Enter The Dragon (DVD)

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Enter The Dragon (DVD)

Featuring masterful kung fu action by the legendary Bruce Lee, ENTER THE DRAGON is one of most renowned martial arts film of all time. The opium-smugg...

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Review of "Enter The Dragon (DVD)"

published 29/01/2011 | Jake_Speed
Member since : 10/03/2007
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Excellent
Pro Camp classic
Cons Obviously a tad dated
exceptional
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""A finger pointing at the moon.""

Bruce Lee in the famous Hall of Mirrors sequence

Bruce Lee in the famous Hall of Mirrors sequence

Enter the Dragon is a classic 1973 Hong Kong based martial arts film directed by Robert Clouse and starring Bruce Lee. Lee (known simply as Lee in the film also) plays a Shaolin monk and martial arts expert sequestered by intelligence bigwig Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks) to investigate the dealings of the mysterious and highly dubious Han (Kien Shih). Han is hosting a huge martial arts tournament over several days on his remote private island and the suspicion is that he uses the competition as a front to recruit new muscle to his criminal gangs and continue his dabblings in drug smuggling, gun running and prostitution. "We'd very much like you to attend THAT particular tournament, Mr Lee," suggests the very British Braithwaite. Lee duly agrees to pry into Han's complex and secrets on the island and expose any criminal activities. His motivation is heightened by the knowledge that Han was once part of the Shaolin Temple but disgraced it and - most importantly of all - was also responsible for the death of his sister Su Lin (Angela Mao) through his bodyguard Oharra (Bob Wall)...

A high energy action film with great fight sequences, Enter the Dragon is somewhat dated of course but the camp seventies trappings are a lot of fun to modern eyes and there is much to enjoy here. Enter the Dragon plays like a low-budget James Bond at times but also stands as perhaps the seminal martial arts picture and a perfect showcase for the physical dexterity of its much missed star - who sadly died at just 32 years of age not long after the completion of the film. We begin with a prologue in the Shaolin temple where Lee challenges a young student to hit him and dispenses various pieces of mystical nonsense - the type of stuff that is much spoofed in comic kung fu films and skits but oddly enjoyable too when played with a straight face. "Don't think," says Lee. " FEEL! It's like a finger pointing at the moon." We start the film proper in winning fashion with some nice, authentic location work in Hong Kong, some funky seventies music, and the arrival of the key characters competing in Han's tournament.

Although this is essentially a vehicle for Bruce Lee, he has two co-stars of sorts in the form of John Saxon and Jim Kelly respectively. The always dependable Saxon plays Roper, a suave self-deprecating American playboy on the run from his gambling debts and now in Hong Kong to compete in Han's tournament. We see a flashback of Saxon playing golf in the United States in comical seventies fashions and then deploying his kung fu skills when some stereotypical action film goons of the era arrive to get the money he owes. "It's the dough Roper, or we gotta break something. You got it?" Saxon obviously isn't as convincing in the fight scenes as Lee and the athletic Kelly - who were both martial artists in real life - but he does pretty well nonetheless and is certainly a lot more dignified and believable beating people up than the portly Franco Nero was in Enter the Ninja, one of countless films spawned in the wake of Enter the Dragon. I read a Bruce Lee biography recently that said Saxon actually arrived in Hong Kong under the mistaken impression he was the star of the film! That obviously wasn't the case and Enter the Dragon is very much Bruce Lee's show but it was a good idea to cast at least one conventional actor alongside Lee and Kelly.

Jim Kelly, the star of the camp cult classic Black Belt Jones (one of the funniest films I have ever seen and worth a look if you ever get the chance), plays Williams, a jive-talking black martial artist from the Ghetto with the largest Afro in cinematic history. Williams is tired of police harassment in the US - we see him duffing up several policemen after being provoked in his flashback - and now plans to win Han's tournament. Kelly is good value as the cocky Williams. "Man, you come right out of a comic book," he, er, jives, to the film's enjoyably theatrical villain. The film is good fun when the action switches to Han's private island and we meet Betty Chung as Mei Ling, Lee's inside contact. There is a real James Bond feel to Enter the Dragon at times as Lee and the other guests are wined and dined in lavish fashion and he eventually slips out of his quarters late at night in the type of black secret operative clobber that Sean Connery had over the top of his tuxedo in the PTS of Goldfinger. Lee deploys climbing ropes to clandestinely infiltrate the inner echelons of Han's operations and complex and this is all highly enjoyable.

Han is obviously a James Bond villain with his secret base, private island, penchant for calling people by their surnames, musings on his unique line of work - "We are investing in corruption, Mr Roper. The business of corruption is like any other business" - metal hand (pure Ian Fleming), and urbane and civilised exterior which, of course, hides a complete and utter nutcase up to all sorts of nonsense. "Gentlemen, welcome," charms Han. "You honour our island. I look forward to a tournament of truly epic proportions. We are unique, gentlemen, in that we create ourselves. Through long years of rigorous training, sacrifice, denial, pain, we forge our bodies in the fire of our will. But tonight, let us celebrate. Gentlemen, you have our gratitude." He even has a classic Bond villain type speech when he talks about how Sparta, Rome, The Knights of Europe, and the Samurai flourished because they worshipped strength. Kien Shih is good value as Han and sort of like a camper version of Emperor Ming. I quite like the way too he has various lethal looking attachments he can replace his metal hand with!

