11 Legendary Facts About Enter the Dragon

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

In 1973, a group of American and Chinese filmmakers gathered together in Hong Kong to make a film that was supposed to transform Bruce Lee—then a Hong Kong action star best known to American audiences for a few TV appearances—into an international sensation. They faced a star’s nerves, language barriers on set, and a script that didn’t take shape right away, but ultimately they created a masterpiece.

Today, 45 years after its release, Enter the Dragon remains one of the greatest martial arts films ever made. It cemented the legend of Lee after his untimely death just weeks before the U.S. release, and it remains an essential pillar of the genre for longtime fans and novices alike. So, to celebrate nearly 50 years of Lee’s legend, here are 11 facts about the film, from live cobras on set to some unlikely inspirations.

1. THE FILM GREW OUT OF BRUCE LEE’S FRUSTRATION WITH HOLLYWOOD.

In the late 1960s, Bruce Lee was a martial arts instructor-turned-actor with an eye on becoming a major star after appearances in television series like The Green Hornet and Ironside. Hoping for an even bigger TV break, in the early 1970s Lee began discussions with Warner Bros. for a series about a Shaolin monk in the American west, an idea that would eventually become the hit series Kung Fu. Lee contributed to the project on a conceptual level, but Warner Bros. ultimately gave the starring role to David Carradine, in part because they did not believe a Chinese star would connect with American audiences.

Frustrated and stagnant in America, Lee accepted an offer from Hong Kong producer Raymond Chow to come make martial arts films with him. Lee was encouraged in this endeavor by Warner Bros. executive and eventual Enter the Dragon producer Fred Weintraub, who believed that with the right film to show to American executives Lee could eventually achieve international stardom. In 1971 and 1972 Lee released three films from Chow’s Golden Harvest studio—The Big Boss (a.k.a. Fists of Fury), The Chinese Connection, and The Way of the Dragon—all of which made him an immediate superstar in Hong Kong, so much so that he had to wear disguises to walk around in public. That was enough to finally convince Warner Bros., and in late 1972 Weintraub and producer Paul Heller were able to offer Lee a film then-called Blood and Steel, which would eventually become Enter the Dragon. It was a long road, but it all grew out of Lee’s frustrations with American executives and their failure to recognize his talent.

2. THE LOOK WAS INSPIRED BY A COMIC STRIP.

Enter the Dragon was made quickly, on a tight schedule, and with a budget much more constrained than what we commonly associate with action movies today. As a result, Heller and Weintraub had to start concerning themselves with getting sets built in Hong Kong even before Michael Allin’s script was completely finalized. To do that, Heller looked to his childhood and to a comic strip about adventures in China that he’d loved, Terry and the Pirates.

“It was high chroma reds, blues, golds, and it just lent itself to this project so closely,” Heller said.

So, with Terry and the Pirates in mind, Heller began working with a sketch artist to design various sets, including Han’s (Kien Shih) underground layer, the banquet hall on the island, and other key areas of Han’s domain. From there, the sketches were turned over to set builders in Hong Kong, and construction was underway.

3. LEE CLASHED WITH THE WRITER OVER THE SCRIPT.

Bruce Lee in 'Enter the Dragon' (1973)
Warner Home Video

Once Lee’s success in Hong Kong was felt around the world, Weintraub and Heller decided the time was right to strike, and Heller drafted a young writer named Michael Allin to script Blood and Steel, specifically as a Bruce Lee vehicle.

“It was wonderful because I didn’t know anything about martial arts, I didn’t know anything about Hong Kong, and I was learning along the way,” Allin later recalled.

Though he wasn’t particularly well paid for the script according to director Robert Clouse, Allin was flown out to Hong Kong to be present on the Enter the Dragon set, which meant he was around for key changes to the script. According to Clouse, Lee—who was acutely aware of his Chinese identity and its importance to his fan base—wanted to alter the screenplay to better reflect his heritage and his philosophy on martial arts, and sought to work with Allin on the changes. Allin apparently responded to this in a “smart alecky” way, and the clash in approach between the two men was enough to get Lee to demand that Allin leave Hong Kong. Allin, according to Clouse, was instead simply moved to a different hotel by Weintraub, and when Lee found out about it he was furious and refused to continue shooting.

“It took quite some time to smooth things out so everyone could work together again,” Clouse later wrote. “But Bruce never totally forgave the producers.”

4. THE CREW STRUGGLED WITH OUTDATED EQUIPMENT.

Because Enter the Dragon was an American co-production made in Hong Kong with American filmmakers in key roles but much of the rest of the work being done with local talent, there were various culture clashes at work throughout the production. This meant a language barrier for many people working on the film, of course, but it also meant the Americans—including cinematographer Gilbert Hubbs—were often shocked at how little care and expense went into the minutiae of the Hong Kong production system, from the camera equipment to the film processing lab, which Heller described as “the filthiest place I’ve ever seen.”

