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There are few actors in history that qualify for “icon” or “legend” status. Steve McQueen. Clint Eastwood. Reb Brown. Austin Pendleton.
And Bruce Lee.
The Chinettes waited patiently for Sing Sung to end his whirlwind rendition of "I Get a Kick out of You" but, ever the showman, he paused for audience reaction.
After punching up enemies and audiences with The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, and then directing himself as he pounded on Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon, Wing Chun king Bruce Lee was wooed by Warner Bros. to make what would become his biggest film, and one of the most influential martial arts movies of all time.
In Enter the Dragon, Lee is… Lee, a Shaolin master recruited by a vague intelligence agency to infiltrate the island fortress of the nefarious Mr. Han. A former member of Lee’s Shaolin temple, Han now prefers to balance his chi with drug trafficking, white slavery, and training an army of kung fu thugs. Lee uses Han’s international martial arts competition as a means to get on the island and find evidence of the evil-doings, and also intends to take the opportunity to avenge his sister’s death at the hands of Han’s head minion Oharra (stuntman/punching bag Bob Wall). Also en route to the tournament is a pair of Vietnam buddies, Roper (John Saxon, whose kung fu is not strong), a businessman fleeing loan sharks, and Williams (Jim Kelly, whose superfunky wardrobe is nearly as awe-inspiring as his afro), on the run after pummeling a pair of white cops.
"Hey, is that the Rory Calhoun special? I’m famished."
Once at the island the combatants are presented with a sumptuous feast, an array of women and satin robes from Rocky IV, while Lee slips into a navy blue bodysock and skulks around the facility to learn more about Han’s villainy. After Han unsuccessfully tries to lure Roper into a business arrangement and Lee smacks the hell out of a few dozen guards, the tournament quickly devolves into a battle royal between the contestants, Han’s footsoldiers and a whole mess of liberated prisoners.
Enter the Dragon is, in essence, Bruce Lee’s James Bond film (if 007 were an expert in Jeet Kune Do). Written by Michael Allin (who also dabbled in blaxploitation and cheese with Truck Turner and the 1980 version of Flash Gordon), the movie has ingredients befitting that increasingly cheesy spy franchise: implausible scenarios, hordes of nameless henchmen, a “stealth mission”, a gorgeous female double agent, a villain with interchangeable weapon hands, and an opulent palace with a convenient hall of mirrors for the climactic duel.
And here, the scene that prompted thousands of gawky teens to craft their own nunchucks and administer concussions to their friends and themselves.
Director Robert Clouse would go on to helm a series of chopsockey flicks with a curious variety of stars – Jim Kelly in Black Belt Jones, Yul Brynner in The Ultimate Warrior, Jackie Chan in The Big Brawl, Cynthia Rothrock in the China O’Brien flicks, and gold medallist Kurt Thomas in the unforgettable Gymkata. Obviously, continual success eluded him after Dragon, which is surprising considering what a slick concoction of American and Asian sensibilities he constructed for Lee’s
The brutal fisticuffs carried on for so long, the combatants invariably wandered through a John Woo film.
Anyone who reads the site knows I’m biased when it comes to kung fu flicks, but there’s a reason Enter the Dragon is still regarded as one of the finest examples in the fighting genre. With stylish visuals, fashionably unfashionable attire and hairdos, a refreshing lack of today’s computerized chicanery and wire-foolishness, and the most charismatic martial artist ever to pummel Bolo, it’s no wonder it generated countless imitators and made Lee a worldwide phenomenon.
9.0 out of 10
"Why, Rob Cohen… WHY?!?"
Incredibly, Warner Bros. has improved the already killer anamorphic widescreen transfer from the release a few years back. It’s still occasionally grainy and scarred, and a few scenes seem noticeably soft, but it’s still quite a triumph.
8.7 out of 10
The vigorous Dolby 5.1 audio lets you hear every fleshy impact, which comes in a much wider variety than the standard old-school kung fu flicks (PAP! FOOM! FOOM! PAP! PAP!). Lee’s unnerving yowl, Keye Luke’s dubbing of crime lord Han, and Lalo Schifrin’s sensational wukka-wukka score (which invokes Bond music when Bruce goes slinking around the stronghold looking for clues) all couldn’t sound better.
8.7 out of 10
Chester shortly comes to the grisly realization that invoking the name of Candyman several times will NOT transform him into Hugh Hefner.
You wanna know why this review took so long? See below.
First up is a commentary track (recycled from the last release of the film) with producer Paul Heller (and writer Michael Allin via telephone). Though a bit doleful sounding, Heller is informative and very deferential when discussing Lee and the film, truly realizing its importance in retrospect, while Allin fills in a few holes regarding the script.
The brand new 30-minute documentary “Blood and Steel” features conversations with people involved in the filmmaking process (and former Bruce student James Coburn) discussing the actor’s life and the difficulties getting the film made, and tracks the whereabouts of the involved parties today. Good stuff, although Jim Kelly is strangely absent. He came out of hiding to shoot a scene (ultimately deleted) for Undercover Brother, but can’t find a few minutes to talk about the Dragon? Sheesh.
“Bruce Lee: In His Own Words” is a 20-minute collection of sound bites from various footage and interviews (played over home video) where Lee conveys his philosophies on life and pummeling. Fifteen minutes worth of interviews with wife Linda Lee Cadwell gets into details of how they met, their relationship and how he still has an impact on her life. In addition to a short black-and-white clip of Lee training with a partner, Warner Bros. has also dug up the all-too-brief vintage “Making of Enter the Dragon” featurette from 1973, a prescient glimpse at the “bonus” mentality some 25 years before DVDs all but replaced videocassettes.
And then there’s the second disc…
Comprised of previously released material, the bulk of disc two features a pair of lengthy documentaries. The 90-minute “Bruce Lee: The Curse of the Dragon” (produced in 1993) is narrated by George Takei (Sulu!), who has one of the universe’s greatest voices, and focuses mainly on the speculative connections between Bruce’s and son Brandon’s premature deaths and the controversial decision to teach the Shaolin arts to Westerners. The 2000 docu “Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey” is a 100-minute look at the Dragon’s brief but significant career, although a significant portion of the film is dedicated to the unfinished Game of Death, including a half-hour of footage he’d shot for the film (including the famed battle with baller and pupil Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
Also included are four theatrical trailers and seven TV spots. Whew. Warner Bros. really did an exceptional job collecting material for this special edition, even if much of it is regurgitated. But when it comes to All Things Bruce, the
8.5 out of 10
Those chess matches with human pieces NEVER go smoothly…
You don’t mess with perfection. Hence the reproduction of the original painted poster artwork. Inside the glossy fingerprint-collecting sleeve, the disc packaging is a nice tri-fold in crimson with a subtle dragon pattern. Sweet.
9.0 out of 10