With the 1973 film release of Enter the Dragon, film-goers were treated to an experience that created a seismic shift in the world of cinema that spawned a craze for all things Kung Fu, and a new film hero named Bruce Lee was born. A relative unknown in western cinema, Lee was already enjoying celebrity status in Hong Kong and the Far East with iconic films such as The Big Boss and Fist of Fury.
Lee was a force of nature, a film star who was actually the genuine article and perfectly capable of the physical exertion and feats of endurance he portrayed on-screen, delivered with devastating impact, and transcending the action movie genre to become an enduring icon of popular culture.
Enter the Dragon maintains a unique position as the yardstick that all martial arts movies are measured against, that was able to reach the masses with its eye-catching cinematography and breathtaking fight sequences that were ahead of their time.
Sadly, Bruce Lee was unable to enjoy the fruits of his labour and the international recognition that awaited him, dying of Cerebral Oedema at the age of 32 before the film was released, after taking an Equagesic, a painkiller consisting of Aspirin and a tranquilizer called Meprobamate, which caused swelling of the brain.
This was the official explanation at least, but conspiracy theories have been ever-present, from Lee being killed by Chinese Triads, to falling victim to the Italian Mafia.
His natural successor, his son Brandon Lee, was hotly-tipped to follow in his father’s foot steps some 20 years later, with clearly the star appeal and martial arts background necessary to fulfil that role.
However, this was not to be. While filming a scene in the latter stages of The Crow (1994), a film about a rock musician rising from the dead to avenge his assailants, who were also responsible for the death of his fiancée, he was tragically killed on set. In the scene another actor would fire blanks at him using a .44 Magnum prop gun, but somehow a real bullit had become lodged in the barrel and he was subsequently fatally shot in the abdomen. He never regained consciousness, and was dead at the age of 28. The film was a success, completed with digital special effects, with Brandon receiving posthumous plaudits for his efforts.
Another, more paranormal conspiracy theory has been suggested as the cause of their deaths, one that involves a family curse. The theory goes that born in the ‘year and hour of the Dragon’ this apparently marked Bruce Lee out in Chinese mythology as one who is endowed with super human skills, in his case this manifested in his superior physical prowess. The Chinese Illuminati had been pursuing Lee, regarded as precious to them, and who they wished to convert to their group due to his outstanding abilities, but having rejected their request, would do battle with them in his dreams. This scenario was depicted in the movie Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993), culminating in a fight scene with an inner demon.
The underlying characteristics of such a curse would invariably ensure entirely plausible explanations for its target’s demise, however sinister the intention, and would create the required circumstances for this to occur, that conveniently masquerade as unfortunate mishaps and accidents. In so doing, severing the Lee Bloodline forever, as this curse would transfer only to the males of the family.
Whatever the truth, both cases represent remarkable coincidences that few could fail to notice, whereby their promising careers in film were curtailed prematurely on the eve of a major film release.
The true nature of their deaths may forever remain a mystery, but Bruce Lee’s undoubted influence will live on, as will Brandon Lee’s all too brief contribution to the world of cinema, whose future promise we were tragically denied.