“The crew was, like the equipment, taking a step back in time,” Hubbs said. “The tools for lighting were very simple. In Hollywood you had a lot of tools to control light, and over there I think we had window screens, black paper, rope, and clothes pins.”

Somehow, through all of that, the American and Chinese crew members found a way to work together.

5. LEE DIDN’T SHOW UP WHEN FILMING STARTED.

Lee knew there was a lot riding on Enter the Dragon. This was the result of years of struggling to make himself into a major international star, and now he was on the cusp of that stardom. Unfortunately, knowing how high the stakes were meant that he was reportedly too nervous to show up as filming began, and according to Clouse he kept coming up with excuses as to why he couldn’t start work.

“We started shooting the picture, and Bruce did not show up, and what we had heard is that he was nervous, and he was nervous,” Weintraub recalled. “Meanwhile, we started shooting the movie because I wanted to get going and we had Warner's money and the guy from Warner Bros. kept calling. I said ‘Oh I’m telling you, it’s really turning out great.’ I didn’t have a bit of footage on Bruce.”

To use the time without Lee as wisely as possible, Weintraub and Clouse shot scenic footage around the city, some of which ended up in the film’s opening title sequence. When Lee finally did arrive on set, he was shaking so badly that his first shots had to be done sitting down. Once he loosened up, though, the production was off and running.

6. EXTRAS TRIED TO PICK FIGHTS WITH LEE.

For the massive scenes involving Han’s many soldiers and tournament participants on the island, up to 400 extras were used. According to Clouse, the young men were often members of rival Hong Kong street gangs, and battles that began as acting would often escalate into real clashes. When he wasn’t needed elsewhere, Lee hung out with these extras, many of whom decided to begin mocking his supposed martial arts prowess. Clouse’s recollection is that Lee laughed most of these jabs off, but sometimes a particularly insulting extra would offer a real challenge and had to be taught a lesson.

“Bruce wouldn’t move as the kick would invariably fall short. Then Bruce would lash out two or three times, not trying to kill him, but to ‘mark’ him. Draw blood, as it were,” Clouse recalled. “I saw one fellow who didn’t seem to have a mark on him after this exchange. I didn’t believe he had been hit until he opened his mouth and revealed it was full of blood."

7. LEE WAS INJURED MORE THAN ONCE DURING FILMING.

Though he was often the one doing the injuring when the extras dared to cross him, Lee suffered his own share of injuries while making Enter the Dragon. One such injury came during the fight with Oharra, played by Bob Wall. In the scene, Oharra breaks a bottle to use as a makeshift weapon and attempts to cut Lee, which sounds common enough, but Hong Kong film studios did not have sugar glass available, so it was a real glass bottle Wall was using. Wall recalled that the scene was shot eight times, and each time Lee told him “come at me as fast as you can.” In one take, Lee pivoted his body just so, and his right knuckles collided with the bottle. Clouse recalled that Lee required 12 stitches for the wound.

Another injury had the potential to be even more frightening, and came in the moment when Lee was handling a live cobra. According to Clouse, the snake was purchased from a local shop in Hong Kong, and the filmmakers had been told it would be defanged. Because it was important that the cobra look like a cobra and flare out its signature hood, Lee would slap it on the head between takes in order to agitate it. A few takes into shooting, the cobra figured out what was going on and bit Lee’s hand, revealing it was definitely not defanged.

“We had taken the man on his word that the snake had its poison sack removed and apparently it had been done,” Clouse recalled.

8. THE ICONIC MIRRORED ROOM WAS NOT IN THE SCRIPT.

It’s impossible now to imagine Enter the Dragon without the iconic final fight between Lee and Han, which takes place in a mirrored room that replicates Lee’s movements several times over as he delivers his famous kicks. Once upon a time, though, this was nowhere in the script, and only came about because Heller noticed the effect mirrors had at a Hong Kong hotel where he was eating one day.

“I took Bruce and showed it to him. He thought it was too fragmented, that you couldn’t get any action that would mean anything out of it,” Heller recalled. “Bob Clouse and I really fought hard for it, and we created this mirrored room.”

Clouse and Heller pushed ahead with the mirror concept, and once they showed the set to Lee and he was able to move around in the space, he became a believer. A special “closet” made of mirrors with a hole cut in one side for the camera lens was built, so that the cameraman would always blend into the rest of the scene, and filming of the famous sequence began. According to Hubbs, though, working for hours on end in that environment created a unique set of challenges.

“I remember that I would always have to touch, because if I’m looking at something, they might not be there, they might be over there,” Hubbs said. “I found that I could only be in there for a couple of hours, and I’d have to go out and sit down and look at a wall and real dimension, because it’s like there was a fourth dimension in there.”

