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Bruce Lee was ready to become a star. Unfortunately, Hollywood didn’t see it yet.
At the time, Lee was known for his work on television series The Green Hornet and Ironside, so Warner Brothers couldn’t see his potential to star in an upcoming project, The Silent Flute (which later became Circle of Fear).
Producer Paul Heller said, “He wanted to be a star. He was just driven to that stardom.”
So Lee went back overseas where he found renown in Hong Kong after completing three martial arts films. He became so recognized that he couldn’t walk down the street without being spotted.
Seeing his success, the studio was now ready to take a chance. From the beginning, Enter the Dragon, originally entitled Blood and Sand, was always about launching Bruce Lee.
Screenwriter Michael Allin said, “We wanted to present him as this incredible force of nature.”
Lee was extremely influential on the film, especially the martial arts sequences. In fact, the script often had this note regarding fight scenes: “This Will Be Choreographed by Mr. Bruce Lee.”
When crafting these moments, Lee would allow the different sets and props to influence his moves.
Heller said, “He was [a] genius at finding a way to incorporate everything within it into his fight sequences.”
According to his Lee’s daughter, Shannon, her father was also responsible for the script’s philosophical moments and commentary about the "art of fighting without fighting"
Despite Lee’s talents, he did have one problem at first.
Producer Fred Weintraub said, “We started shooting the picture, and Bruce did not show up, and what we had heard is that he was nervous.”
In fact, his nerves were so bad that the first scene they shot was with him sitting down, so it wouldn’t be obvious that he was shaking.
In no time, though, he had worked through the jitters.
Weintraub said, “From then on Bruce not only was with it [but] like everything Bruce did, he became terrific.”
Even Lee’s letter to the studio demonstrates his enthusiasm for the film when he wrote: “I am sure you agree with me that quality, extreme hard work, and professionalism is what cinema is all about.”
And Lee's dedication paid off. Enter the Dragon was a critical and financial success, earning more than approximately 400 times its budget and reserving its place as one of the greatest martial arts movies of all time. Unfortunately, its star died just months before the film’s release.
Speaking of the movie’s achievement, Heller said, “It was all due to Bruce. We caught a star. I don’t mean a movie star. A comet!”