I read a Bruce Lee biography recently and there was some fascinating background stuff about Enter the Dragon I didn't know. It was the first big martial arts film with significant backing from Hollywood (it was a co-production between Warner and Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest) but no one in America wanted to direct it, Robert Clouse presumably drawing the short straw or something. Apparently, Clouse and writer Michael Allin didn't get on with the star of Enter the Dragon at all and deliberately changed the name of the British Secret Service man in the film to "Braithwaite" because they knew Bruce Lee would find that a very difficult name to say with his limited English and Chinese accent! The drug addled prostitutes being held captive on Han's island in the film were real prostitutes because they couldn't persuade any local actresses to play prostitutes (these real prostitutes caused some resentment on set as they were paid quite well for their time) and the film had to be rattled through very quickly because the cheapo dungeon sets were literally falling apart! Despite all of this, Enter the Dragon was an instant classic and a huge hit.

The martial arts tournament itself is great fun and with Lee's surreptitious investigations Enter the Dragon has a brisk pace where martial arts action is always to the forefront. The imposing Yang Tse as Bolo and Bob Wall as Oharra both make suitably formidable and unhinged opponents as heavies of Han here and Wall has a well staged flashback sequence that shows us the fate of Lee's sister Su Lin. Wall, with a heavy scar on one side of his face, is another character who wouldn't have been out of place in a Bond film and one can easily imagine him grappling with Roger Moore before a tie-straightening quip or two. Like Lee and Kelly, Wall was a real martial artist rather than an actor (I think he was a kickboxing champion or something) and this lends more authenticity to the fight he has with Lee in the film. Because they were both martial artists they decided they would make the battle between them as realistic as possible and this had somewhat unfortunate consequences when Lee broke Wall's sternum with a kick and they had to wait two months for Wall to recover before they could finish shooting the scene. The film benefits a great deal from the numerous martial arts extras (one of whom was a young Jackie Chan) and the panning shots of many of them in action on Han's lawns give the film a feeling of scope at times with the huge free for all brawl at the end.

The lack of guns gives Enter the Dragon a refreshing quality, heightened by the extraordinary prowess of Lee - who beats up about a million opponents and baddies (including some great fights in the underground complex of Han) with athletic grace and some enjoyably OTT sound effects. "My style?" says Lee. "You could call it the art of fighting without fighting." By all accounts, the director Robert Clouse was hopeless at doing fighting and action scenes and Lee handled the kung fu stuff himself. His movements and kicks are effectively exaggerated for the purposes of cinema and very graceful and entertaining. Lee once said that in a real life fight he wouldn't worry about all those whirling cinematic kicks and would just belt you straight in the solar plexus! He uses his own voice in the film and isn't bad at all, projecting a strong, reserved screen image with his undoubted charisma.

Some of the dialogue is perhaps a little cheesy and the clothes are rather comical but Enter the Dragon is a kinetic comic book adventure that one should enjoy rather than scrutinise too closely. It all builds to a classic climax with Han's nefarious activities in his secret complex rumbled and a wonderful and iconic hall of mirrors duel between Lee and Han.

Despite the somewhat dated air, Enter the Dragon is an undoubted classic of the genre and great fun. Highly recommended.

Extras

This is one of those films that has been released on DVD many times but you can get this for under a fiver (at the time of writing) in the usual places with an audio commentary by producer Paul Heller and writer Michael Allin (I'm not that into audio commentaries myself but this is quite interesting at times as Allin was said to have had a difficult relationship with Bruce Lee), some fun trailers & tv spots (trailers are probably my favourite part of any DVD extras), a short 1973 featurette about the film, a piece called Bruce Lee In His Own Words (which is about twenty minutes long and interesting stuff, a selection of comments from the star doing interviews), an introduction by his widow Linda Lee, and Backyard Workout with Bruce, a short film featuring him, er, working out! I believe though that there are special editions of Enter the Dragon out there that give you many more extras than this so it might be a good idea to read up on some of the different versions and check the prices before you decide which one to buy.

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Comments on this review

  • wazza115 published 19/04/2012
    Fab review!
  • Graygirl published 04/06/2011
    Superb review. x
  • malihat published 15/04/2011
    E from me!
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Manufacturer's product description

Featuring masterful kung fu action by the legendary Bruce Lee, ENTER THE DRAGON is one of most renowned martial arts film of all time. The opium-smuggling plot is secondary to amazing and violent action scenes. The 25th anniversary edition features additional footage, an interview with Lee's widow, Linda Lee Caldwell, and "Bruce Lee: In His Own Words," a behind-the-scenes documentary.

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