How A Rejected Bruce Lee Western Turned Into Enter The Dragon
Enter the Dragon evolved from a rejected treatment for a Bruce Lee Western. Over the course of his career, the martial arts legend was involved in the development of multiple movies and TV shows. Some eventually happened, but many never came to pass within the actor’s lifetime. A few, however, did have some of their ideas incorporated into later Bruce Lee movies.
The two most well-known, umade projects Lee was involved with were The Warrior and The Silent Flute. One was a Western TV series, whereas the latter was a martial arts adventure movie he intended to make with James Coburn. For different reasons, Lee wasn’t able to get either off the ground and wound up moving on to other things. Interestingly, the same can be said for another movie treatment Lee’s name was attached to in the early 1970s. It never happened, but certain elements of it made it to the big screen regardless.
Bruce Lee’s Kelsey Movie & Enter The Dragon Connection Explained
Bruce Lee biographer Matthew Polly, who wrote Bruce Lee: A Life, confirmed through an interview with former Warner Bros. producer Fred Weintraub that Lee was supposed to have a co-starring role in a Western movie called Kelsey. A treatment for the film reveals that Lee would’ve played a Chinese mercenary who teams up with the titular hero and his army friend in a fight against a Native American tribe in 1792. Weintraub said that he loved the idea behind the treatment and had the screenplay submitted to Warner Bros. The studio passed on the project, but the team-up aspect of the story found new life in Enter the Dragon.
As Polly notes in his book, Kelsey was the “primary source material” for Enter the Dragon’s script. Like the iconic 1973 kung fu film, Kelsey hinged on a multiracial dynamic shared by a trio of Black, white, and Asian characters. Kelsey would have been the Western movie’s white character, with Woody Strode considered by Weintraub for the role of the Black protagonist. This multiracial theme was embraced by Warner Bros. when it moved ahead with Enter the Dragon, which used the same composition when it famously teamed Lee with John Saxon and Jim Kelly as its white and Black leads respectively.
Enter The Dragon Used Kelsey’s Best Idea (& Made It Better)
In the end, it may be for the best that Kelsey didn’t happen, especially since its failure allowed Enter the Dragon to make drastic improvements to its premise. As the Western’s title implies, Lee was not the star of Kelsey. Polly explained in his book that Lee had few speaking lines and wouldn’t have had much to do in comparison to the other two characters. With Enter the Dragon, Warner Bros. opted to go in a different – and much better – direction by letting Bruce Lee lead the cast and get the majority of the movie’s biggest moments.