9. LEE CHOREOGRAPHED THE FIGHT SCENES HIMSELF.

Bruce Lee in 'Enter the Dragon' (1973)
Warner Home Video

Lee was not just the star of Enter the Dragon. He also played a key role in how it was staged, as the screenplay would often describe action sequences by simply saying “This Will Be Choreographed by Mr. Bruce Lee.” As Heller recalled, Lee would often walk through the various sets, particularly Han’s underground lair, and look for details and props that he could then incorporate into each sequence, with the help of Clouse. Together, they worked closely to engineer the film’s iconic fight sequences, and by the time early footage from the film was available, Lee was so excited that he didn’t want Enter the Dragon to end. According to Weintraub, he later went back to Hong Kong to shoot the early sparring sequence at the monastery with his friend Sammo Hung.

10. IT FEATURES A YOUNG JACKIE CHAN.

Lee is not the only Hong Kong movie legend present in Enter the Dragon, though the other major legend he shares scenes with wasn’t yet known to the world. Jackie Chan, then working as a stuntman, played one of Han’s henchmen during the climactic battle sequences in the underground lair, and while his character ultimately died after Lee broke his neck, Chan was also briefly injured by the Dragon in real life. According to Chan’s recollection, he was supposed to rush Lee, who would then strike at him with a stick, and Chan would then pretend to be struck and fall to the ground. Chan charged, Lee struck, and he really connected with Chan’s head. When the director called cut, Lee rushed to the young Chan’s side, and while Chan wasn’t really hurt badly, he did still enjoy getting a hug from the legend.

11. A REMAKE IS IN THE WORKS.

Enter the Dragon was released on August 19, 1973 in the United States to immediate success, grossing more than $21 million in North America and becoming one of the biggest films of the year. Lee got the international stardom he wanted, but unfortunately he didn’t live to see it. He passed away on July 20, 1973, in Hong Kong, at the age of just 32. Because of this, and because of the power of Enter the Dragon, he became a star of mythic proportions, something which continues to this day.

That doesn’t mean Enter the Dragon can’t live on without Lee, though—at least not if you believe certain filmmakers. In the summer of 2018 it was reported that Deadpool 2 director David Leitch is in talks to direct a remake of the film, which as of July was still looking for a writer. There’s no word yet on when the film might be released or who would star, but whoever it is will have some Dragon-sized shoes to fill. 

Additional Sources:
Blood and Steel: Making Enter the Dragon (2004)
The Making of Enter the Dragon by Robert Clouse (1987)

'143,' Fred Rogers's Code for "I Love You," Gets Its Own Holiday in Pennsylvania

Family Communications Inc./Getty Images
Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

"It takes one letter to say I and four letters to say love and three letters to say you. One hundred and forty-three."

That quote from Fred Rogers has become a symbol of the children's entertainer's legacy. The number 143, his special code for "I love you," is used by a charity inspired by Rogers, and it was spotlighted in the recent documentary movie Won't You Be My Neighbor? Now, Mister Rogers's favorite number has its own holiday in Pennsylvania.

As Philly Voice reports, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf declared May 23 to be 143 Day in the state. Rogers was born in Westmoreland County near Pittsburgh and he spent his whole life in the area. By honoring the famous Pennsylvanian with his own holiday, the organizers behind the statewide 143 Day campaign hope to inspire residents to be kind to their neighbors on May 23 and every day of the year.

The initiative encourages schools, businesses, and citizens to share their acts of kindness on social media with the hashtag #143DayinPA. A "kindness tracker" on the campaign's website keeps how many time the hashtag has been used, and so far, over a 6000 acts of kindness have been shared online. And if someone has trouble thinking of ways to honor the spirit of Mister Rogers, the campaign's "kindness generator" can come up with a suggestion for them.

One hundred and forty-three was more than just a fun saying for Fred Rogers: It was a lucky number he made part of his lifestyle. The television personality even went so far as to go swimming every day to maintain his weight at the number.

[h/t Philly Voice]

10 Bizarre Documentaries That Are Stranger Than Fiction

A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
A still from Abducted in Plain Sight
Top Knot Films

Documentaries have grown considerably more ambitious since Fred Ott’s Sneeze, an 1894 clip that documents the irritated sinus cavities of its subject in just five seconds. They can inspire, as in the case of 2019’s Academy Award-winning Free Solo, about bold mountain climber Alex Honnold. They can shine a light on cultural overachievers like Fred Rogers, the subject of 2018’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? And they can parse political history, with films like 2003's The Fog of War shedding light on decisions that shaped the world.

