Movies that come out after one of the main actors passes are either seen as a respectful sendoff or an affront. Heath Ledger's and James Dean's final films fall into the former category, and Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon could have as well. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out to be the martial artist's last film.
Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest pushed Lee's incomplete film Game of Death through production and released it five years after his passing. Since he had only filmed about 40 minutes of the movie, the filmmakers got creative in their attempts to turn a few fight scenes into a feature-length picture.
Lee's quick movements, unique choreography, and very own Jeet Kune Do won him fans all over the world. His philosophy and zen teachings inspired people, and led fans to seek out little known Bruce Lee facts, elevating him to the level of a legend.
After Lee passed, filmmakers were quick to take advantage of his name. By using recycled footage, scenes personally shot by Lee, and some questionable tactics, filmmakers brought a new Bruce Lee movie to the screen after he was gone. Years later, some fans still wonder if Lee would have approved.
Filmmakers Used Plastic Surgery To Explain Why Lee Looks Different
The film follows Bruce Lee's character, Billy Lo, a Hong Kong movie star. Members of a syndicate threaten him for not joining their organization, assault his girlfriend, and try to off him on a movie set by shooting him in the face. Because of this, Lo gets plastic surgery to change his appearance.
Since the villains think he's kicked the bucket, Lo is able to fight them with his new face and not be recognized. It may be a weak plot, but it made a lot of sense to the filmmakers. They realized plastic surgery could easily explain why Lee doesn't quite look like himself through the majority of the film - at least during the times he's not wearing a fake beard or standing with his back to the camera.
The Real Bruce Lee Fights Three Opponents For A Total Of 11 Minutes
If you subtract all the recycled footage and one strange cardboard cutout, the real Bruce Lee only appears in his final film for 11 minutes. Despite this short amount of time, many fans feel these scenes are some of Lee's best work. Of the five pagoda battles at the end of the movie, Lee fights three himself: against Filipino martial artist Dan Inosanto, Korean fighter Ji Han Jae, and the big boss, former basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The Abdul-Jabbar fight became one of Lee's most remembered, with Abdul-Jabbar playing a 7-foot-tall martial arts master who has a strong sensitivity to light. While this casting may seem strange to some, Abdul-Jabbar took up martial arts in college and studied under Lee at one point.
Lee's yellow jumpsuit from the fight also became a memorable image, with Quentin Tarantino homaging it in Kill Bill.
Chuck Norris Appeared Without Against His Wishes
Golden Harvest approached several big name Hollywood actors to join the cast of Game, like Steven McQueen, Muhammad Ali, and James Coburn, but they all declined. Chuck Norris, on the other hand, didn't get a choice about appearing in the film.
Although he turned down the role of Steiner, the filmmakers included Norris in the movie anyway, thanks to discarded footage from Norris's fight with Lee in Return of the Dragon (AKA The Way of the Dragon). This upset Norris so much he threatened to sue if the producers didn't remove his name from the credits.
Bruce Lee Never Wrote A Screenplay For The Movie
Bruce Lee never wrote a screenplay for the film before he passed. He did leave behind notes and a bare bones outline, however, which read, "The big fight. An arrest is made. The airport. The end." Lee did make it known he envisioned an evil syndicate as the villains of the story, and the hero would have to fight his way up through levels of their pagoda headquarters. Each floor would hold a different martial arts master, in ascending levels of power, requiring the hero to adapt and fight using several different styles.
To give Lee's story a plot, the filmmakers hired Michael Allin, the screenwriter of Enter the Dragon. Allin had a poor reputation in Hollywood, and lines like, "Let it go. What must be done is being done," certainly didn't help make Lee's final movie his best.