Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Review: "ENTER THE DRAGON" and Bruce Lee Are Still Kicking Ass 50 Years Later

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 43 of 2023 (No. 1932) by Leroy Douresseaux

Enter the Dragon (1973)
Running time: 102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPAA – R for martial arts violence and brief nudity
DIRECTOR:  Robert Clouse
WRITER:  Michael Allin
PRODUCERS:  Fred Weintraub, Raymond Chow, and Paul Heller
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Gilbert Hubbs (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Kurt Hirschler and George Watters
COMPOSER:  Lalo Schifrin


Starring:  Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Ahna Capri, Kien Shih, Bob Wall, Angela Mao, Betty Chung, Geoffrey Weeks, Marlene Clark, Peter Archer, Ho Lee Yan, and Bolo Yeung with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yeun Wah

Enter the Dragon is a 1973 martial arts and action film directed by Robert Clouse and starring Bruce Lee (1940-1973).  An international co-production between the United States and Hong Kong, the film debuted one month after Lee's death on July 20, 1973.  Thus, August 19, 1973 was the fiftieth anniversary of the film's American release.  Enter the Dragon focuses on a Shaolin martial artist who travels to an island fortress to compete in a martial arts tournament and to also spy on the tournament's benefactor, a mysterious drug lord.

Enter the Dragon opens on the grounds of a Shaolin temple and introduces Lee (Bruce Lee), a highly proficient martial artist, martial arts instructor, and Shaolin monk.  Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks), a British intelligence agent, approaches Lee about spying on a crime lord and drug kingpin named Han (Shih Kien).  Braithwaite convinces Lee to attend the high-profile martial arts tournament that Han is holding at his private island fortress.  Attending the tournament would be a good cover as Lee has already been invited.  Before he leaves for Han's island, Lee learns that the man who murdered his sister, Su-Lin (Betty Chung), is Oharra (Bob Wall), one of Han's bodyguards.

While traveling to the island, Lee meets two friends who have also been invited to the tournament.  Both are martial artists and Vietnam veterans.  They are Roper (John Saxon), a white man who is deep in debt because of gambling, and Williams (Jim Kelly), a black man with deep ties to the martial arts in his community.

Once on the island, Lee begins to gather evidence of Han's drug trafficking, but Han is no ordinary criminal.  His tournament is no ordinary martial arts tournament, and Lee, Roper, and Williams are about to discover just how dangerous Han and his tournament are. 

Enter the Dragon is considered one of the most influential action films of all time.  The film's success contributed to the mainstream worldwide interest in the martial arts, and it continues to inspire filmmakers and storytellers to this day.  In addition to film, the influence of Enter the Dragon can be seen in television productions, video games, comic books, and Japanese manga (comics) and anime (animation).  It revolutionized the way Asians, Asian-Americans, and even African-Americans are portrayed on screen, especially in action and martial arts films.  The film also had an impact on mixed martial arts (MMA), including on the clothes and uniforms that MMA fighters wear.

Enter the Dragon is obviously a huge influence on the Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter video game franchises.  The original Mortal Kombat film, 1995's Mortal Kombat, borrows numerous story elements from Enter the Dragon, so much so that it would not be incorrect to call 1995 film a re-imagining of Enter the Dragon.

Obviously, Bruce Lee is magnetic in this film.  Decades after his passing and the arrival of this film, Lee still seems like a natural born movie star.  In this film, he is both subtle and graceful and over-the-top and explosive as needed, but yet he made space for the rest of the cast to shine.  John Saxon is both world-weary and witty as the underutilized Roper, and Jim Kelley, the first African-American martial arts film star, had enough screen time to turn this into his breakthrough role.

Rich in atmosphere, Enter the Dragon is at times odd and eccentric, and it would have been better served by another ten minutes of storytelling – at least.  However, those last twenty or so minutes of the film were like nothing ever seen in American films at the time, and today, still seem revolutionary.  Here, Lee is a coiled cobra, striking like lighting.  He is both time and lightning in a bottle, unleashing his energy while blowing the minds and expectations of the audience.  Fifty years after its original theatrical release, Enter the Dragon is ageless and timeless, and, while the earthly Bruce Lee is long since gone, the cinematic Bruce Lee is eternally youthful and alive and kicking.

10 of 10

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

2004 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.



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