Two months following Lee’s death, Pressman secured a further $8 million to re-write the script and finish the production of The Crow, using stunt men Chad Stahelski and Jeff Cadiente to fill in for the remaining shots of Eric Draven with Lee’s face imposed over their own in post-production for close-ups. “There was never a question about the technical ability to finish the movie,” Pressman says. “But there was a serious question psychologically, and it really revolved around Proyas. Alex at first did not want to go on with the film. He was destroyed by the accident and so devastated he had no heart to continue. It was only because Eliza [Lee’s fiancée], and later the whole cast and crew, appealed to him that he started to consider it.” O’Barr, like a third of the movie’s original crew, did not return to set. “They asked me to come back,” he recalls. “I told them no, that I couldn’t imagine myself back there without him.”
In a sad coincidence, Brandon Lee’s death was just as accidental as his father’s under similar circumstances.
Bruce Lee had passed away on July 20th 1973 during the production of Game of Death (which he was also directing), which he had stopped filming to star in Enter the Dragon, the first kung fu movie to be made by a Hollywood studio. Two months earlier, Lee had collapsed during an ADR session and was diagnosed with a cerebral edema, which is an accumulation of fluid in his brain. In July, Lee complained of a headache following meetings with George Lazenby and Golden Harvest producer Raymond Chow while staying at his Enter the Dragon co-star Betty Ting Pei’s apartment, and she gave him a painkiller made up of asprin and tranquilizer meprobamate. He went to lie down for a nap and never woke up. His passing was ruled as “death by misadventure”, and the autopsies showed that his brain has swollen 13% in size. Chow would later comment that Lee’s death was from an allergic reaction to the tranquilizer meprobamate. Like The Crow, production on Game of Death recommenced though it was several years later. Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse helmed this new version which was co-written by Chow under a pseudonym, and was a completely different story but used archive footage of Bruce Lee from the original Game of Death.
Although the official ruling was “death by misadventure”, conspiracy theorists believe that Lee’s death was orchestrated by the Chinese mafia, who wanted him out of the movie industry because he was doing too well and was killing other studios. Many point out that both Chow and Pei lied about Bruce Lee dying in her apartment, especially when it was heavily reported that Lee and Pei were having an affair. It was also reported that Lee had a drug problem, and he was found with cannabis in his stomach on both the day he collapsed, and the day of his death. Others believe that he was given the dim-mak death touch by a gongfu master he offended.
Several conspiracy theorist, the same who believe there is more to Bruce Lee’s death than meets the eye, also pose questions about Brandon Lee’s death on the set of The Crow. Usually when an actor is being shot on the set of a movie – even when using blanks – they are required to wear a bullet-proof vest. A weapons expert is also required to be on set, who would have instructed Massee to aim to the side of Lee rather than right at him. Some say that it wasn’t an accident or a display or gross negligence, and instead again orchestrated by the Chinese mafia. There are even those who claim ninjas were in the set rafters on the day he died. And, of course, those who believe the Lee family is cursed claim this was all fate.
In reality, it was simply an accident.
“It absolutely wasn’t supposed to happen,” Massee told Extra in 2005 when he finally opened up about Lee’s death. “I wasn’t even supposed to be handling the gun until we started shooting the scene and the director changed it.” He added: “I just took a year off and I went back to New York and didn’t do anything. I didn’t work. What happened to Brandon was a tragic accident… I don’t think you ever get over something like that.”
Though The Crow spawned many, many sequels, a reboot began development in 2008 and since then, many directors – including Stephen Norrington (Blade), Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later), Francisco Javier Gutiérrez (Before the Fall) and Corin Hardy (The Hallow) – have come and gone along with Bradley Cooper, Mark Wahlberg, Channing Tatum, Ryan Gosling, James McAvoy, Tom Hiddleston and Alexander Skarsgård all rumoured to take on the role of Eric. Luke Evans (Girl on the Train) had been cast but dropped out, as had Jack Huston (Ben-Hur) with Jason Mamoa (Justice League) being the latest rumoured name for the leading role. Those involved have promised it won’t be a remake of the Brandon Lee movie and will instead be a page one adaptation of O’Barr’s comic, down to removing the surname Draven that had been created by original screenwriters John Shirley and David Schow. According to sources, this was one of the reasons O’Barr signed on to help develop the reboot, feeling that Brandon Lee would always be Eric Draven, while a new actor can be the reboot’s Eric.
An earlier version of this article was posted on Flickering Myth in October 2016.
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and Scooperhero News. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen and read his weekly feature The Week in Star Wars.