In the early 1970s American movie audiences were largely unfamiliar with martial arts movies, but all of that changed in July of 1973 with the release of Enter the Dragon. The film not only made an international icon of Bruce Lee, but also ushered in an entire wave of western fascination with martial arts movies. As Enter the Dragon producer Jerry Weintraub put it, after the movie’s release “every small town also had a karate school.”
In celebration of what would have been Bruce Lee’s 76th birthday, here’s a little trivia about what is arguably the most influential Kung Fu movie of all time.
Jackie Chan found out that Bruce Lee’s aim wasn’t flawless.
There’s really no better way to start your career in the Kung Fu film business than getting your ass kicked by Bruce Lee. A decade into his career, but still a complete unknown to American audiences, Chan landed a small part in Enter the Dragon playing a prison thug who attempts to take down Bruce and of course loses. During the fight scene Chan took a smack to the face when Lee mistakenly swung his fighting stick a little too close and caught Chan upside the head. Chan said that he really wasn’t hurt too much, but Lee was incredibly apologetic and took time to talk with him about his martial arts background on the set.
The look of the film was loosely based on a 1930s comic strip.
Besides being one of only two English-language movies where Bruce Lee speaks in his natural voice — the other being Marlowe — the film has a more western look than his previous movies. This is largely based on its link to an old comic strip called Terry and the Pirates. The comic strip follows Terry Lee, an American boy who ventures to China with his friend and then runs across a band of pirates and other villains. Producer Paul Heller said that the comic’s bright colors and aesthetic were applied to the movie.
“When we first started thinking about the look of the film, there was a comic strip called Terry and the Pirates, and that became sort of the genesis of the whole look of the film. But it has a wonderful, brilliant color scheme of golds and blues and reds, and if you think about Enter the Dragon, that’s what we did. And that was very, very conscious. It just felt like it would be very right for the film.”
Bruce suffered a number of injuries while working on the movie.
Making a Kung Fu film doesn’t come without its mishaps, and Lee suffered a number of them while shooting his scenes. During one fight scene, actor Bob Wall recalled how he was supposed to be trying to stab Lee with a broken bottle and Lee told him to thrust the jagged glass as hard as possible. During one take, Lee caught Wall’s hand and jammed his fist right into the broken bottle, requiring medical treatment after finishing the scene.
Jagged glass wasn’t the only injury that Lee suffered on the set — the action star ended up taking a cobra bite to the hand during one scene as well. Thankfully, the cobra’s venom gland had been removed so there wasn’t an imminent chance of death. Being the professional that he was, Lee demanded to finish shooting the scene before being treated for the bite.
Staying in the house of mirrors too long made the actors nauseous.
Over 8,000 mirrors were used to construct the set for the showdown scene between Lee and Han, and the room was incredibly disorienting. Cinematographer Gil Hubbs said that the idea came while at lunch in a restaurant that had mirrors lining the walls and ceiling, but filming in the room came with certain challenges. “You had to actually physically touch someone because you might be talking to the wall. Bruce walked into mirrors, we all walked into mirrors a bunch of times,” said Hubbs in an interview with CBR. Actors and camera operators couldn’t stay in the room for more than 15 minutes before they’d get sick and have to take a break before resuming filming.
The movie wasn’t originally called Enter the Dragon.
The original script for the film was titled Blood and Steel. According to Black Belt Magazine’s interview with producer Fred Weintraub, Lee never liked the name and pushed for Enter the Dragon despite the studio’s doubts about the switch.
“It was only later when Bruce started seeing it get put together that he said he wanted it to be called Enter the Dragon. I said, “Bruce, that’s a title for a kids’ movie.” So he called Ted Ashley, and Ted said to give it to him if he wanted it. In this case, Bruce was completely right and I was completely wrong.”
The Hong Kong movie industry didn’t want the film to happen.
While Bruce Lee had found moderate success in Hollywood with Green Hornet, he was still struggling to breakout in films. Lee was regularly teaching martial arts to major stars like Steve McQueen, but when he lost the main part of Kung Fu to actor David Carradine, he become discouraged and left Hollywood to do movies in Hong Kong.
Lee had two major hits in China with Fist of Fury and Big Boss, but Hong Kong Producer Raymond Chow who had Lee under contract was hesitant to make a deal with producers on an American film. Producer Fred Weintraub described the meeting, saying that Chow was afraid of losing his cash cow and the movie almost didn’t happen.
“I sat with Raymond and Bruce in a Japanese restaurant saying goodbyes and then as the dinner went on Bruce asked me – ‘Did you make the deal?’ I said ‘We would have but Raymond doesn’t want to see you become an international star. He thinks you’re doing wonderful over here and I agree with him – you’re doing great here but nobody knows if a Chinese man can make it in the world.’ And Bruce turned to Raymond and said ‘Sign it.’ And Raymond signed it and I got on a plane and came back.”
And if you weren’t already convinced of Enter the Dragon‘s influence, let us remind you that it’s largely responsible for Mortal Kombat.
This is an update of an article that originally ran on November 27, 2015