I watched Enter the Dragon for umpteenth time last night and was reminded all over again what a huge debt that movie owes to the Bond series. Secret agent goes undercover to infiltrate the exotic island fortress of megalomaniacal super villain to get intelligence that will bring him down (and exact a bit of personal revenge). Villain has his own private army, a seemingly invincible henchman, and sports a physical oddity that features prominently (missing hand with multiple detachable and interchangeable weaponized options). The henchman disposes of failed guards in a gruesome hands-on fashion. There’s even a massive battle at the end that eventually involves the military. It’s a shame Lee died as the movie’s worldwide success would have almost guaranteed a franchise would have grown out of it.
A franchise out of Enter the dragon?
No, that was never an option.
Lee would have made Game of Death as his next movie, unfortunately he died before he could made that one.
Only 45 minutes of footage remains, 10 minutes was used for the movie GoD, which had nothing to do with the original idea: Lee fighting his way to the top of a pagode and meeting and combat a fighter on every floor, who is a martial arts expert in his particular field of fighting. Lee wanted to show that you should always adapt and incorporate yourself to every different form of martial arts.
It seems the basic idea to Game of Death, a kind of ultimate tournament in gladiator style, was floating around at the start of the 70s: the Modesty Blaise story Warlords of Phoenix (running from January 1970 to end of May and notable for Romero taking over from too-soon-deceased Jim Holdaway) features a very similar story.
Would Lee have turned his character from Enter the Dragon into a series? He surely was a busy player who supposedly also pitched the idea to the Kung Fu tv series. The super agent wave was already a bit past its prime while the martial arts thing went still strong. On balance I think Lee already would have had the necessary authority to lobby for a franchise had he wanted to. But franchises were not yet the big thing they would turn out to be.
It’s upfront in interviews for Way of the Dragon that Lee intended to do a series of films featuring its protagonist, Tang Lung. I’m not saying they went into Enter the Dragon with franchise in mind, but sequels were definitely in the mix at the time and I believe a direct sequel could have easily been greenlit based on the worldwide acclaim of the film, which transcended the martial arts film genre.
Lee actually postponed ongoing production on Game of Death to film Enter the Dragon because he knew it had the potential to change everything in his career and be his gateway into Hollywood as a star. I think that would have happened.
Lee was also a very savvy businessman who was always looking for an “in” for himself. I believe a sequel would have definitely occurred; beyond that, who can say. My point was, I wish he had lived long enough to give us more of his take on the super agent.
Surely, there would have been potential for some kind of series based on Enter’s character, especially with the martial arts wave in full swing.
Then again, it’s always difficult to guess how things might have played out with actors who died much too soon. Is their appeal maybe more due to the what-ifs? Would the audience maybe have tired of their presence? Or would they have lived to turn in ever more spectacular performances, shaping genres; maybe shaping cinema history itself with their gifts? Whether it’s James Dean, Bruce Lee or Heath Ledger, these questions will never be answered satisfyingly.
In Lee’s case, he was by far no unknown quantity in Hollywood, has had a number of roles - though nothing that ultimately satisfied his ambition. He surely wanted to become a player who could make the films he wanted. Would this have been possible in Hollywood, or would he rather have returned for good to Hong Kong with its own vibrant film industry?
It’s not as if there’s been a lack of Kung Fu films, a few hundred productions by the Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest attest to that. And up to a point Hollywood shaped its own answer to them. But somehow, Lee’s popularity - as well as that of Jackie Chan later on - notwithstanding, Hollywood failed to master the genre properly and the attempt to jumpstart a martial arts superspy with the Remo pulp character failed.
From that angle it’s possible that Lee might have forged a franchise out of Enter’s Lee - but it might well have been a short lived one, or maybe one aimed largely at the Asian markets. Then again, Lee might have beat Chuck Norris to his own brand of Missing-In-Action exploits, who knows?
Lee was in talks with George Lazenby for his next movie in 1973.
WAY OF THE DRAGON was released after ENTER THE DRAGON in the U.S. and re-titled RETURN OF THE DRAGON to fool audiences into thinking it was a sequel!
Lazenby was supposed to appear as one of the villains in GAME OF DEATH.
Lee and Lazenby were going to make another movie together, THE SHRINE OF ULTIMATE BLISS, along with Sonny Chiba. When Lee died, Chiba dropped out, the budget was cut, and Angela Mao took a leading role opposite Lazenby. The film was finally released as STONER.
Then another young Kung Fu star was renamed ‘Bruce Li’ and featured in The Dragon Flies - with George Lazenby as the villain - in 1975. It was also re-released as Our Man in Hong Kong.
“The Dragon Flies,” or “Man from Hong Kong,” starred Jimmy Wang Yu, a Hong Kong star in his own right with moderate international name recognition. I was never aware of any attempt at billing him as ‘Bruce Li’ in any of the advertising. I own this movie. It was directed by Brian Trenchard Smith and isn’t bad, which isn’t to say it’s particularly good either.
Edit: I also own the DVD of “Stoner.”
On the extra’s of the Game of death double dvd, Lazenby is interviewed and he said that his part in GoD would have been that of a some kind of master/tutor of the Lee character and that at the end of the movie he would have saved him out of the pagode, where Lee had to fight his way to the upper floor and find some kind of reliqui.
Not a villian, but a good guy.
Come to think of it I wonder how this hasn’t been remade much earlier.
Starring Chris Pratt?
Some things should just be left alone: Psycho, Poltergeist, Shaft… all had their legacies tarnished by vastly inferior remakes. There is nothing in Entrr the Dragon to be improved.
Specially, because there’s nobody close to Lee…
I have never understood the desire to remake an already critically and commercially successful film. Why invite such comparisons that, while the film name offers immediate recognition and perhaps therefore sales, in reviews will always incur the negative from those who will always only enjoy the original.
Surely, one should remake the films that flopped and dramatically improve on history.