Bruce Lee’s daughter details challenges he endured making ‘Enter the Dragon’ in new book
Bruce Lee was determined to make an unforgettable impression in Hollywood.
His daughter Shannon Lee, who is the caretaker of the late martial artist and actor’s estate, recently released a new book titled “Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee,” which details his philosophies. The 51-year-old producer and businesswoman also recalled how her famous father struggled to bring his iconic film, 1973’s “Enter the Dragon,” to life.
On Tuesday, Variety reported how Lee once wrote a letter to Ted Ashley, then-head of Warner Bros., revealing his passion for making the action film.
“You see, my obsession is to make, pardon the expression, the f—-ingest action motion picture that has ever been made,” Lee wrote.
The outlet noted the movie was a massive hit and grossed more than $350 million worldwide, cementing Lee’s status as a pop culture icon. However, Lee wouldn’t live to enjoy its success. He passed away on July 20, 1973 — just one month before its release. “Enter the Dragon” was also the last movie Lee completed before his death at age 32.
“‘Enter the Dragon’ was the dream opportunity coming true for my father – a Hollywood feature for him to star in,” Shannon wrote, as excerpted by the outlet.
“That said, Hollywood billed it as a double lead in case their gamble on my father didn’t pay off, and in part due to the intense prejudice and concern surrounding the xenophobia of audiences at that time,” she continued. “But my father didn’t worry himself with this. He knew he had the goods even if others weren’t sure. He was ready to make the absolute most of this opportunity to accomplish his goal of showing the Western world the glory of Chinese gung fu and to express himself fully in a true, on-screen representation of a Chinese man.”
Racism wasn’t the only challenge Lee endured when it came to “Enter the Dragon.” Shannon pointed out that the original script was “so terrible” that Lee wanted the writer fired while he reworked the screenplay.
“Of course, the studio didn’t listen to my father and kept the writer in Hong Kong, making small tweaks to this actioner that was initially entitled ‘Blood and Steel’ and later the inventive ‘Han’s Island,’” said Shannon. “This original script had none of the iconic scenes that exist today. No ‘finger pointing at the moon.’ No ‘art of fighting without fighting.’ No philosophical scene with the monk discussing the true nature of mastery – ‘I do not hit. It hits all by itself.’”
Lee was adamant for “Enter the Dragon” to reflect his art and culture accurately. Consequently, he wrote the script and submitted his revisions to the producers. Shannon said Lee also put up a fight with the studio when it came to renaming the film.
“He wrote numerous letters to Warner Brothers petitioning for this name change: ‘Do consider carefully the title ‘Enter the Dragon,’” Shannon revealed. “‘I really think this is a good title because ‘Enter the Dragon’ suggests the emergence of someone that is quality.’ That ‘quality someone’ he is referring to is, of course, himself!”
The studio ultimately succumbed to Lee’s request and he trained tirelessly for the film, all while continuously working on the script. According to Shannon, Lee was also tapped with choreographing the entire movie.
But the troubles were far from over. On the first day of shooting, Lee refused to come to set despite the Hong Kong and American crews being present, along with various translators on set.
“You see, the final locked shooting script had been issued, and it did not incorporate the pages he had written,” wrote Shannon, per Variety. “None of his changes had been made. One could argue that, in this moment, my father should have just done this movie as they wanted it, and then hoped it did well enough to get him the next opportunity, where maybe he could have had more creative control – a way to get his foot in the door and try to inch it open further and further with each subsequent project.”
“But my father had already tried this in Hollywood, and he knew it didn’t work,” Shannon continued. “He knew that if he didn’t take a stand, he would be marginalized over and over again by people who ‘knew better.’
‘… My father stayed in our house and refused to come to set until the changes were made. The producers would come to the house to try to reason with him. They would talk to my mom, who would act as the go-between when my father was fed up and refused to entertain any more of their rationalities about why he couldn’t do what he wanted. And my father continued to put his foot down. He told them they had the script for the movie he wanted to make, and if they used that script, he would happily show up to set.”
While Lee stayed put, the crew filmed the shots that didn’t involve him. However, Shannon claimed the producers created cover-up stories about how Lee was paralyzed by fear of being in a Hollywood movie and a failure, which prevented him from showing up on set. But Lee, who was dedicated to his vision, refused to give in. The standup continued for two weeks and eventually, the crew was left sitting around with nothing to do, racking up costs for the studio.
“The producers finally gave in to my father’s demands,” wrote Shannon, according to the excerpt obtained by Variety. “They implemented the script changes he had made and agreed to shoot the film he envisioned. When I asked my mom years later if he had really been willing to lose the opportunity rather than submit to their demands, she said without hesitation, ‘You bet!’”
“Bruce Lee had taken a stand and held to his core,” Shannon continued. “He brought the full force of his expression and his being into play because he knew what was important to his soul. He had stayed true to his center and in so doing, the full force of the tornado that was him changed the landscape around him forever.”