It's been almost half a century since Bruce Lee's martial arts classic, Enter the Dragon , was released into theatres and it is rightly regarded as a benchmark of the genre. Even to those without an interest in film censorship, it is
probably fair to say that it is somewhat common knowledge that Enter the Dragon was subject to cuts in Britain, just as casual film lovers are no doubt aware of the Video Nasties era and the fact that many horror films were once heavily cut or
banned in the UK. What may not be so widely known is just how much was cut from Enter the Dragon and on how many separate occasions. There have been at least four different versions of the film released in the UK, each with varying degrees of
censorship, and we'll be discussing the cuts made to each of them in this episode of the series.
Lee vs Murphy for the 1973 cinema release
Stephen Murphy, Secretary of the BBFC
Censorship solely for the sake of censorship
Enter the Dragon was first submitted for a UK theatrical release in August 1973, just one month after Bruce Lee's untimely death. Stephen Murphy was the Secretary of the BBFC at the time, and he felt that the film offered violence solely for the
sake of entertainment without any contextual justification. Although Murphy acknowledged the fact that the film was fantastical in nature, he felt that the level of brutality and sadism could only be accommodated at the adults-only 'X' category.
Even at the highest classification, he stated that cuts were required to various scenes of so-called "excessive" violence, as well as various imitable techniques. As a result, a cuts list was drawn up on August 14th , with cuts
demanded in almost every reel of the picture. In the end, following discussions with the distributors, the necessary cuts were whittled down to specific scenes in Reels 3, 4 and 5, with the BBFC mostly asking for general reductions as opposed to
the outright removal of entire scenes.
Cut Scenes: Bolo vs guards
The first changes made to the film occurred when the villain Han decrees that his guards have proven themselves less than worthy in allowing Lee to secretly investigate the island the night prior and so makes them face-off against his prize
fighter, Bolo. For the UK cinema version, the BBFC demanded:
Reduce the episode in which the guards have to defend their honour; remove scenes in which Bolo grabs a man's hair and breaks his neck, breaks a man's spine by crushing him, and sight of two dead bodies carried away.
Cut Scenes: Lee vs Oharra
Shortly afterwards, Lee fights Oharra, the villain responsible for the death of Lee's sister. For an 'X' rating, the BBFC demanded:
Reduce the sequence in which Lee fights O'Hara, especially removing the shot in which O'Hara is spread-eagled in the air and kicked in the crotch. Remove scene in which O'Hara smashes two bottles to use them as weapons and is then kicked in
face and stomped to death.
Cut Scenes: Williams vs Han
Reel 4 saw the next changes, beginning with the scene in which Williams fights Han. For the UK cinema version, the BBFC demanded:
Reduce long fight between Han and Williams to the minimum necessary for continuity.
It is not known precisely what was removed, but our approximation of a cut version based on this general change -- removing BBFC no-no's like double ear claps, blows to the head and so-called excessive violence -- is available in the video
at the bottom of this article.
Cut Scenes: Lee vs guards
The next cuts occurred later in Reel 4, in scenes concerning Lee's second night-time infiltration into Han's underground lair. With regards to this scene, the BBFC cuts stated:
Reduce Lee's battle with the guards, especially removing shots in which he kicks one and breaks his neck.
Cut Scenes: Roper vs Bolo
The final cuts demanded of Enter the Dragon for its UK cinema release occur in Reel 5 during the showdown between Roper and Bolo, with the BBFC demanding:
Reduce the fight between Roper and Bolo, especially removing the shot of Bolo being kicked in the crotch to fall dead.
Following the necessary changes required by the BBFC, Enter the Dragon was passed 'X' on October 23rd 1973. The BBFC do not indicate the total amount of footage that was removed, although a contemporaneous BFI review suggests that a little more
than a minute or so of footage was cut.
The decision to make cuts to the film attracted various complaints at the time of the film's release in the UK. On the one hand, some members of the British public still felt it was too violent and, unusually, that it might encourage people to
try kung-fu for criminal purposes. Furthermore, the success of the film raised fear amongst certain members of the public at the spread of the use of nunchaku and other martial arts weaponry amongst violent youths in London who were apparently
trying to emulate Bruce Lee.
Lee vs Ferman for the 1979 cinema recall
James Ferman, Secretary. of the BBFC.
In 1975, James Ferman became Secretary of the BBFC after Stephen Murphy had resigned from the position. Ever mindful of public concerns, Ferman honed in on the negative media coverage surrounding Enter the Dragon and asked the distributors to
recall the film in 1979 so that further cuts could be made. He requested that they remove the sight of nunchaku being used in the main fight in Han's underground lair, as well as removing sight of the weapon from the film's trailer and
promotional posters. The poster changes consisted of changing the nunchaku held between Lee's hands into a bo stick, such was Ferman's disturbance.
Examples of the tweaked UK poster art, which removed the nunchaku held between Lee's hands
These changes were arguably a case of closing the stable door after the horse had bolted, given that film had been widely available for some time with all of the nunchaku footage intact. In addition, following consultation with law enforcement,
the BBFC decided that the sight of nunchaku should be removed from films entirely from this point forward in order to discourage the spread of their use.
