Should I Watch..? 'Enter the Dragon'
What's the big deal?
Enter The Dragon is a martial-arts film released in 1973 and has the distinction of being the first martial-arts film produced by a major Hollywood studio, Warner Bros. The film was the last one to be completed by Bruce Lee before his untimely death at the age of 32, just six days before the film itself premiered. The film also stars John Saxon, Jim Kelly and Shih Kien as the villainous Han. The film is often cited as being one of the best of its kind and also the film that sparked the Kung Fu craze in the mid Seventies. In 2004, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected for preservation in the US Library of Congress.
What's it about?
Lee is a member of a peaceful community of Shaolin monks in Hong Kong, who is approached by Braithwaite who works for British Intelligence. Lee has been invited to participate in a tournament held by reclusive billionaire Han on his private island and Braithwaite charges Lee with uncovering Han's secret criminal operations. Reluctant to get involved, Lee soon discovers that Han's bodyguard O'Hara was responsible for the death of his sister at the last tournament three years ago. Soon, Lee is sailing to Han's island along with square-jawed American Roper and afro-wearing cool cat Williams.
Once on the island, Lee begins his investigation and quickly discovers that Han is involved in prostitution and heroin production and distribution. Although Han is quick to clamp down on snoopers with an utterly ruthless efficiency, Lee pursues Han to his hidden base and a dizzying hall of mirrors...
Tania, Han's secretary
Release Date (UK)
11th January, 1974
Action, Crime, Thriller
What's to like?
You might be forgiven for thinking that martial-arts films without all the modern trickery and techniques that we employ today may be somewhat stale and passé. Not so Enter The Dragon which has no such gimmicks and relies on its shining star at the centre of the picture. Lee is just incredible, both moving with blinding speed and demonstrating more charisma than either of his co-stars. Not to say that Saxon and Kelly are useless - Kelly in particular demonstrates a fine degree of skill with the kicks and his afro is to die for! But the film belongs to Lee, even without the spectre of his tragic demise hanging over this film like a grim shadow.
The film has plenty of fans of the genre to savour from the near endless supply of Disposable Baddies for our heroes to dispatch (with the same generic sound effects thrown in) to the requisite dubbing of Kien whose grasp of English isn't the best. Even the soundtrack is superb, although you'd expect that from Lalo Schifrin. You can see this film's influence in so many other pictures from the more comedic nature of Jackie Chan's output in stuff like Rush Hour to the choreography and beauty of martial arts in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and untold numbers to straight-to-DVD films. It remains hugely influential as well as being a remarkably exciting and enjoyable film in its own right. And for any film of this age, that's pretty impressive.
- On set, Lee offered $100 to anyone who could grab his hand before being hit. Throughout the entire shoot, it didn't cost Lee a single penny.
- The whole film was shot without sound and the dialogue and sound effects were dubbed in during post-production. It's one of only two English-language movies where Lee's natural voice is heard.
- Lee accidentally struck a young Jackie Chan, who was an extra during fight scenes, in the face. Apologizing immediately, Lee told Chan that he would be cast in all of Lee's subsequent movies but sadly, Lee died before he could fulfil his promise.
What's not to like?
If you've only ever seen a modern martial-arts movie then you might watch this and wonder what all the fuss is about. Enter The Dragon has little of the beauty or grandeur that prop up such films these days. Take my personal favourite, House Of Flying Daggers - there are scenes in that film that take your breath away with their beauty such as a duel in a leafy autumnal forest or a battle amid a thousand bamboo canes. Such artistry is sorely lacking in this film with its barely disguised tennis courts doubling up as training grounds. The only time Enter The Dragon offers something truly beautiful is during its iconic climax in Han's vast hall of mirrors and you have to get to the end for that.
The thing is, the film is so very much of its time that its faults are part of its charm. Kien's dubbing, though clumsy, actually adds to the film's appeal because dubbing became so prevalent with each new martial-arts release. Indeed, it became so characteristic of the genre that it has since become synonymous. Even Kelly's character, a Blaxploitation icon if ever there was one, fits in because of the era of the film's production - a modern-day remake simply wouldn't work. Some things are best left untampered with...
Should I watch it?
Enter The Dragon blazed a trail of martial-arts in the movies and continues to be at the forefront of the genre today, thanks to Lee's unbelievable skill and charisma. It's refreshing to watch a film that relies on traditional techniques and isn't any worse because of it. The fact that the film became Lee's epitaph is fitting - this is simply one of the best martial-arts movies you could ever hope for. Who needs bullet-time when your leading star is this good?
Great For: fans of the martial-arts, remembering Bruce Lee, glaziers
Not So Great For: countless imitators, children of the Eighties, CG animators
What else should I watch?
Lee's relatively short career established the template for countless imitators, so much so that a term was coined for studios wishing to cash in on Lee's image - Bruceploitation. Titles such as The Big Boss and Fist Of Fury developed Lee's reputation in his native Hong Kong before Hollywood came calling. His only release after Enter The Dragon was Game Of Death, which was comprised of scenes shot before his untimely passing ultimately edited into a different story than originally envisioned.
Modern movie-goers are, of course, spoiled for choice these days as martial-art movies continue to be enormously popular. Having being thoroughly Americanised via films like The Karate Kid and Above The Law, interest in Eastern cinema was reignited after the release of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Suddenly, the likes of Hero and House Of Flying Daggers brought the genre bang up to date by being innovative and imaginative.
© 2017 Benjamin Cox