‘Enter the Dragon’ is a martial arts spy thriller starring Bruce Lee in his final film before his untimely death. While not perfect, this movie is like gold in the mud.
“Enter the Dragon” – Directed by Robert Clouse; starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly
When viewing “Enter the Dragon” think of a cheesy James Bond film without the gadgets, the Bond girl, and without the “shaken, not stirred” martini. Instead, insert Bruce Lee in his prime, a wise martial arts master who speaks like a Jedi.
“Enter the Dragon” was released in 1973 by Warner Bros. studios. It is credited with being the “first Hollywood sanctioned Kung-Fu film,” according to Slant Magazine.
Lee (played by Bruce Lee), a Shaolin Master is tasked by British intelligence to infiltrate the island fortress of a former Shaolin, Han (played by Shih Kien). The plan is to uncover evidence of white slavery, prostitution, and involvement in the drug trade by entering a martial arts contest organized by Han in an effort to find guards and salesmen to peddle his goods.
Three main characters take the bait to compete in Han’s martial arts tournament, each with an incentive of their own. First, there’s Roper (played by John Saxton), a compulsive gambler who owes a serious debt to the mob. Then, there’s Williams (played by Jim Kelly), an African-American man on the run after beating up a couple of racist cops. Finally, there’s Lee, who’s incentive is ultimately to live up to the principles of the Shaolin Temple, but also to avenge his sister’s death.
Skip to minute marker 39:51 where we discuss “Enter the Dragon” on the WTTS Pod
“Enter the Dragon” features some unforgettable moments. For example, the opening scene where Lee dismantles his opponent of twice his size, emerging virtually untouched. Sure, the scene features moments in which Bruce Lee is clearly just showing off his acrobatic skills, but damn it’s good.
We follow this up with a dialogue between Bruce Lee and Shaolin Abbot that features lines like:
A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.
Beyond this point, you’re left yearning for more Bruce Lee. What you get instead is a mish-mosh of flashbacks and backstories for secondary characters. Lee appears here and there, but not enough to whet our appetites.
That is until the final fight sequence when Han and Lee finally face off. This definitely isn’t Bruce Lee versus Chuck Norris in “Way of the Dragon,” but it does deliver the goods.
“Enter the Dragon” leaves you wanting more, and that’s the problem with it. You never quite feel satiated with the fight scenes. And maybe that was the point. To introduce to us Bruce Lee as the frontman of a major motion picture.
It’s just unfortunate that he left us far too soon and never got to realize that dream. He did, however, prove that he can be the face of a Hollywood feature film and that in and of itself is quite an accomplishment.