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s갫 (1973)
Enter the Dragon

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 09/22/2007

I hadn’t seen “Enter of the Dragon” for decades and while watching Bruce Lee’s bouncy lateral moves, especially late in the movie, I was reminded of the way that Muhammad Ali moved around the ring while taunting his opponents. Like Ali, Bruce Lee was not cool—he was the opposite of cool, he was blazing hot. Jim Kelly was cool, John Saxon was supposed to be cool but Lee, with his grimacing, posing and noisemaking, couldn’t be cool if he were on an iceberg. Cool is technique, form and grace. Ballet is cool. Hot is passion, speed and incandescence. Opera is hot. Ali was hot. Lee was hot.

When “Enter the Dragon” played in Chicago about 35 years ago we were amazed. A lot of us found out how difficult it was to control a set of nunchaku—or how easy it was to hit oneself on the back of the head while flipping them around—trying to emulate Lee. While the movie is an artifact of its times it was and remains a very important one. Its strengths made its weaknesses, especially looking back from the 21st century, even more apparent.

The way the filmmakers treated race and ethnicity is no worse than many Hollywood movies of the era but its casual racism stands out since “Way of the Dragon” couldn’t have been made without Bruce Lee. One of the most egregious instances is the highlighting of the hyper-sexuality of Williams, the only black character. When Tania brings her girls around to the bedrooms of the combatants Williams selects four or five of them as his sex partners for the night and says he would have picked more but he had an early fight in the morning.

The Asian “Other” is also dismissed as inferior to or contingent upon the Caucasian world. The sets have as much red lacquer furniture, carved dragons and stylized lions to fill the kitschiest faux-antique store imaginable. The Chinese are tools to be used—mainly against each other, of course--while the norm is Braithwaite, the white Hong Kong police official who entreats Lee to help break up the drug ring run by the evil Mr. Han.

In presenting Chinese people generally as alien, foreign (in China!) and somehow different the filmmakers decided to throw away some terrific scenes shot at water level of the Hong Kong harbor and the families who live on the cramped boats of its floating slums. As it was these very stark images were used more for local color than anything else while they were a much more significant contrast between the two cultures—to be poor in Asia was (and is) a lot poorer than in the United States. Williams remarked on their extreme poverty but that was the extent of the characters noticing what they were sailing through.

The fights in “Enter the Dragon” were choreographed, executed and shot in ways that hadn’t been done before, at least not on such a consistently high level. Lee was to martial arts filmmaking what Astaire was to the dance musical. Neither of them changed everything but both of them revolutionized how their specialties were filmed and edited and set a standard for future artists to shoot for.

Very highly recommended

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 08/02/2006
Summary: Right out of a comic book

Chinese martial artist Lee (Bruce Lee) is sent to a remote island to infiltrate a drug-trafficking operation run by the evil Dr No…erm, I mean Mr Han. Along the way, he meets Roper (John Saxon) whose inclusion seems to be solely to gives the westerners someone to relate to, and Mr Williams (Jim Kelly) who’s too busy lookin’ dead to truly qualify as a co-star.

As I subtly mentioned above, ENTER THE DRAGON is really just a reworking of the first Bond film, Dr No (1962), but with Kung Fu and some really hip dialogue that those involved probably thought would never age. They were wrong. Oh, boy, were they wrong!

This was my first Bruce Lee film, and in fact my first non-Jackie Chan martial arts film and I was initially quite bemused at how slow it all moved. Still, a dozen or so viewings later, and after viewing many, many other films in the same ilk I’ve got over that and can appreciate it. It’s all rather fun actually.

Although slow moving by Hong Kong standards (which I assume is why the film didn’t do that well in the east), ENTER THE DRAGON has some merit by being far more expensive than your standard chop-socky of the day. The film’s score is a case in point – I’ll wager anyone reading this can hum the theme tune right now without a second’s thought.

The action, while a little sparse, is good enough and certainly better than westerners were used to, although there were some wasted opportunities. The duel between Lee and the tough and ruthless (not rough and toothless) Bob Wall really shows how fast Bruce could move and this scene alone is worth the film’s shortcomings – to this day I’ve not seen an example of speed (without undercranking) that matches it. The nunchaku scene’s a letdown though – but maybe this was because I had to wait years to see it thanks to the Draconian censorship laws in the UK at the time. It’s nowhere near as spectacular or lengthy as in FIST OF FURY or WAY OF THE DRAGON, or the sublime scene from the unfinished GAME OF DEATH.

Quite unsure of how people would react to an Asian star, John Saxon is more or less given equal billing and the lion’s share of the dialogue. Which is odd, given that Bruce Lee was quite capable of delivering lines in perfectly understandable English. Jim Kelly as Williams is far better, but sadly being black he has to die halfway through in keeping with Hollywood rules of the day. A great shame as he outdoes the lacklustre Roper at every step – and he gets most of the movie’s best dialogue.

