Bruce Lee Movies

Bruce Lee Movies: Meet Tony From Enter the Dragon, Return of the Dragon and The Big Boss

This blog post will test your knowledge of kung fu films, challenge your understanding of who’s had the greatest impact on the development of Chinese martial arts movies and maybe even cause you to examine your kung fu film “nerd quotient.”

My first question is, What ever happened to Tony?

Tony the Tiger? No, but he was g-r-reat! Tony Jaa? Too much of a suit-and-Thai guy to be linked to Chinese cinema. How about To Ni? Nah, he was a background actor often seen in old films but rarely credited.

My question refers to the first actor to bear the brunt of Bruce Lee’s iconic death blow: Tony Liu, aka Liu Yong.

Tony Liu in Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung, Courtesy of Celestial Pictures

Tony Liu co-starred in three Bruce Lee films, all of which scored big at the box office. In Enter the Dragon (1973), Liu wore a yellow gi and fought John Saxon in Han’s martial arts tournament. In Return of the Dragon (1972), Liu played Tony, one of the Chinese waiters at the restaurant Bruce Lee was protecting from the Mafia. Liu’s most famous character — at least, in the minds of many Americans — was the son of the big boss in The Big Boss, aka Fists of Fury (1971).

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That Tony Liu–Bruce Lee scene in The Big Boss turned out to be a defining moment in Lee’s career. It unfolded as follows:

It’s nighttime at the ice factory, and Tony Liu and Bruce Lee are going at it. Liu lunges in with a desperate punch, but Lee blocks the blow — and then it happens. Lee unleashes a gut punch in what will become one of his signature moments. For the next 15 seconds, we see Lee’s muscles tense as his outstretched arm is frozen in fury. Then he turns to the camera, his snarling lips and eye-growling face reflecting nothing but anger and the desire for revenge.

Bruce Lee in The Big Boss

After a run of look-how-handsome-he-is movies, Tony Liu signed with Shaw Brothers in 1975. The following year, he was selected to portray a real person, one who arguably had the greatest impact on the development of Chinese martial arts. Was that Ta Mo (Bodhidharma), Zhang San-Feng, Ip Man, Huo Yuan-Jia or even Bruce Lee? Nope. It was Emperor Chien Lung (1711-1799).

Four films on the life and times of Chien Lung have been made, and Tony Liu played him in each one. They are Emperor Chien Lung (1976), The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung (1977), Voyage of Emperor Chien Lung (1978) and Emperor Chien Lung and the Beauty (1980).

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Just who was Chien Lung, and why was he significant?

After the brutal 13-year reign of Emperor Yong Zheng, perhaps best-known for razing Shaolin Temple and slaughtering most of the monks, his fourth son Hong Li rose to power and became Emperor Chien Lung, the fifth ruler of the Ching dynasty. He governed China from 1736 to 1796.

Emperor Chien Lung is famous for secretly visiting southern China six times while dressed as a commoner. His goal was to learn how his subjects felt about him and how he might improve their country and their lives.

Due to his expertise in the martial arts, Chien Lung also was known as the last kung fu emperor. In Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung, we bear witness to how he learned to defend himself while growing up in the cold lands of northern China and how, as a teen, he saved his grandfather from a ferocious black bear during a hunting trip.

Emperor Chien Lung

Emperor Chien Lung’s contribution to martial arts filmdom is enormous though inadvertent. Recognizing that what his father had done to Shaolin Temple was tragic and wrong, he took it upon himself to rebuild the monastery and revitalize the Shaolin martial arts. He also commissioned the creation of Beijing opera schools, which became the training ground for Hong Kong’s stunt performers. That group, of course, includes the likes of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Ching Siu-tung.

Back to Tony Liu: He’s now 63 years old and still living in Hong Kong. His career has spanned 45 years and 75 films, and it’s not over. For that, Mr. Liu deserves, ahem, a Tony Award.

