Remake of Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon could get complete overhaul in post-Black Panther world
With Enter the Dragon remake, will Hollywood whitewash Bruce Lee's legacy or cast an Asian lead?
Remember the time you first saw a Bruce Lee film and how for the rest of the week you walked around feeling like the martial arts legend, looking for scores to settle. Well, for some actor, that childhood fantasy is about to come true. A proposed remake of the 1973 Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon is all set to take off and while David Leitch, the director of Deadpool 2, is to helm the film, the search for who would be the next 'Bruce Lee' is still on. The cult classic that forever enshrined Lee in the pantheon of the biggest stars in the world released a few months after Lee’s death at the age of 32 under mysterious circumstances and had tragedy not struck, Lee would have gone on to become much bigger than anyone could have ever imagined.
Usually, the thought of revisiting any backlist, and especially when it comes to the likes of runaway hits, is thrown up every time a major studio witnesses a change at the highest levels. But a film such as Enter the Dragon is the kind of shark that keeps lurking in shallow waters waiting to pop up at the right time. The idea of reinterpreting Enter the Dragon, too, has been in the pipeline for many years. The first time an Enter the Dragon remake made headlines was in 2014 when it was announced that Spike Lee would be working on a new version. On the face of it, Lee sounds like the weirdest choice to remake Enter the Dragon but considering the way the idea was first pitched to him, anything is possible. Rumour has it that Bob Weinstein told Spike Lee that, “Your name is Lee. And Bruce Lee’s name is Lee! It’s meant to be," and in his own words, Spike Lee was “bowled over."
This was also around the same time as Lee was remaking the Park Chan-wook’s Old Boy (2003) in English and despite the lukewarm response that his version got, Lee was convinced that people found his film better than the Korean original. Lee also went to the extent of assuring that when it came to the Dragon remake, he would "direct the hell of it" and with Ken Yeong of the Hangover series as the lead, his film would be greater. Lee never got to make his great film, of course, and neither did Brett Ratner, who post-Rush Hour, was also trying to remake Enter the Dragon. In fact, the reason Ratner got Lalo Schifrin to score Rush Hour (1998) was his fascination with Enter the Dragon, which was also scored by Schifrin.
Some films are sacrosanct that ought to be left untouched and for many, Enter the Dragon falls into that category. Despite the purists’ argument that both Fist of Fury (1973) or The Big Boss (1971) probably have better character arcs or narrative, it’s unquestionably Enter the Dragon that brings greater joy. A large part of the audiences’ connection with Enter the Dragon is essentially emotional as this was the film that Lee never lived to see. Irrespective, a remake of the film might ultimately not be as controversial as ‘who would play Lee’s character’ in it. Although Leitch or the studio have not dropped any hints about who would fill the rather big boots of the greatest martial artist the world ever saw, the chances of someone from Asia making the cut would be slim.
In a post-Black Panther world, the Enter the Dragon remake possibly getting completely overhauled cannot be ruled out. Even when originally pitched in the 1970s, the film was supposed to be titled “Blood and Steel” and in the book, Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen from World War II to the Present author Brain Locke writes how it was also one of the first mainstream martial arts films that was multi-cultural with an Asian, white and black heroic protagonists as the producers felt that would appeal to the widest possible international audiences. But as this remake would be a typical summer release, the studio might not be too keen on letting some relatively little known Asian to ‘shoulder’ a big tent-pole movie.
In this respect, Leitch’s association with Ryan Reynolds thanks to Deadpool 2 could intrigue the actor to play the lead in Enter the Dragon or who knows it could be Keanu Reeves, who featured as the lead in the slick action franchise John Wick, the first of which was written by Leitch. Reeves, too, has a connection with martial arts where he directed his friend and stuntman Tiger Chen in Man of Tai Chi (2013), which was praised for its “old-school kinetic action.” As far as the prospects of the male lead go there is also Ryan Gosling as a possibility thanks to some experience of playing a somewhat Bruce Lee inspired character in Only God Forgives. In fact, Gosling’s portrayal of latent anger in Drive, too, might come in handy if he is cast in Enter the Dragon.
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To see a couple of privileged folk, frantically trying to scramble their way to safety, their faces whiter than their original white after what they have just seen. It is oddly satisfying to see how it ends for them, because I know it will.