A small mention must go to Sek Gin as Mr Han. Although not a speaker of English, he approximated the sounds on set and was dubbed into English later. The dub job was done magnificently, giving him a villainous edge without seeming campy. Well, not TOO campy anyway. You have our gratitude.

It’s notable that no one from this film went on to better things. John Saxon became a B-movie star and quickly went down the Troy McClure path: “Hi, I’m John Saxon. You may remember me from such films as…”. Jim Kelly made a few Blaxploitation films and then dropped off the radar, and Robert Clouse…well, let’s not talk about Robert Clouse. Michael Allin, the film’s scriptwriter (although this has been contested over the years) also failed to capitalise on the film’s success. I suppose the only person to really gain much from the film was Han’s bodyguard, who even adopted his screen persona’s name and will forever be known as Bolo Yeung.

Sadly, there are still people who take this film far too seriously and get very, very offended when you try and have a little fun with it, or dare to suggest that superior films have been made in the genre, but ENTER THE DRAGON stands as an entertaining film for all sorts of reasons. Mostly it’s the cool 70’s dialogue that I can’t help quoting (and misquoting) on a more or less daily basis in my everyday life, but also because it IS an iconic film. Like all iconic films, it has been parodied to death in everything from KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE to SPIRIT OF THE DRAGON - two films also worth a viewing.

So to sum it up: I like it, they talk funny.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: bkasten
Date: 06/15/2004
Summary: Perspective is everything

From one perspective, this is simply a B movie with a second rate cast, from a third rate Hollywood director (Robert Clouse). But to westerners for whom Bruce Lee has attained the Jesus/Elvis cult status level, it's considered a watershed film. It brings together so many well known HK film people as well as western martial artists. By HK standards it certainly was a big budget flick. For those inclined to regard a film's merits solely on quality of action, this is an fairly impressive achievement given the year in which it was made.

It's really a movie with a bit of an identity problem, however. It's certainly not a true HK movie. And it's not a Chinese movie. It's mostly an American movie. It's a Hollywood movie filmed in HK, with HK actors, stuntmen and extras, with an American script and production crew. It's largely a showcase for Bruce's impressive martial arts skills. Ironically, it's John Saxon's "acting" performance that stands out here as much as Bruce's fighting--largely owing to the fact that this is a movie with an English script, and other than Bruce himself, Saxon is pretty much the only true actor (who is also native English speaking) in the film. It's unfortunate, too, as Bruce was as much an actor as a martial artist and really can act...quite well...but here he plays a very one-dimensional character.

From another perspective, this film was the culmination of Bruce's efforts in bringing "realistic" martial arts to the screen--especially the HK screen. Or rather, he used HK film industry as a vehicle for this agenda. In that regard, it, and Bruce's efforts in general were a small success in that he possibly nudged the industry a bit into recognising the value of pure martial arts movies. Looking at the span of the HK film industry, his movies made a ripple and not a wave. HK action films were evolving in their own way, and Bruce did play a role in changing that. But key action actors like Wang Yu, Ti Lung, Lo Lieh, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan, and directors like King Hu, Chang Che, Chor Yuen, Lau Kar-Leung, Sammo, Jackie, and even Tsui Hark were much more the shapers in the evolution of HK action film. It was, unfortunately, the death of Bruce that exaggerated his importance. And while it's unknown what his effect would have been on the film industry if he had survived, it was clear that his path would have been quite different than that taken by, for instance, Lau Kar-Leung, in his various depictions of true Chinese gongfu.

And while Bruce may have nudged HK film towards martial arts (gong fu), he definitely brought HK film, and therefore Chinese culture, a bit closer to the West. In this regard, the movie is quite symbolic of Bruce Lee himself--a bi-cultural man who in many ways was just as much or more "American" as he was "Chinese." He, and this film played a role in creating a cultural bridge between East and West, and now Bruce is probably more revered in the West than in the East. And that is very important in a larger sociological and multiculturaral sense of bringing together our respective cultures. In every interview I have heard, this cross-culturalism was very important to Bruce and this film I see as a manifestation of his feelings.

Films like this serve as gateways to introducing westerners to HK film. A more recent (as well as better) example of this type of movie would be Crouching Tiger.

Nonetheless, Enter the Dragon is still a film that should not be missed.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 09/26/2003

A kung-fu master (Lee) is asked by the Hong Kong government to infiltrate a martial arts tournament, which is actually a front for drug smuggling. He agrees after he finds out that the gang members killed his sister. During the tournament, he meets up with a gambler down on his luck (Saxon) and a black karate master (Kelly), who reluctantly end up aiding Lee.

