In the scene, actors holding guns are listening to a prop master as he hands out blank cartridges.
“Gentlemen, these are blanks,” the man tells them. “Only aim upward. There’s a wad of paper that comes out and can injure someone.”
But unbeknown to the movie crew, a hit man is standing among the actors. He pulls a real bullet from his pocket and inserts it into the chamber of his gun.
Then the director calls for quiet on the set and Bruce Lee runs toward the group, displaying kung-fu acrobatics. As he leaps into the air, guns go off, and Lee falls to the ground severely wounded in the face.
The scene is contained in a movie called “Game of Death,” released five years after Bruce Lee’s real death in Hong Kong in 1973. Although Lee had died long before filming was completed, he had left various kung-fu scenes that are interspersed throughout the movie.
But today, the scene is filled with haunting similarities to another tragedy visited last week on Lee’s surviving family: the shooting on a movie set Wednesday that killed the martial arts star’s only son, 28-year-old actor Brandon Lee.
In that incident on the set of the movie “The Crow,” cameras were rolling as Brandon Lee walked to a doorway as another actor holding a prop gun fired at him from 15 feet away. Lee crumpled to the ground, severely bleeding from a large wound to his abdomen. He died about 12 hours later at a hospital in Wilmington, N.C., where the movie was being filmed.
Wilmington police almost immediately termed the shooting an accident. At an autopsy the following day, pathologists pulled what appeared to be a .44-caliber bullet from the body, prompting authorities to continue their investigation.
On Friday, detectives viewed the film and continued interviewing witnesses.
Police are expected to receive ballistics tests this Thursday or Friday from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation in Raleigh, to confirm that the material found in Lee’s body was a bullet fired by the prop gun.
Ann Clouse, whose husband, Robert, directed “Game of Death,” said that while she doesn’t see any connection between the film version of the movie set shooting and Brandon Lee’s death, the similarities are nonetheless striking.
“I don’t feel they are related,” she said, "(but) a lot of people see those films. (Bruce Lee) had a big following. I would not think anyone would deliberately hurt Brandon but in this world, possibilities are limitless.”
Clouse, whose husband is recovering from kidney surgery in Ashland, Ore., said it astounded her when she learned that a real bullet had been fired at Brandon Lee.
“It’s virtually impossible to have a bullet on the set,” said the director’s wife, who said she had been on movie sets throughout her life. “People are extremely careful about that sort of thing.”
“There is a lot of mystery surrounding all this,” Clouse said.
Actor Hugh O’Brian, who appeared in “Game of Death,” did not recall the scene in which the double is shot by actors, but said it was incredible to believe that a live bullet would be on a movie set.
“On ‘Wyatt Earp,’ I did a minimum of 150 rounds of ammunition a day,” O’Brien said. “I also have done maybe eight or nine Western films. “There is never, ever a live round on a set . . . the only person (who could have a real bullet) could be a security guard (or police officer) on the set or in the studio.”
Robert McCarthy, who estimated he has worked on 9,000 television shows as well as films such as “The Fisher King,” over several decades, said it a “cardinal rule” that no one has live ammunition on a set.
McCarthy said prop guns normally use either flash powder to produce a red flash in guns during night filming and black powder to do likewise during daylight filming.
“If any other kind of powder (residue) is found on the bullet (taken from Brandon Lee), then it had nothing to do with special effects,” McCarthy said. “Gunpowder is made for force, rather than flash,” he added.
“The powder would be embedded into the lead of the bullet and can be found microscopically.”
As questions continued to be raised over the death, Brandon Lee’s family buried the actor next to his father Saturday at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle. On Sunday, several hundred friends gathered with family members and Brandon Lee’s fiancee for a memorial service at a house in the Hollywood Hills.