Enter the Dragon Almost Subverted a Problematic Movie Trope
2024/02/02

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Enter the Dragon, one of the most iconic Martial Arts films, helped establish Bruce Lee as an action film legend. The movie introduced the popular fighting tournament plot and featured a diverse cast of colorful fighters. However, Enter the Dragon almost subverted the common "Black guy dies first" trope by allowing Jim Kelly's character, Williams, to survive the entire film. Unfortunately, negotiations behind the scenes resulted in his fate being swapped with another character, and Williams met his demise. Despite this, Kelly's performance in the film opened doors for him in the industry, leading to a successful career as an action star.

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In the film, Williams and John Saxon's character, Roper, are morally ambiguous participants in the tournament. Williams' rebellious nature raises suspicion from the crime lord Han, leading to his death. Roper, on the other hand, eventually rejects Han's offer and fights against him in the final battle. Originally, the script had Roper meeting his end, while Williams survived. However, during contract negotiations, Saxon's agent argued against his character's demise, resulting in the switch.

This decision had narrative significance, as Roper's character arc involved a transformation from morally questionable to heroic. Williams' death served to emphasize Han's dangerous nature and motivate Roper's decision to remain on the side of good. Nevertheless, Williams' complex character and potential for further development made him a compelling figure in the film.

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Despite the missed opportunity to subvert expectations, Jim Kelly's performance in Enter the Dragon propelled his career forward. Warner Bros. signed him to a three-film contract, leading to starring roles in influential blaxploitation films. While Williams' fate was unfortunate, his legacy as a character endured, and Kelly's performance remains one of the film's highlights.

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