- Directed by Robert Clouse
- August 19, 1973 (US)
A man infiltrates a renegade Shaolin monk turned opium lord’s island fortress for a martial-arts tournament in an effort to destroy the villain’s operation.
Aside from a few episodes of The Green Hornet this is the only thing I’ve ever seen Bruce Lee in. Before anyone gets in a kerfuffle there are a great many things I want to watch and not nearly enough time to watch them all but I’m getting around to everything as quickly as possible. His films are on that list.
Enter the Dragon is without a doubt a classic bit of martial arts and action filmmaking. This is one of those classics that is just as good today and can evoke the same experience as it did all those decades ago when it was first released. It is eternally fresh and new. While duplicated, its originality has allowed it to stay strong.
In execution the story is a bit of James Bond and a general cop story mixed with a touch of blaxploitation of the era. The narrative structure used here was used in many films up into the 80s that I’m aware of. I’m not saying I saw it then but having seen this I can certainly see it now. But then again when you’re a great people will copy.
But execution on the screen is key and the story is executed very well. All the characters are built up enough that you are actually interested in them. The villain is a genuine threat to the hero with the consequences of the hero’s possible failure being serious. The dialogue is snappy and helps to build the film to a logical conclusion of events.
The first thing I gotta say about Bruce Lee is that he is all muscle. I’m not talking bodybuilder muscle but that kind of muscle that is built for physical activity. You look at him and you can believe he is this tough martial artist just by him taking off his shirt. Even if you went in knowing zero about him you could see it. He was genuine tough.
And you watch this movie and his fight choreography is exciting and beautiful to look at. Chuck Norris films may be entertaining to watch or at least a guilty pleasure along with Jean-Claude Van Damme or even Jason Statham but any artistic measure to their fights comes from how it is filmed and not generally from their performance. Lee made art with his movement.
John Saxon is a performer I’ve seen in numerous things over the years. So much so that I cannot recall exactly what I first saw him in. I’m not sure about any of his martial arts experience prior to this film but based on his build alone you can believe he as Roper can pull it off. Plus as the charming asshole character of the film he is totally believable.
Jim Kelly shows up as Roper’s friend Williams. Though a bit of a stock character of the era, Williams had a presence and charisma here that elevated what he was given and made him a star. He is Roper’s old war buddy.
And what is a hero without a villain? Han (Shih Kien performance/voice dubbed by Keye Luke) is the opposite of Lee’s, well, Lee. While Lee is about honor and duty, Han is dishonorable and very self-serving. The hero needs something/someone distinct to overcome. Without it a film becomes just another cinematic entry and not an enduring classic.
Having seen this film I can say the fighting feels just epic. I dare say they are far superior to anything will see you today because your brain knows that Bruce Lee is doing it all and it is not CGI. The man needed no stunt double. And that’s one of many elements that makes this movie great.
Enter the Dragon effectively immerses you in the world that is created. They not only lay out the environment but the logic in which this world works. The characters react appropriately given the scenario and the rules thereof. There are no points where you will go “That doesn’t make sense at all!” Nobody does anything dumb as a shortcut to move things along.
Often writers of the best to the cheesiest will have one character do something that not only makes no sense for the character but is illogical given the world that is created which will take you completely out of the narrative. Sometimes the narrative can recover but all too often it cannot. That is not the issue here. There are no huge or improbable leaps of logic.
I can’t find anything really wrong with this movie. The only issue is that some of the dialogue appears dubbed over and that’s because at points this movie was filmed without sound because of local filmmaking practices with those elements being added in later. But that’s a minor quibble if you have a good story and this has a good story that is executed well.
Enter the Dragon is a classic film that most definitely deserves its status. It’s a legendary action film starring a legendary action star. If you have not checked this out, you most certainly should. You will not regret it!