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Enter the Dragon: Exclusive Interview With Fred Weintraub, Producer of the Bruce Lee Blockbuster

If the revered academy started giving out a Lifetime Achievement Award for Fight Films, Fred Weintraub would be the hands-down winner the first year. His filmography as a producer in the genre is unrivaled: Black Belt Jones (1974), Golden Needles (1974), The Ultimate Warrior (1978), Jaguar Lives! (1979), The Big Brawl (1980), Force: Five (1981), Gymkata (1985), The Best of the Martial Arts Films (1990), China O’Brien (1990), China O’Brien 2 (1991), The Curse of the Dragon (1993), Warrior Angels (2002) and Dream Warrior (2003), among others.

For most martial artists, however, his crowning achievement is 1973’s Enter the Dragon. Fred Weintraub recently finished dusting off his fondest memories of the film, along with his interactions with its legendary star, and committed them to paper in the form of a book titled Bruce Lee, Woodstock and Me. Black Belt conducted this interview shortly before it came out.

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Bruce Lee Movies: The Making of Enter the Dragon

Is this book your autobiography?

That’s right, but it’s not like I began it by writing about the day I was born. It’s about the 40 films I did, plus a little of my background.

How long did it take you to write it?

About 10 years ago is when I started thinking about it and writing things down. For the last two years, I really hunkered down.

Do you spend much time talking about the other martial arts movies you’ve done, or is it mostly Enter the Dragon?

There’s a little bit about Jackie Chan, who I really like. There’s more about Bruce Lee, of course. It’s divided up into a section on Bruce Lee mythology, one on how Enter the Dragon came to be, and one on the TV series Kung Fu — things nobody knows about.

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Bruce Lee Movie Enter the Dragon — A Vintage Interview

What’s your connection to Kung Fu?

I had just become an executive at Warner Bros. in their New York office. I was pitched by two young men — Ed Spielman and Howard Friedlander — a project called Kung Fu. I commissioned them $3,500 to write the script for Warner Bros. They wrote the script, and later I moved to Burbank, California. I presented the script to the studio, but Warner Bros. wouldn’t make it into a movie. I walked over to the television division and gave it to a man who later became one of my partners. He liked the idea and gave the order to get started.

At that time, I had a friend named Sy Weintraub. While I was in LA, he was taking private lessons from Bruce — along with Steve McQueen and James Coburn. One day, Sy said, “You ought to meet this Bruce Lee,” and he introduced us.

I found him to be charming, bright and very intellectual. We became good friends. When they were casting Kung Fu, I said, “I have the perfect guy” — or at least I thought he was — and I took Bruce to see Tom Kuhn. Bruce used the nunchaku and just amazed Tom.

Tom called me over and said, “Who is this guy?” I said, “He’s going to be a great action star.” He said, “Let me see what the network thinks.”

Of course, the network turned him down. They felt the time wasn’t right for an international star. Bruce did not get the part.

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What was Bruce Lee’s reaction?

Bruce went to Hong Kong. Meanwhile, I [explained a concept for a new movie] to Ted Ashley at Warner Bros. — he was taking lessons in that group and really liked Bruce — and he flipped. So I had a script written and brought it over to the foreign guys at Warner Bros., and they said they could give us a little bit of money — it wasn’t a lot, but it helped.

With the script in hand, I went to Hong Kong to have Bruce read it and talk to Raymond Chow about getting some money. Raymond was wonderful, cordial, terrific — he showed me around Hong Kong for the few weeks I was there, and we negotiated constantly about distribution rights. Toward the end, Raymond was upset. He thought of Bruce as his kid and wanted to keep him in Hong Kong. I can’t blame the guy, but Bruce wanted a bigger market. He …

Bruce Lee Movies: Enter the Dragon, Seen Through the Eyes of a Martial Arts Movies Expert

Editor’s Note: Enter the Dragon is the third film in our Bruce Lee Movies List. The following review originally appeared in The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s.

Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon officially unites Hong Kong and Hollywood under the parasol of kung fu. In this $500,000-budgeted gasp of fresh air in Tinseltown, Bruce Lee plays secret agent Lee. He’s sent by the British to break up a suspected drug ring organized by the inscrutable Han (Shiek Khan), who uses martial arts tournaments to recruit bodyguards and lackeys. The idea of the tournament is actually based on the ancient Chinese sport lei tai, which first appeared during the Song dynasty (960 to 1279). The tournament winner would either become the emperor’s bodyguard or a martial arts instructor for the imperial army.