Other documentaries set out to chronicle true stories that, were they presented as a fictitious, might be hard for people to believe. We’ve profiled such films in previous lists, which you can find here, here, and here. If you’ve already made your way through those tales of cannibals, tragic love affairs, and twist-laden true crime, here are 10 more that will have you staring at your television in disbelief.  

1. Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

When Idaho native Jan Broberg was 12 years old in 1974, her neighbor began to take an unseemly and inappropriate interest in her. What begins as a disturbing portrait of predation quickly spirals into an unbelievable and audacious attempt to manipulate Jan’s entire family. Director Skye Borgman’s portrait of seemingly reasonable people who become ensnared in a monstrous plot to separate them from their daughter has drawn some shocking reactions since it began streaming on Netflix earlier this year.

2. The Wolfpack (2015)

Confined to their apartment in a Manhattan housing project for years by parents wary of the world outside their door, the seven Angulo siblings developed an understanding about life through movies. The Wolfpack depicts their attempts to cope with reality after finally emerging from their involuntary exile. Hulu subscribers can watch it now.

3. Three Identical Strangers (2018)

The highly marketable conceit of director Tim Wardle’s documentary is that triplets born in 1961 then separated spent the first 18 years of their lives totally ignorant of their siblings. When they reconnect, it’s a joy. But the movie quickly switches gears to explore the question of why they were separated at birth to begin with. It’s that investigation—and the chilling answer—that lends Three Identical Strangers its bittersweet, haunting atmosphere. It’s currently on Hulu.

4. Tickled (2016)

A ball of yarn bouncing down a flight of stairs is the best metaphor we can summon for the narrative of Tickled, which follows New Zealand journalist David Farrier on what appears at first glance to be a silly story about the world of “competitive endurance tickling.” In the course of reporting on this unusual subculture, Farrier crosses paths with people who would prefer their hobbies remain discreet. When he refuses to let the story go, things grow increasingly tense and dangerous. HBO subscribers can see the film, and it’s also available as a $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime.

5. Billboard Boys (2018)

In 1982, an Allentown, Pennsylvania radio station sponsored a contest in which three men agreed to live underneath a billboard. The last man remaining would win a brand-new motor home, a considerable incentive in the economically-struggling area. Three contestants went up, but things didn't go as planned. It's available for free to Amazon Prime members.

6. Hands on a Hardbody: The Documentary (1997)

How far would you be willing to go for a new pick-up truck? That’s the deceptively simple premise for this documentary chronicling an endurance contest in Longview, Texas, where participants agree to keep one hand on the vehicle at all times: The last person standing wins. What begins as a group seeking a prize evolves into a battle of attrition, with all the psychological games and mental fortitude that comes with it. The film can be hard to find, but you can watch the first nine minutes on YouTube for free (above) and then catch the rest for $9.99 on iTunes.

7. My Kid Could Paint That (2007)

At the age of 4, upstate New York resident Marla Olmstead began painting sprawling abstract art that her parents sold for premium prices. Later on, a 60 Minutes report called into question whether Marla had some assistance with her work. Was she a child prodigy, or simply a creative girl who had a little help? And if she did, should it matter? My Kid Could Paint That investigates Marla’s process, but it also sheds light on the world of abstract art and the question of who gets to decide whether a creative impulse is valid. You can rent the film for $3.99 on Amazon.

8. Beware the Slenderman (2016)

In 2014, two Wisconsin girls came to a disturbing decision: In order to appease the “Slenderman,” an internet-sourced boogeyman, they would attempt to murder a classmate. The victim survived, but three lives have been altered forever. Beware the Slenderman explores the intersection where mental illness, social media, and urban mythology collide to result in a horrific crime. It’s available to HBO viewers or as a rental on Amazon for $3.99.

9. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer (1992)

For years, Richard Kuklinski satisfied his homicidal urges by taking on contract killings for organized crime families in New York and New Jersey. Following his arrest and conviction, he agreed to sit down and elaborate on his unusual methodologies for disposing of victims and how he balanced his violent tendencies with a seemingly normal domestic life that included marriage and children. (You can see an example of Kuklinski's chilling disposition in the clip above.) In addition to The Iceman Tapes, which originally aired on HBO, Kuklinski participated in two follow-ups: The Iceman Confesses: Secrets of a Mafia Hitman in 2001 and The Iceman and the Psychiatrist in 2003. See them on HBO or watch the original and both follow-ups for free on Amazon Prime.

10. Tabloid (2010)

Filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War) details the unusual love affair between beauty queen Joyce McKinney and Kirk Anderson, who alleged McKinney kidnapped and assaulted him after believing he had been brainwashed by the Mormon church. That’s only the beginning of this twisty—and twisted—story, which illustrates how people can perceive the same event in completely different ways. It’s currently streaming on Hulu.

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