Enter the Dragon is supposedly the ultimate Bruce Lee film. The movie made him an international superstar (he was already huge in Hong Kong), but he didn’t get to bask in the glory. Tragically he died at the age of 32, days before the film’s big premiere. It is also considered his best film (please ignore Game of Death, which was cobbled together and released after Lee’s death to ride on his new fame).
Watching Enter the Dragon for the first time, I was struck how the film would be considered entertaining, but run-of-the-mill by today’s action movie standards. But then I have to remember, this was the movie that pretty much introduced mainstream America to martial arts action movies in 1973. The dubbing may be kind of dorky and distracting at times, and it is hard not to giggle at Bruce Lee’s “Hoooo-ahhh! Wha-cha!” verbalisms as he kicks ass. But looking through the lens of history, it is easy to see that this film must have been pretty darn badass when it first came out.
Three men are lured to Hong Kong where they are invited to a tournament on Han’s Island, by a mysterious man named… well… Han (Kien Shih). Lee (Bruce Lee) is a Shaolin fighter with a score to settle. Roper (John Saxon) is a gambler with a huge debt. And Williams (Jim Kelly), a Vietnam vet buddy of Roper’s, is on the run from the police. They’ve got nothing to lose, and everything to win at this exclusive tournament of fighting. The action starts fast, the plot is sleek and bare bones, and you end up with a slick action film with plenty of fight scenes that are now iconic.
Now that I think of it, I don’t think I had ever seen a Bruce Lee film before. Here is a compact man (at 5’7″) who doesn’t seem to have an ounce of body fat on him. Other than an opening fight scene against Sammo Hung, the movie teases us with Lee’s prowess so that when he is fully unleashed, you can’t help but be agog.
For me, the “Holy crap! Bruce Lee!” moment happens when Lee faces off against the tall, bearded white dude Oharra (Bob Wall) who is one of Han’s henchmen. He is HUGE compared to Bruce Lee, and has an ugly scar down his face that holds dark meaning for Lee’s character. Oharra is established early on as a great fighter, but when he and Lee square off, the results are simply astonishing. Though Lee barely moves, Oharra hardly even gets a chance to thrown a punch as he is knocked to the ground over and over. By the time Lee delivers the flying kick that sends Oharra smashing into the crowd of onlookers, I was standing up and saying, “What did I just see!?!?!”
Enter the Dragon‘s 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray should please fans of the film. Included are a pile of extras from previous releases, including the fascinating feature-length documentary “Curse of the Dragon” (narrated by George Takei) that serves as a profile of Lee’s life and death. There are also interviews with Lee’s widow, Linda Lee Caldwell, some archive footage, an audio commentary by producer Paul Heller and writer Michael Allin, and some behind the scenes footage. New to this package are “Return to Han’s Island” which takes us to the actual Hong Kong filming locations as they are now, compared to how they were used in the film (I love this kind of stuff); “Wing Chun”, which interviews martial artists on Bruce Lee’s particular brand of kung fu; and “No Way As Way”, which is kind of an odd assortment of interviews with artists and athletes (like boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, actor George Takei, and musician Steve Aoki) on how Bruce Lee’s philosophies reflect their own outlooks on life. Finally, the packaging includes some fun things like a Bruce Lee hologram, an iron-on patch, a photo booklet by Dave Friedman (featuring pics from his upcoming Enter the Dragon photo book), and some production artwork.