Skip to main content

Empire List #474: Enter the Dragon


Before Tony Jaa, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan there was Bruce Lee. The man has been dead since the 1970s yet say his name and images of martial art fights spring to mind. He died way too early leaving behind only a handful of films, a few of them unfinished. Fortunately, Robert Clouse’s “Enter the Dragon” was completed before his death on July 20, 1973. As far as martial arts films go, it is one of the best and features the master in top shape.

Whenever I write for this blog I try to describe the impression I had when I watched the film for the first time. Sometimes it’s a memorable moment, such as watching a game-changing movie on the big screen. This however, is a rather ordinary moment since I watched “Enter the Dragon” yesterday evening on TV in my mom’s apartment in Quebec City. Life is ordinary sometimes.

Yet when it comes to Bruce Lee movies I still have a personal movie anecdote. About two years ago my brother bought a DVD box set of Bruce Lee’s films for Asian studio Golden Harvest. Nice item to have for any film buff, although I found the films to be lacking in terms of story. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I have the box set, but the stories seemed somewhat repetitive: Bruce Lee plays a martial arts experts, bad guys go after him or his friends, and he beats the bad guys to a pulp while screaming like an animal. The dialogue is ordinary, the acting fair, and the production values varied in quality.

“Enter the Dragon,” the first martial arts film to be produced by a major Hollywood studio, is an entirely different beast. Once again Lee plays a martial arts expert (called Lee) fresh off a Shaoling temple in Hong Kong. A British intelligence officer called Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks) wants him to participate in a martial arts tournament organized by a crime lord. Braithwaite’s organization knows the crime lord is into drug smuggling and prostitution but they have no proof. So they need Lee to travel to the island where Han (Shi Kien) is holding the tournament, confirm he is a criminal and the cavalry will swoop in to save the day.

Of course the fight needs to be personal for the hero and Lee has two reasons to be mad at the evil Han. Firstly, he was once a Shaolin student and has disgraced their tradition with his evil ways. Secondly, Han’s bodyguard O’Hara (Robert Wall) attacked Lee’s sister, resulting in her suicide. Time for some roundhouse kicks.

One thing that sets this movie apart from other Bruce Lee movies is the supporting characters. One his way to the island, Lee meets two fellow martial arts experts, both of them Americans. Roper (John Saxon) is a playboy and a gambler who left the America with a pile of debts. Williams (Jim Kelly) is an African-American who beats two racist police officers outside of his martial arts school. He looks like he wandered off from a blaxploitation movie and gets one of the movie’s best lines: “Man, you’re straight out of a comic book.”

That line is actually well deserved since he is talking to the villainous Han, although he is not out of a comic book. He is clearly copied from the early James Bond films: Han has a hideout on an island, an army of henchmen wearing the same uniform, a room filled with torture devices, and sharp knives he can attach to the hole where his hand used to be. Oh! He also has white kitty cat.

This all may be unoriginal by today’s standards, but it is highly entertaining. As with all martial arts films, the third act must have prolonged battle scene between the hero and the henchmen followed by a fight between the hero and villain. That last fight takes place in a hall of mirrors where Han is fighting with metal claws that belonged to either Freddy Krueger or Wolverine. Hard to tell, but the point is they are very sharp, adding to the tension.

This may be the best movie Bruce Lee ever made and one of the best in the genre. Yet there is one fight that you find on his earlier films but not in this one: a fight between Lee…and Chuck Norris. Yes. That happened. I am glad I have my DVD box set because that fight alone deserves to be on film, even if it’s not in Bruce Lee’s best movie.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #364: Natural Born Killers

Natural Born Killers (1994) is not so much a movie as an American nightmare come to life. Loosely based on a story by Quentin Tarantino, starring some of the wildest actors in Hollywood at the time, and boasting a level of violence that unfortunately inspired copycat crimes, it is the textbook definition of controversial. In all fairness there are important messages amidst all the violent mayhem, but director Oliver Stone throws so much content at the screen that these messages can sometimes get lost in the carnage.
Even though the movie came out more than two decades ago it still has a legendary status, which I learned about while reading a chapter in a book about Tarantino’s career. The book, Quintessential Tarantino, contained a lot of interesting facts about the making of the movie and also spoiled the ending, but reading a few words that describe a killing spree is very different than seeing it portrayed on screen. A few years ago the director’s cut became available on Netflix, wh…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #29: Die Hard

This year I have been going all over the place with this Greatest Movies List, sometimes reviewing the next movie on the list, sometimes reviewing one I saw a few weeks ago. Since I am playing fast and loose with the rules, and since this is the Holiday season, why not skip down the list to what is arguably one of the all time greatest Christmas movies, Die Hard (1988)? Some people like to spend the Christmas season watching an angel get its wings, some like to watch a millionaire learn the meaning of Christmas, I like to watch Alan Rickman read the words “Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”
After five movies I think even the most die-hard fans (wink) would agree this franchise has gone on for too long, but the first three movies are some of the best action movies of the 80s and 90s. I actually watched them out of order, starting with the second one, followed by the third and eventually making it to the one that started it all at Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve. Watching those movi…