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You could make an argument that the film was politically correct 20 years before it was politically correct to do so. However, having a black, a white and an Oriental (or by today’s PC terms, an African-American, a Caucasian and an Asian) hero working together was a way for Warner Bros. to appease the demographics and a tacit admission that an Asian lead still wasn’t plausible. Find out what Enter the Dragon co-star Jim Kelly (the African-American Dr. Craig D. Reid is referring to) had to say about his experience working with Bruce Lee in a new FREE download!

When the film came out, Westerners had no idea about the pedigree of the Hong Kong cast. Shiek Khan had done more than 400 films, and most of them were martial arts movies that featured him as the villain. And with 18 films under her hapkido black belt, Angela Mao Ying was attaining cult status as a kung fu heroine, so the fights she did in Enter the Dragon were a walk in the park for her and her Vietnamese karate champion co-star, Bolo Yeung, a veteran of 28 kung fu films. By 1973, Sammo Hung had fought in 42 kung fu films and had been the head martial arts instructor for 17 of them.

It’s impossible to deny that Enter the Dragon is a great film, but the fights are very Hollywood. Although I respect John Saxon, he did not possess the martial savvy to fight convincingly against Bolo Yeung. There are also problems with the choreography, such as the dungeon scene when Bruce Lee is flexing his back while trying to open the elevator doors. He suddenly steps, turns around and is accosted by a handful of attackers. Talk about close-up — you can’t see what anyone is doing, and a bad guy falls in the opposite direction after Lee throws his last sweeping backfist. Also, Lee’s handspring and flip after the film’s beginning fight scene with Sammo Hung were not performed by Bruce Lee but by Lam Ching-ying, who found fame with his one-eyebrowed priest character in the Mr. Vampire films.

Then there’s the final Hollywood glitter mirror room fight between Han and Lee. It has always been funny to me that director Robert Clouse never re-shot the scene when Lee throws the coat stand into the mirrors and no mirror breaks. A person could argue it shows how tough the mirrors are, so when Lee breaks them with his hands and “feet” (a hand in the shoe on close-up), we can feel his power. However, it’s an awkward-feeling moment, though it is quickly replaced when Lee does his patented hunchbacked creeping walk around the mirror set. Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, once told me that she remembers often looking at the spear from that final Shiek-a-bob shot resting in the corner of her home as a child.

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The irony about Bruce Lee’s career and stardom in the West is that they came together at the wrong place at the wrong time.

In 1972, the United States was in the middle of the Vietnam War, and anti-Asian sentiment had not been so high since World War II. Each week, racial tension was finding a new way to twist the psyche of a country floundering in gas lines and cold war. Traditionally, whenever the United States was at war, Hollywood would create characters and storylines based on the heroic efforts of the American soldier, trying to use films as a way to boost the country’s morale and confidence that the troops were righteously defending the realm against the evils of the world.

But during the Vietnam War, America was in no mood …

Bruce Lee Lives! 40th-Anniversary Edition of Enter the Dragon Goes on Sale June 11

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the Enter the Dragon 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition gift set on June 11, 2013. The best-known of Bruce Lee’s films has been remastered and will be packaged with bonus materials, including a featurette titled No Way as Way and commentary from a variety of luminaries. The set also will include collectible art cards and an embroidered patch.

Enter the Dragon was a theatrical hit 40 years ago, when it grossed $25 million domestically — the equivalent of $180 million today. The title has sold more than 450,000 units on DVD and Blu-ray since 2004. In 2004 Enter the Dragon was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” On July 20, 1973 — a month before the movie premiered — Bruce Lee died in Hong Kong. He was 32.

