Bruce Lee

  1. David Carradine, Kung Fu, TV, 1972-1975.
    “I wrote the script for Bruce at Warners,” producer Fred Weintraub told me on a Yugoslavian shoot. “The film was never made. I gave it to the TV Department. The network said fine – but turned down Bruce Lee for Carradine.” (Because he had an accent and wasn’t white! So he staretd writing own series, Warrior, which didn’t seer light of day until… 2019). Bruce buddy James Coburn remembered it this way: “We were having dim sum at the Golden Door down in Chinatown, and he’s telling me all this. He said “They want me to do this TV series at Warner Brothers called Kung-Fu. But I’m also getting these offers in Hong Kong. What should I do?” So I thought about it for a minute, because he really wasn’t a good actor. But he had great dynamic presence and had this macho attitude that he could play really well… but that would be very tiresome watching for an hour on television. Plus he spoke with a very heavy Chinese accent.”  Coburn told him: “Go back to Hong Kong and make South-East Asian movies. You’ll be huge star! You wanna be a movie star, right? It’s what you’ve always wanted.’ He thought for a minute and said: ‘I want to make more money than Steve McQueen.’ [Laugh].  So he went to South East Asia, David Carradine did Kung-Fuin slow motion, Bruce became a huge movie star and made more money than Steve McQueen.” 

  2. Yu Wang, Leng mian hu (US: A Man Called Tiger), Hong Kong, 1973. Due as his third actioner for director Lo Wei, until Lee figured The Way of the Dragonwould be less boring – to make and to watch. Yu Wang, often billed as Jimmy Yu Wang and/or Jimmy Wu, took over a second Lee project. An odd choice as he was to martial arts what Donald Trump was to truth-telling.
  3. George Lazenby,Tie jin gang da po zi yang guan(US: Stoner), Hong Kong, 1973.  The first pitch had been: “It’s Lee! It’s Lazenby! It’s Bruce vs. Bond!” However, on the very night – July 20, 1973 –  that Lazenby signed to join their second project(originally The Shrine of Ultimate Bliss),Lee’s next and most  ambitious movie as star and director,  the Jeet Kune Do maestro died in mysterious circumstances. He was 32.  Lazenby actually took over Lee’s role, changing the titular cop from Asian to Aussie and Lazenby’s original  part went to… The Queen of Kung Fu.
  4. Yu Wang, The Man From Hong Kong (US: The Dragon Flies), Australia-Hong Kong, 1974. What an oddity this would have been. The heroic Bruce Lee and his pal, ex-Bond George Lazenby, in a gang of terrorists out to assassinater the UK Queen Elizabeth II during her official  visit to  Hong Kong… Australia’s first martial-arts movie was less about Lee, than Bond, James Bond. Enter: the one-shot Jimbo, George Lazenby. George played George. He was supposed to be ex-IRA and was badly dubbed by someone  who knew as little about accents as George did.   Otherwise, everything was Bondian from posters to song, plus various notions, from training camps to hang-gliding, fillched from From Russia With Love, Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker, even Lazenby’s OHMSS.   And George’s villain was named after Roger Moore’s adversary in Live and Let Die: Mr Big. However, it must be added that the nine-minute kitchen fight scene pre-dated Bond’s in Never Say Never and The Living Daylights!  The worst and last of Lazemby’s four-movie deal with the Golden Harvest suits, which proved better for them than  him. 
  5. David  Carradine, The Silent  Flute, 1977. “It’s Bruce Lee’s story,”  Carradine told me in Cannes. “He and James Coburn got together, a lotta people tried to write it down and nobody could. Stirling Silliphant tried, he didn’t really understand it. I resurrected it because it’s dreadfully important. It transcends anything in Kung Fu.  It’s further out than  El Topo.  And not really violent…  but I broke my  nose. Twice.”  Silliphant, one of  Lee’s jeet kune dopupils – he  got him  into TV’s Longstreetand James Garner’s  Marlowe movie –  wrote  it “as a labour of love.” But he felt 1977 was too late to film it. He was right. Carradine, alone, could view this mess “a massive piece of art.”  What were they all smoking?
  6. Andrew Koji, Warrior, TV, 2018.    In 1971, Lee designed the series about a martial arts hero during the 1870 San Francisco Tong Wars… All studios showed him the door. (Or pointed to it!). Then, Warner dreamt up Kung Fu, about a martial arts hero in the wild West!!!  Lee won  the role, until the suits discovered his accent and that he was not white. Enter: David Carradine.  Fourty years on, Bruce’s daughter, Shannon, found eight pages of her father’s about the hero he’d created for himself – Ah Sahm  – and took them, and boxes of research,  to the Fast and Furious 4, 5, 6 director Justin Lin. “I love it…  profound, powerful, philosophic  and covers a  unknown period in American history.  A series was essential.  We needed a great actor, who could handle himself in fight.” He found him.

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James Coburn’s  eulogy  for Bruce: “Farewell, Brother. It has been an honor to share this space in time with you. As a friend and a teacher, you have given to me, have brought my physical, spiritual and psychological selves together. Thank you. May peace be with you.


 Birth year: 1941Death year: 1973Other name: Casting Calls:  6