A lot of people call this one of the best (if not the best) martial arts film of all time. I like the movie, but I wouldn't go that far. While it does stand above many other films, Enter the Dragon is just lacking that certain something. The movie loses itself in subplots with the Saxon and Kelly characters -- does anyone actually believe John Saxon could kick Bolo Yeung's ass? I suspect the only reason so much emphasis was put on these characters was to give the movie more "crossover" appeal (just think of the pairing of Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour). There's also a lot of unnecessary nudity; I have nothing against nudity, it's just that the scenes that involve it here grind the movie to a halt. Finally, the "revenge for a family member" plot was tired even back in the '70's. This wouldn't be such a bad thing, but the script is so horrible and Clouse seems to be sleepwalking as director, it comes off as really no better than those countless "Kung-Fu Theatre" movies (at least in the storytelling department).

However, in the action department, Enter the Dragon certainly delivers. Warner Bros. wisely decided to let Lee direct all the fight sequences, and they're outstanding. Every time I start to bitch about the things stated above, once I see Lee beating the hell out of everyone, I remember why I like the movie. The final brawl is a true classic which very few films have matched since then. On the acting side, Lee is also great; his stern, dignified performance stands out, especially when compared with other martial arts "actors" like Van Damme. He really did have a lot of talent in both realms of fighting and acting, and Enter the Dragon showcases them. So, while it's not a perfect movie, Enter the Dragon is a fitting testament to Lee's legacy.

Reviewed by: Kyashan
Date: 06/02/2003
Summary: GOOD

Good like almost all Bruce Lee's movies, good action and good plot story. I liked very much this movie and everyone who like Bruce Lee should to watch it.

Reviewed by: tygrdx
Date: 05/06/2003
Summary: A MUST SEE

One of the Greatest Action Movies ever made. Of course todays movies have better production, choreography, and plot, but this is the movie that most significantly popularized the martial arts. Bruce Lee is like the Elvis of Kung Fu movies. Some may say that the Beatles and Jackie Chan were better, but Bruce and Elvis blazed the trails. This movie should be on the top 100 movies of all time. It's got Bruce Lee, realistic fight scenes, philosophy, issues of racism, morals, and Hollywood production. Not only that but it's got Cameo Appearances of Samo Hung and Jackie Chan. The appreciation of this movie goes deeper if you have knowledge of Martial Arts and Philosophy. Play the fight seen with Bob Wall in slow motion....Bruces motions are too fast to see in normal time!!!! Imagine how great Bruce Lee's movies could have been if he were still alive.

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 11/16/2002
Summary: Good entertainment

Regarded by many in the west as the apex of Bruce Lee's career, there's no doubt that Enter The Dragon was an important movie in the development of martial arts cinema and its success abroad. We get some solid fights and plenty of Bruce's exposition about his martial arts philosophy, and a villain with an underground island lair.

Time has aged it quite a bit, and the world has certainly moved on since it was made. If it's not taken too seriously it still provides some solid entertainment though... no small part of which is looking for early appearances from a number of figures who would go on to take the seeds Bruce sowed in HK movie fighting on to the higher levels it would eventually reach.

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 02/05/2002
Summary: Average

Despite what most westeners without a clue of Chinese movies say, this movie is not a classic of any sort. In fact it is rather dull. The story was original enough I suppose, but Bruce Lee couldn't act as far as I am concerned, and even a lot of his fight sequences (especially in Enter The Dragon) look slow at times and not very realistic.

I'm sure everyone in the world would have seen this, but it's certainly not a classic of any genre.

Rating: 2/5

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: Thomas_Ong
Date: 09/01/2000
Summary: Enter The Dragon, the legend continues...

There is no doubt in my mind that Bruce Lee was the greatest martial arts fighter during the 20th century. No one else that I know of is as fast and as powerful as he was. He displays his power and speed in all of his kung fu films, but best represented in "Enter The Dragon". The movie also features his extraordinary physique that adds more excitement to the film. Bruce Lee through this classic movie opened the doors to Hollywood for other Hong Kong stars now like Jackie Chan, and Jet Li. Sadly, the man died too young, but he left us his legacy in "Enter The Dragon".

Reviewed by: Darryl
Date: 12/21/1999

The film still is top-notch, and all of the bad unnecccessary jokesaside, the film works today. Bruce is slick and uses his body more than voice in his subtle performance, Jim Kelley never looked and acted better, and John Saxon (WHO STUDDIED KUNG FU) adding a wry performance to Roper make for a trio of top-notch heroes and anti-heroes. Shih Kien is brilliantly menacing, and for a 70something man at the time he is agile and his face speaks in volumes. The fighting is top-notch, as bold and brilliant as Jackie stuff from the 80s. The costumes, set design, and cinematography are par-excellence. Robert Clouse never made a film as good, and in some ways this IS the CITIZEN KANE of martial arts films. The story works, and remains fresh, and overall it is HIGHLY recommended.

Reviewer Score: 9