Enter the Dragon

You have offended his family, and you have offended a Shaolin temple...

Released in 1973, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 07 Apr 2003 by Craig Eastman
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The current surge of Jackie Chan movies is all very enjoyable, but there are those of us who occasionally want our martial arts movies old-school and humour-free. When it came to kicking arse and looking damn good whilst doing it, Bruce Lee was the original and best, and Enter the Dragon is arguably his most popular and best-loved masterpiece.

The first and only major studio picture Lee made outside of his native Hong Kong, Enter the Dragon launched the kung-fu craze of the seventies which has now come full circle with the likes of Chan and Jet Li, integrating Eastern and Western movie cultures to spawn amongst others movies like The Matrix. Dragon's plot may now seem like something of a clich?, but it remains an enigmatic force to be reckoned with, and sees Lee at his physical peak, showcasing his unparalleled martial arts prowess and a body that looks like it's carved out of wood.

The rather thin excuse for the ensuing mayhem revolves around criminal warlord Han (Kien Shih) who organises a martial arts tournament at his island academy, inviting some of the world's finest practitioners of arse-kicking to take part. Of course all is not what it seems, and the tournament is really a front for Han's opium-smuggling and prostitution rackets.

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There to bust the ring is American agent Roper (John Saxon) and his pal Williams (Jim Kelly, sporting one of the finest afros ever seen on screen), who is there purely for shits and giggles. Also attending the tournament is the mysterious Lee (Bruce), who is there to avenge the death of his sister, killed at the hands of Han's henchman Oharra (Robert Wall). The three uncover evidence of Han's dealings, inbetween one-on-one bouts of contest that showcase some beautiful disciplines such as Kung Fu, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Escrima and Lee's own Hap Ki Do (I'm listing these from the back of the box as I certainly have no knowledge of them myself).

Lee's investigative excursions at night soon raise the suspicion of Han, who begins to plot the elimination of those he suspects are trying to throw a spanner in his works. Enter Bolo (Bolo Yeung, a martial arts legend in his own right), who displays his immense ability to hurt people by killing four guards who let Lee slip through their security net. The only man with a physique even more impressive than Lee, Bolo really is an imposing figure, and utterly believable as a man who doesn't even blink whilst crushing his foes to death. After roundly dispensing with Oharra, it becomes apparent Lee will have to face this walking behemoth of pain in one of the movie's best fight scenes.

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Of course, fight scenes are something of which there are plenty in this film, and none of them disappoints. Whilst it is primarily a showcase for Lee's astounding abilities, all of the supporting cast get a fair opportunity to do some damage themselves. Jim Kelly gets all the best lines, extolling the virtues of ignoring defeat in favour of being "too busy looking good", whilst taking the opportunity to offend Han by describing him as having "come straight out a comic book". Saxon hustles the other contestants with his betting scam, whilst Bolo just looks huge and snaps people, but it's Lee who makes this shine.

Having re-integrated the previously cut nunchaku scene, this DVD edition gives British viewers the chance to see one of the movie's best scenes in all it's glory as Lee beats up half Han's security force whilst prowling an underground lair. Similarly, this edition also adds the extra "monk" sequence at the start of the film which helps explain Lee's decision to smash Han's room of mirrors near the end, whilst extending that scene slightly too.

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Ultimately, Lee smashes Han's empire and operation, fitfully avenging his sister while he's at it. As entertaining as the slight plot and peripheral characters may be, it's the unmatched prowess displayed by Lee that made Enter the Dragon the smash cult hit of the seventies. Mixing his traditional disciplined approach of stillness alternating with minimalist moments of explosive violence, and a bigger budget for more impressive sets and a larger number of extras, the movie successfully wakened the West to the ways of the East.

Only now is the true magnitude of this being realised, with an increasing number of Hollywood action vehicles turning to the likes of Jet Li for their thrills. It would do us well to review the likes of Dragon at this point, to help us remember that it all began back in 1973, with no wires, and no digital effects; just the most disciplined, most enigmatic martial artist the world has ever seen. That Lee died on July 20th that same year and never lived to see the success of his work is one of the greatest tragedies of modern movie-making. We can only imagine where action cinema would be right now if he were still alive.

There's very little that can be said about this movie that hasn't been already. Do yourself a favour; before the Matrix sequels crop up this year, go check out Enter the Dragon and remind yourself what martial arts cinema is really about.

Disko waves his nunchaku just long enough to award this movie 5 out of 5 Hoto Shotos before knocking himself unconscious.

DVD notes - Despite the age of the film, Warner have made a reasonable effort to include value-adding material. The print itself is as pristine as we are likely to see, and re-instates those scenes previously cut by the BBFC and those not included in the original print. We also get 4 trailers (woo!), an audio commentary by Paul Heller and Michael Allin (nope, don't know them either), a music-only 5.1 track, an introduction by Linda Lee, a "Bruce Lee In His Own Words" feature, an original 1973 film featurette, a "Linda Lee Cadwell Interview Gallery", a "Backyard Workout with Bruce" feature, 7 TV spots and...drum roll...interactive menus and scene access. Where would we be without them. Considering the film's age and the fact this disc can be had for eight green sheets, that's a good show by Warner. Bravo.

Robert Clouse
Cast list:
Bruce Lee (Lee)
Shih Kien (Han)
John Saxon (Roper)
Jim Kelly (Williams)