have preferred to interview Bob Wall since he was in more Bruce Lee movies than Baker. While Baker only had Fist of Fury to his name, Wall got to be in The Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon along with the posthumously-completed Game of Death. Because both men had beards and curly hair, sometimes they were confused for one another. Baker wanted to do more Hong Kong movies (Bruce didn’t hold up his end of the bargain), so you can only imagine how he must have felt when Wall was cast in Enter the Dragon instead of him. While Baker got to do one more Chinese movie after Bruce’s death (i.e. Valley of the Double Dragon), he never appeared in an American movie. He could have played himself in Bruce Lee: His Life and Legend.

On a side-note, it would have been nice to see Chuck Norris do a movie with Barbra Streisand. Reading Robert Clouse’s books on Bruce makes for a surreal experience in that he references Jackie Chan, someone who he has directed, but he never mentions that Jackie worked on Enter the Dragon. It would have been nice to read a quote from Jackie but maybe he hated Clouse after doing The Big Brawl, thus refused to be interviewed by him. It would have been awkward anyway since Clouse, in 1980, wanted to direct Jackie in a pirate movie which Jackie turned down and turned into a film of his own: Project A (1983). Clouse was gracious enough not to mention this in either of his Bruce books. While some critics may see Clouse as someone who was trying to shelter Bruce’s impressionable fans from the truth, he made it clear that he was being metaphorically roadblocked by those closest to Bruce. Clouse remarked to a newspaper reporter in 1987: “What I’m finding is that those who knew him are pretty protective of him. Saint Bruce is what I’m finding.”


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