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Enter The Dragon (1973) August 12, 2004

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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ENTER THE DRAGON

A Film Review by Dragan Antulov

Copyright Dragan Antulov 1998

When I was growing up in 1970s, boys in my school used to divide into two groups, based on their action movies preferences. The first one, myself included, liked movies that featured spectacular car chases, lots of machinegun fire and huge explosions. The latter one preferred Hong Kong martial arts flicks, probably because they could (or, to be more precise, thought they could) imitate its stunts in the real life. Decades later, while refining my own cinematic taste, I began to appreciate and actually like those movies, probably because of overexposure to shoot-em-up idiocy of 1980s ramboids. Yes, most of the Kung Fu and other “martial arts” flicks were cheap, they had predictable and formulaic plot, and asked very little of production values aside from martial arts skills. But, in the same time, those movies had their own rules and in the hands of capable director could become a terrific guilty pleasure and source of relaxation.

The best of those movies, one that passed the test of time and managed to keep its own cult status after quarter of century was ENTER THE DRAGON. Made in 1973 in a joint Hong Kong – Hollywood venture, it was intended to bring Bruce Lee’s skills and Kung Fu philosophy to the Western audience. It succeeded, but it is still debatable whether by its own merit or by the unfortunate and mysterious death of Bruce Lee that immortalised the myth about that actor.

Lee plays a quiet Shaolin monk who is a martial arts expert. He is approached by Interpol official who asks him to join tri-annual martial arts tournament that is held on a remote island, owned and controlled by Han, renegade Shaolin monk. Interpol suspects that the martial arts business is just cover for narcotics, gun-running and prostitution operations and Lee must find the evidence necessary for authorities to intervene. Lee accepts the mission because of personal reasons – O’Harra, Han’s brutal bodyguard was responsible for the tragic death of Lee’s sister years ago. The island is also destination of two colourful martial arts experts from US – Williams (played by Jim Kelly) is Black activist running from the racist police, and his friend Roper wants to make money in order to pay gambling debts.

The plot of ENTER THE DRAGON was in many ways influenced by James Bond (the 007 franchise itself would return favour by using Kung Fu elements in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN two years later). The main hero was faced against a power-hungry megalomaniac on a remote island, alone against whole army of bad guys. On the other hand, Lee was more believable hero than Bond; deprived of guns and super-tech gadgets, he had to rely only on his personal skills in order to survive. In the same time, the plot, although extremely thin, allowed him even some internal battles – between the natural instinct to avenge his sister and his own anti-violent philosophy. The latter provided some opportunities to evaluate Lee’s acting skills and some new elements to his impressive screen presence.

Although two other main actors – John Saxon being the obligatory good white guy and Jim Kelly being the obligatory black good guy – were intended to share top spot with Lee, they served as nothing more than a comic relief. It is a real shame to see Kelly, definitely the worse actor than Saxon, to steal the scenes from him only because his lines, being the worst possible blaxploitation cliches, sound so damn over the top. Other actors, not including Shih Kien who turns Han into typical, although not very convincing Bondian villain, are nothing more than fist fodder for Bruce Lee (among them is young Jackie Chan).

Fighting scenes are still impressive today as they were 25 years ago, although they mostly lack gore associated with that genre. In many way they are also more realistic (they were personally staged by Lee himself), demanding only a blow or two to incapacitate or kill the opponent. I’m not a martial arts expert nor the martial arts fan, but comparing those scenes with typical scenes today I simply can’t avoid to appreciate the difference from today’s movie fights when masses of bloody pulp manage to get up from the floor and win in the end.

So, despite all the obvious flaws that preclude this movie of being Top 100 of All Times, ENTER THE DRAGON is a incredibly entertaining piece of cinema and the martial arts flick that can be enjoyed even by those who don’t like that particular genre.

RATING: 8/10 (+++)

Review written on May 3rd 1998

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