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A Man Called Sanjuro 4

"Ghost of the Dragon: Bruce Lee's Unmade Projects"*
     As a child, I always thought of Bruce Lee's film career as a straight line from The Big Boss (known to me then under its American title, Fists of Fury) to The Game of Death. I never even considered the possibility that Lee would have been offered other roles during his prime. In today's world, a big name star can be attached to a film one day, only to drop out the next due to script problems, money issues, or good old-fashioned creative differences. As my familiarity with the Hollywood rumor mill increased, I began to consider that these sorts of things might have occurred with a superstar like Bruce Lee. So, after a little digging, I came up with the following list of actual film and television projects that were tied to Bruce Lee at some point in his career, but for one reason or another, were never made with "The Little Dragon." Enjoy and ponder what might have been. - Sanjuro 11/17/03
"Number One Son" (USA 1965)

"Don't call me inscrutable."
  After viewing footage of Lee giving a kung fu demonstration at a karate tournament, television producer William Dozier cast the future superstar in this update of the "Charlie Chan" series with Lee playing the titular role of Chan's son. Lee himself referred to the character as a sort of Chinese James Bond, and considered it a possibly revolutionary role despite its stereotypical origins. But when the "Batman" TV show became a hit, the Charlie Chan spinoff was scrapped in favor of recasting Lee as Kato in the short-lived series known as "The Green Hornet." The rest, as they say, is history.
"Charlie and Chan" (USA 1967)

"Uh...what was my line?"
  The bizarre fixation with Charlie Chan continues! After the network cancelled "The Green Hornet," Lee was being considered for "Charlie and Chan," a variation on "I Spy" which was to star Lee as Charlie, a kung fu master, who would team up on occasion with Chan (or Chandler, presumably) a Caucasian ski instructor. For obvious reasons, the series never materialized.
The Silent Flute (USA 1969-70)

"Roman Polanski is a great man; he loves children."
  Bruce Lee was extremely excited about doing this feature film with screenwriter Sterling Silliphant. James Coburn was set to costar, and filming was ready to begin in Japan and India at various points in time. Lee even hoped to have Roman Polanski helm the project after visiting the director in Switzerland for a private marital arts lesson. It is unclear why the film never came to pass with Lee in the starring role, but The Silent Flute was eventually made without him in 1979 under the title Circle of Iron. It starred David Carradine, who was no stranger to replacing Lee…
"The Warrior" (USA 1971)

"I will kick your ass after dinner."
  One project that Lee was keen on doing was "The Warrior," a one-hour television drama that he had helped develop for a network. The show's premise involved a disgraced Shaolin disciple who leaves China for the American West, encountering plenty of cowboys and Indians along the way. Bruce Lee jokingly referred to his character as "Hopalong Wong," but was dead set on obliterating Asian stereotypes with this unique, cross-cultural show. In modern features like Shanghai Noon and Once Upon a Time in China and America, the subject matter may seem quaint, but in Lee's time, it was quite daring. In fact, for some people it was too daring: producers ultimately balked at the idea of casting Lee because he was considered "too Chinese" for the role of a Chinese man! The project eventually came to fruition under a different title with a Caucasian actor in the lead role—you might know it as the popular television show "Kung Fu," starring David Carradine. In 1986, a sequel project, "Kung Fu: The Movie" was released direct to television, and featured Lee's own son, Brandon, in a supporting role! Ah, irony.
Yellow Faced Tiger (HK 1972)

"Chuck Norris? Yeah, I owned him."
  Alternatively referred to as Stern-Faced Tiger, this film was to be the third collaboration between Lo Wei and Bruce Lee. However, Lo Wei's unprofessional behavior on and off the set of their previous films (among other things, Lo told the press that he taught Lee how to fight) caused the relationship to fall apart. With plenty of hurt feelings and bruised egos to go around, the two parted ways, and Lo Wei eventually made the film with Chuck Norris, Sylvia Chang, and Don Wong Tao. In some markets, the film is known as Slaughter in San Francisco or Karate Cop.
Untitled Shaw Brothers Film and Untitled Golden Harvest Film (HK 1973)

"Take this, Carradine!"
  Everyone knows that Lee had his unfinished opus The Game of Death waiting in the wings at the time of his death. However, little is known about the other two films Lee considered appearing in after Enter the Dragon. The Shaw Brothers movie was to be directed by Chor Yuen and was presumably a period piece since Lee sported numerous kung fu style garments and weaponry for the costume fittings (see photo). The premise of the Golden Harvest film is even more obscure, but it reportedly would have co-starred Fong Sai-Yuk's Josephine Siao Fong-Fong, who was at the time just graduating from Seton Hall! Sadly, Lee never got the chance to make either film.
*DISCLAIMER: The writer would like to reiterate the fact that these were REAL projects and not a wish list or early April Fool's joke. This list was cobbled together from a variety of reliable sources, but if you would like to quibble with the writer about the accuracy of this piece (or just say hi), you may reach him here.
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All photos courtesy of Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox Copyright ©2002-2015 Ross Chen