“1973 was the year that kung fu broke in America. The release of the popular Five Fingers Of Death (aka King Boxer) in March set the fuse and when Enter The Dragon (the first Hong Kong martial arts film co-produced by a major US studio) followed in August, it exploded.
Although Bruce Lee was billed as a co-star in Enter The Dragon alongside John Saxon because casting an Asian actor in the lead role of an American film was unheard of at the time (and would remain so until 1982 when Sho Kosugi topped the bill for Revenge Of The Ninja), it was Bruce who captured the public’s imagination. His amazing look and style, his astonishing talent for acting, writing and directing, and his unparalleled martial arts ability made him an icon for the genre and an inspiration to millions. His image was inescapable, adorning all manner of merchandise and plastering teenage bedrooms worldwide. The problem? By this time, he was already dead…
On July 20th 1973, Bruce Lee visited the apartment of actress Betty Ting Pei to go over his script for Game Of Death. Feeling worse for wear, he took a headache tablet, lay down to sleep and didn’t get up again. Ruled as ‘death by misadventure’ – a cerebral edema brought on by a reaction to the painkiller – it was a shocking way to go for a guy whose screen presence made him seem indestructible.
More than that, it just wasn’t fair. Here was a filmmaker about to hit the absolute top of his game. It was a hard-won victory too, smashing at last the race barriers that had stood in the way of his American career for so many years. All those years of rejected Hollywood pitches and, finally, he was America’s hero. Hong Kong, having known for years that their cinema had international appeal, celebrated Lee’s crossover yet, at the same time, mourned the loss of their favourite superstar. What could be done?
The demand all across the world for Bruce Lee was feverish and – besides the 40 minutes of unfinished Game Of Death footage languishing in the vaults at Golden Harvest – there was nothing left to give…”