Cheap Thrills programmer Christopher Brown discusses Enter The Dragon’s history with the BBFC.
It’s a strange endorsement of a film that it would be considered so exciting it could bring violence to the streets. Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon, a film about a monk infiltrating a fighting tournament to discover an evil plot, fell into that trap.
The movie entered the UK consciousness just as Bruce Lee was in the headlines. The film, a Hong Kong and US co-production was put to the BBFC just one month after the star’s death, in August 1973.
The BBFC Secretary at the time, Stephen Murphy, thought that the violence was too much for teenage boys, who would be attracted to the action adventure, but also for adult audiences. Even if classified at X, Stephen Murphy felt Enter The Dragon would still require cuts. These would remove a number of violent combat techniques that the Board considered excessive, and could be easily imitated by audiences. There was also concern about the violence being potentially encouraged by such a charismatic actor, at the height of his fame and popularity. In effect they were concerned that Bruce Lee was just too cool.
Five separate cuts were made to tone down the fighting. These included kicks to the crotch and neck breaks. The decision was contentious on both sides. Some felt the cuts hadn’t gone far enough as it was felt the film glamorised violence while others, particularly young people, were disappointed that it was cut and for adults only.
Kung-fu films were booming in popularity in the UK and news articles began to appear suggesting that the use of chainsticks (or nunchaku) and other martial arts weapons were raising in popularity. Media coverage of the issue caught the eye of Murphy’s successor as BBFC Secretary, James Ferman. In December 1979, Ferman recalled Enter The Dragon for another look in the light of these anxieties. Ferman asked Warner Bros to remove sight of chainsticks in a fight sequence. Even the posters had them removed.
When Enter The Dragon was classified for VHS in 1988, a kindlier view of the film’s violence was taken. The original five cuts were reduced to two; however, sight of the chainsticks remained cut.
This idea extended to many films, including a scene in the 1989 movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to remove the half shell heroes waving their weapons in anger.
Throughout the 1990s, specific public concerns about chainsticks declined, while fears about more accessible weapons, such as knives, grew. Despite a modification to the BBFC’s blanket ban of martial arts weaponry in 1991, when Enter The Dragon was resubmitted for video classification in 1993 and in 1996, cuts to sight of chainsticks in action were maintained.
In 1999, the previous firm distinction between martial arts and other weapons was abandoned. Nevertheless, scenes with offensive weapons continue to be liable to cuts if they are considered likely to encourage violent behaviour in the real world.
Finally in 2001 Enter The Dragon was classified at 18 for video, with all previous cuts (both to violence and weapons) fully restored.
So remember, if you want to make an action movie, try not to be too cool or exciting or you could still face the censors scissors.