This is the film many call Bruce Lee’s masterpiece as it would be in 1973, the biggest martial arts spectacle in the career of the Dragon. Sadly, Lee would never to get to experience seeing the film himself.
Lee is a highly respected student at the Shaolin Temple. His skills grab the attention of British secret agent Braithwaite, who asks Lee to assist him on a mission. The mission involves a former student of Shaolin, Han. Han has become evil and has become a crime lord dealing with drugs and prostitution from his island fortress. Every year, Han holds a martial arts tournament, which is a cover for his rackets. When Lee learns that Han’s boydguard Ohara is responsible for the death of his sister, Lee decides to enter the tournament with the hopes of busting the operation.
There are two other combatants that will be in Han’s tournament. Roper is an apparent high-living gambler who owes a major debt to some mob bosses and enters the tournament in hopes to get enough money to start his life over. Roper’s old war buddy Williams enters the tournament to escape the prejudice he has endured at home after fighting two racist police officers. When Lee begins his mission, Williams is framed by Han as being the man who poses a threat to the operation. When Han learns the truth, he makes a decision that may determine the fate of everyone involved in this potentially deadly tournament.
This would become the first major Hollywood film to have an Asian-born actor in the lead role and it was such a hit and influential film. A hit that many consider it one of the best, if not the best Bruce Lee film made. Influential comes in the sense that after the film’s release, combined with the boom of the kung fu genre in the United States, people began taking up martial arts as a result. Lee really shines in the film as both mission carrier and avenger wrapped up in one package. Once again, he uses a bit of comic relief when he is confronted by a New Zealander and gives his take on “the art of fighting without fighting”.
The supporting cast is top notch in this. For some reason, while Lee is given lines that blend some philosophical methods to martial arts, John Saxon and Jim Kelly perhaps are given the fun lines of the film. One can’t forget Saxon’s line when he sees Ahna Capri’s Tanya for the first time. “A woman like that can teach you things you don’t know about yourself”. He actually would use this very same line in the 2011 horror action film War Wolves with Michael Worth. As for Jim Kelly, who can forget what he tells Han after he learns of the operation. “Man, you come right out of a comic book”. While Lee plays the heroic fighter of the trio, Saxon and Kelly pull off the charms when they have women by their side.
The legendary Shek Kin, who before this film had a reputation in Hong Kong for playing the villainous Northern kicker to Kwan Tak-Hing’s Wong Fei-Hung, is great to watch as the villainous Han. For those unfamiliar with dubbing, Shek couldn’t speak English well and his lines were dubbed by Keye Luke, who is best known for his roles in the TV series Kung Fu and Gremlins. Bob Wall, who appeared with Lee previously in Way of the Dragon, gets a somewhat bigger role as Han’s bodyguard Ohara. He gets his action in against the likes of Angela Mao, one of Golden Harvest’s premier action stars after Lee’s The Big Boss hit screens, and then his tournament fight against Bruce himself is nothing short of brilliant.
Bruce Lee choreographed the film’s action sequences and they are done quite well. Any martial arts film fan will truly recognize a number of faces in the film. The Shaolin student Bruce faces in the opening of the film is Sammo Hung, the star of the two-seasoned action series Martial Law and is a legend in Hong Kong cinema. Playing one of the goons in the prison sequence is Jackie Chan. He is the one Bruce grabs from behind, followed by an upclose shot of Bruce snapping Chan’s neck. Many of the Hong Kong action stars who started out as stuntmen appear in the film in background roles as fighters. Look for Wilson Tong getting kicked by Angela Mao when he approaches her to start the flashback action scene. The finale, influenced by the classic film noir The Lady from Shanghai, has the famous “mirror room” sequence, which is great as well.
Enter the Dragon is an exciting martial arts spectacle featuring Bruce Lee in what would be his biggest role to date. Sadly, the film was released three weeks after his tragic death on July 20, 1973. It I safe to say that Lee may have been proud of this film had he seen it.
WFG RATING: A
A Warner Brothers production in association with Concord Productions. Director: Robert Clouse. Producer: Fred Weintraub. Writer: Michael Allin. Cinematography: Gilbert Hubbs. Editing: Kurt Hirschler and George Watters.
Cast: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Ahna Capri, Shek Kin, Bob Wall, Bolo Yeung, Peter Archer, Geoffrey Weeks, Betty Chung, Angela Mao, Roy Chiao, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan, Yuen Wah.