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Bruce Lee Movies: The Making of Enter the Dragon

Among the special features planned for the 40th-anniversary release are the following (subject to change):

• commentary by producer Paul Heller
• a featurette titled No Way as Way
• a featurette titled The Return to Han’s Island
• a featurette titled Wing Chun: The Art That Introduced Kung Fu to Bruce Lee
• an interview gallery featuring Bruce Lee’s widow Linda Lee Cadwell
• a profile titled Bruce Lee: In His Own Words
• five trailers
• seven TV spots

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Bob Wall: Co-Star of Three Bruce Lee Movies Dishes on Bruce Lee, Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris (Part 3)

Bob Wall — co-star in three Bruce Lee movies — has been hounded by a number of stories for decades. Some of these stories have been true. Some of these stories have been fabricated. In Part 3 of our exclusive interview with the Bruce Lee movies co-star, he talks about Bruce Lee’s jeet kune do?, the Dirty Dozen vs. Steven Seagal, cross-training in traditional martial arts and much more!

(If you missed the first two parts of our interview with the Bruce Lee movies co-star, don’t worry. Click on the following links to read Part 1 and Part 2.)

Black Belt: What is your opinion of Bruce Lee’s martial art, jeet kune do?

Bob Wall: I loved and admired Bruce and his jeet kune do.

What sets JKD apart from other martial arts?

Bob Wall: The fact that it was Bruce’s brainchild and his blueprint for effective fighting.

There’s been a lot of discussion regarding Bruce Lee’s certification process in his later years. Did he ever discuss with you the people he authorized to teach his system?

Bob Wall: No. Bruce didn’t like structure. He wanted you to see what he did and make it your own. He believed that you should not mimic others but “feel” what works for you.

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Which of Bruce Lee’s students did you meet before he died?

Bob Wall: Taky Kimura, Ted Wong, Danny Inosanto, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Richard Bustillo, Mito Uyehara and Larry Hartsell.

Did any of them particularly impress you?

Bob Wall: Yes, all of them were, or are, outstanding people. Taky, Ted, Danny, Richard and Larry are all extraordinary martial artists who are a terrific legacy for Bruce’s teachings. I admire and respect each of them.

What was your training relationship with Bruce Lee? Did you go to his house and work out like Joe Lewis and Chuck Norris did?

Bob Wall: Bruce and I trained often at his house, at my studio and on the set of Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon.

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What did you work on? Did Bruce Lee’s art differ from the others you’d studied?

Bob Wall: We ran, stretched and worked on lots of drills. Bruce was always questioning the norm. He was like Gene LeBell, Chuck Norris and Joe Lewis in that he didn’t believe in one system. He believed that you must be in great shape and cross-train.

Were you present during Bruce Lee’s workouts with any of the celebrities?

Bob Wall: Chuck and Joe are the only ones that I remember.

You have footage of Bruce Lee training James Coburn and Steve McQueen. Will that ever be released?

Bob Wall: Fred Weintraub and I gave a copy of it — about two hours — to Linda Lee [Cadwell]. It would be up to her and Shannon Lee to decide if they want to release it.

You were the creator of the Dirty Dozen, the group of martial artists who challenged Steven Segal in the April 1992 issue of Black Belt. Do you have any regrets about that incident?

Bob Wall: Seagal made some untrue comments and apologized for them like a real man does. All the Dirty Dozen and I were quite satisfied with the outcome.

When you eventually came face to face with Steven Seagal, what happened?

Bob Wall: He apologized, and that’s the end of it. Steven is a fine actor and a very good martial artist.

Describe your friendship with Chuck Norris.

Bob Wall: Chuck and I have been best friends and training partners for 40 years. I greatly respect and admire him for the man and the martial artist that he is.

Do you know of any projects we might expect from Norris in the future?

Bob Wall: Chuck is like the 500-pound gorilla. He’ll do whatever he wants.

Bruce Lee wrote you a letter dated July 20, 1973, that was never sent. Were the contents ever revealed to you?

Bob Wall: The contents have not been revealed to me.

Do you have any regrets about the interview you did 20 years ago with Albert Goldman in Penthouse?

Bob Wall: I never gave Goldman the interview he wrote. He called me, and because of his pathetic viewpoints in his previous books on Lenny Bruce and Elvis, I chose not to give my interview. We talked for a few minutes, and I explained why I wouldn’t do the interview. Then he just made up his own. I’ve done countless interviews about Bruce …