Lee vs Ferman for the 1988 video release
The BBFC's policy on the outright removal of all sight of martial arts weaponry continued well into the 1980s and 1990s, with special regard to home video releases where videos risked being viewed by underage viewers or having scenes played out
of context. Prior to the introduction of the Video Recordings Act 1984, Enter the Dragon was released uncut on video in the early 1980s without a BBFC certificate and was even shown uncut on British television. Following the implementation of
the VRA, the film was required to be classified by the BBFC for video and it was submitted for a rating in the late 1980s in its uncut version. Naturally, cuts were demanded to the film for home viewing.
Cuts for 1988 home video
Some of the original cinema cuts from 1973 were waived, namely those made to the fights between Lee and Oharra, Han and Williams and Roper and Bolo but the sight of Bolo's killing of two guards in Reel 3 was still censored. Additionally,
James Ferman demanded that the cuts he ordered in 1979 to the sight of nunchaku be replicated on video. This included any scenes showing the weapon being carried, as well as its appearance in fight sequences. As a result, the BBFC cuts for
Remove the following:
Guard swings chainstick as Lee hides [and] same chainstick seen again
Huge man Bolo grabs guard's hair & breaks his neck
Bolo breaks guard's spine
In cellars, guard holds chainstick
In attack by guards one holds a chainstick
Lee grabs chainstick, swings it and hits guard with it. He later sits trapped in pit holding chainsticks.
The effect of these cuts can be seen in the video at the end of this article.
After the removal of offending footage, Enter the Dragon was classified 18 for a VHS release on January 31st 1988 after 105 seconds of cuts. The back cover of the videotape featured a prominent note that the film was a "BBFC edited
The heavily-censored 1988 UK video release
Lee vs Ferman for the 1993 video release
During the 1990s, public concern about the depiction of nunchaku declined, whilst fears about more accessible weapons, such as knives, increased. As a result, in 1991 the BBFC changed their blanket ban policy on the depiction of martial arts
weaponry and a number of representations of nunchaku in various films were permitted but only when they were not actually in use; were displayed in non-violent demonstrations of skill; or when their appearance served to establish the nature of a
Cuts for 1993 home video
In spite of the modification to the BBFC's outright ban on martial arts weaponry in 1991, when Enter the Dragon was resubmitted for a video rating in 1993 Ferman's cuts to nunchaku being used were still upheld. The cuts made to Bolo's
killing of the two guards were waived, as were the various scenes of guards carrying the weapon that were cut in 1988. However, Bruce Lee's twirling of the weapon in Han's underground lair was still removed, with Ferman demanding:
In battle between hero and guards, reduce Bruce Lee's use of chainsticks to minimum necessary to provide continuity, as follows:
After Lee takes chainsticks away from man in blue, cut away while they are still wrapped around stick in Lee's hand, removing all sight of Lee twirling them and resuming on man in blue reacting.
After man in blue attacks Lee with baseball bat and Lee defends himself with chainsticks, cut away as Lee turns, resuming on empty frame just before he enters.
Following 21 seconds of cuts, Enter the Dragon was passed 18 for a widescreen video release on November 10th 1993. These same cuts were also demanded of the full-screen 1996 video release, which was passed on January 26th of that year.
For the film's 25th anniversary, Warner Bros. reinstated some extra non-contentious material from the Chinese version of the film that had been missing from the film's original theatrical version in the West. This extended version was released
on VHS in Britain in 1998 and later on DVD, but the film had been pre-cut before submission to the BBFC to remove the offending 21 seconds of nunchaku usage that had been cut from the 1993 widescreen submission. This extended version was passed
18 without any further cuts on November 13th 1998.
Lee vs Duval for the 2001 DVD release
A mere year later, a rather important change occurred at the BBFC. In their own words, the BBFC state:
In order for its policies to remain relevant and in tune with public feeling, the BBFC regularly reviews and adjusts them accordingly when issuing a new set of Guidelines. In 1999, the previous firm distinction between martial arts and other
weapons was abandoned in favour of a more context-based, proportionate approach. Nevertheless, depictions of offensive weapons continue to be liable to cuts if they are considered likely to encourage violent behaviour in the real world.
With this new policy in place, Enter the Dragon was later resubmitted for a DVD classification in its extended version from 1998 -- but this time with all of the previously-censored BBFC footage intact. All cuts were waived and it was passed
uncut on July 31st 2001. This version is now the standard version available on home video in the UK and can be safely purchased by all fans seeking the film without fear of any BBFC cuts.
As an aside, it is worth mentioning that all currently available home video versions of Enter the Dragon available on DVD and Blu-ray only feature the extended version of the film that was released for its 25th anniversary. This version has
numerous changes made to the soundtrack, including alterations to the musical score and sound effects. The original theatrical cut as released in the West, which runs for approximately 99 minutes, is not available on DVD or Blu-ray and the sound
has been remixed from mono into multichannel 5.1 surround. For purists, the unavailability of both the original theatrical cut and the original mono soundtrack is lamentable and, sadly, is not something that the distributors appear to care about
supplying in the foreseeable future.
Cutting Edge Video, Season Three, Episode 46: Enter the Dragon
Now in High Definition
All articles are original works compiled by Gavin Salkeld, with occasional
help from a small team of researchers. Particular thanks are due to the BBFC
for their diligent and helpful explanations of their interventions.