Bruce Lee’s battle against the producers of his 1973 martial arts classic “Enter the Dragon” has been well documented, but the true story gets a personal re-telling from the perspective of Bruce’s daughter, Shannon Lee, in her new book “Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee.” Variety has published an excerpt from the book that finds Shannon Lee recounting how her father fought hard to rewrite the original “Enter the Dragon” script in order to achieve his goal of “showing the Western world the glory of Chinese gung fu” and “expressing himself fully in a true, on-screen representation of a Chinese man.”
While Warner Bros. told Bruce Lee it would listen to his request to let go of the original screenwriter, the studio ended up lying by keeping the writer in Hong Kong to make “small tweaks” to the new pages of the script that Lee turned in. Lee also urged the studio to get rid of the original titles, “Blood and Steel” and “Han’s Island,” and use “Enter the Dragon” instead.
“This original script had none of the iconic scenes that exist today,” Shannon Lee writes. “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.'”
Under the impression that he was getting creative control over the script, Bruce Lee began “training like he had never trained before” for the project. The studio also tapped Lee to choreograph the fight scenes. Amid the clash over the script, Lee sent a letter to Warner Bros. chairman Ted Ashley to express his excitement over the project and drive home his commitment to make a great film.
Bruce Lee’s letter reads: “I am sure you agree with me that quality, extreme hard work, and professionalism is what cinema is all about. My twenty years of experience, both in martial arts and acting has led to the successful harmony of showmanship and genuine, efficient, artful expression. In short, this is it, and ain’t nobody knows it like I know it. Pardon my bluntness, but that is me! You see, my obsession is to make, pardon the expression, the f—ingest action motion picture that has ever been made. In closing, I will give you my heart, but please do not give me your head only. In return, I, Bruce Lee, will always feel the deepest appreciation for the intensity of your involvement.”
The letter did not solve Bruce Lee’s problems, as the actor refused to show up to set on the first day of filming after discovering the producers were not using any of his script changes. As Shannon writes, “He knew that if he didn’t take a stand, he would be marginalized over and over again by people who ‘knew better.'”
A two-week standoff between Bruce Lee and the production ensued. Shannon Lee writes that the producers “created cover-up stories about how my father was so nervous about being in a Hollywood movie and being a failure that he was terrified to show up to set.” Lee refused to give in, and finally Warner Bros. demanded the producers use Lee’s script changes so that production could resume.
Head over to Variety’s website to read the full excerpt from Shannon Lee’s “Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee.” The book is now available to purchase.