A Lot Of Cheeseburgers Went Into Chuck Norris And Bruce Lee's Way Of The Dragon Showdown

Growing up, 1978's "Game of Death" was my favorite Bruce Lee movie (please, don't judge me). Mainly because of the flawless John Berry-produced soundtrack; not to mention the iconic movie line "You lose, Carl Miller." But more importantly, "Game of Death" was the only Bruce Lee movie I had actually watched from beginning to end. It wasn't until I got older and discovered Wikipedia and YouTube did I realize how comically disastrous of a film Bruce Lee's final movie truly is.

The martial arts legend died while making "Game of Death," so the filmmakers decided to rework the movie. They filled in Bruce Lee's role largely with lookalikes in disguises and old footage from his past movies. At one point in the film, they literally plastered a cut-out of the late actor's face on a stand-in actor's body (not sure how I missed that as a youngin). They also tactlessly used footage of Bruce Lee's real-life corpse in his coffin as part of the movie's revised storyline.

Another scene from "Game of Death" shows Bruce Lee's character, who also happens to be a martial arts movie star, performing a fighting sequence with a generic, unnamed actor donning white pants on the film set of his latest film. I later learned that the sequence was also unoriginal footage retrieved from Bruce Lee's 1972's "Way of the Dragon." And the generic, unnamed actor in the white pants was none other than the "Walker, Texas Ranger" star himself, Chuck Norris.

Chuck Norris wasn't beefy enough to fight Bruce Lee

In "Way of the Dragon," Tang Lung (Bruce Lee) helps a family fend off a violent crime syndicate from taking over their restaurant. This leads Tang Lung to an epic showdown with a hired gun and world-class fighter, Colt (Chuck Norris). This classic performance was Norris' first credited movie role and helped him become the star he later became.

Norris recalled in an interview with Physical Arts that his true fighting weight at the time was 168 pounds compared to Bruce Lee's 145 pounds, and that the producers wanted him to tack on 20 more pounds for the fight scene with the legendary martial artist. "The producers of the film looked at us together and said to me 'you know you two don't look much different in size, you need to be bigger than Bruce, can we make you bigger?' I said 'what do you mean?' He said 'can you put on some weight?' I said 'well, I don't know.'

Hamburgers and Malt galore

In the interview with Physical Arts, Norris, who was very green and wasn't seriously pursuing acting at the time, said he was scared and intimidated by the producer's request that he gain 20 pounds for his showdown with Bruce Lee for "Way of the Dragon." He acquiesced and changed his diet to include eating hamburgers and drinking malt. Hamburgers everyday should have done the trick alone, but there was just one small problem: Norris didn't stop training. He gained weight but burned it right back off. So, he stopped training and just ate.

By the time they shot the fight scene with Bruce Lee, Norris had gotten up to 180 pounds — not quite the 20 pounds the producers were looking for. Plus, Norris said the additional 12 pounds he gained were mostly fat. "That's why you didn't see me do any jumping kicks." Norris said. "I couldn't get off the ground."

Perhaps 20 extra pounds of muscle, not fat, would've made him a more imposing threat against Bruce Lee in the scene, but Norris says the real experience was being able to work with the iconic martial artist, whom he says was far ahead of the pack in his field. "He had a vision that was years ahead of everyone," Norris said of Lee.

Norris didn't seriously pursue acting until a couple years later, eventually landing his break with "Good Guys Wear Black" in 1977. The showdown between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris remains one of both actors' most memorable performances (I just wish someone would've told me that was Chuck Norris when I was watching "Game of Death" on repeat). The fight scene was so nice that they had to show it to us twice: in "Way of the Dragon," and again in "Game of Death."