This is the best martial arts film ever made. It has everything; Bruce Lee, Bolo Yeung, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, well choreographed fight scenes, political talk against ‘The Man’, intrigue, and even pretty women. The last thing doesn’t really interest me that much since I’m a woman but I know that men have their needs!
Enter The Dragon is about a kung fu master named Lee (Bruce Lee) who enters a martial arts contest run by drug kingpin and slaver Han (Kien Sheh). Lee goes undercover to this contest on the behest of the British government who have been after Han for a very long time. I’m not going to give the ending away since I’m not assuming that everybody has seen this, but I can safely say that a lot of fighting happens and some people die. It wouldn’t be a martial arts film without any of that, now would it?
What makes Enter The Dragon the best martial arts film ever made? Bruce Lee. There can be no question that he was one of the best martial artists to ever live. Mainly because he didn’t follow any strict rules when it came to his style. He combined several different traditional forms of martial arts, and his own philosophy, to create Jeet Kune Do. Throughout the film his creation is shown in philosophical conversations between characters and during the battle scenes. Lee choreographed all of the fighting, which unlike a lot of modern fight scenes weren’t cut every two seconds to hide stunt doubles and the like. The mirror fight between Lee and Han is hands down one of the best martial arts fight scenes ever filmed. It has been copied many times in other movies but never duplicated in terms of quality. This is due in part to the direction of Robert Clouse, who really knew what he was doing in terms of filming action sequences. His use of slow motion techniques during some of the film doesn’t slow down the action, but rather make it all the more intense.
Besides Lee the characters Roper (John Saxon) and Williams (Jim Kelly) are a hoot; Roper is an in debt gambler, Williams a street fighter from ‘the hood’. Their shared dialogue is very, very funny and brings some comic relief to the seriousness of the film. Bolo (Bolo Yeung) is another interesting character, an evil bad-ass fighter and one of Han’s men. You may recognize him from Bloodsport, in which he plays pretty much the same kind of guy. Nothing wrong with a bit of typecasting because he is quite a frightening looking fighter! I’ve always imagined Glenn Danzig watching Enter The Dragon as a kid, seeing Bolo, then thinking that he too could be a very muscular short dude! Don’t tell him I said that though! In the nunchuk scene you may be able to spot a very young Jackie Chan, who is an extra that gets beat up by Lee.
Enter The Dragon is a total product of its time. Made in 1973 there is quite a lot of political commentary which is very cool. How many martial arts films do you see these days that talk about ‘The Man’ and about how evil he is? None, and we are a worse off society for it! You can never say that Enter The Dragon doesn’t look dated because it does. This isn’t a bad thing since the sets, the music and even the costumes give it a certain feel. Yes, it can be seen as slightly cheesy, but to be honest what martial arts film doesn’t have it’s fair amount of cheese? The difference between Enter The Dragon and other films though is the fact that the production itself is very well done. It had a studio budget behind it and that made all of the difference. These days most martial arts films are straight to video without a great budget and they suffer for it.
The screenplay, written by Michael Allin, is a pretty simple good guys vs. bad guys type story, with some revenge thrown in for good measure. Han is the heavy who makes heroin and gets women addicted to it so that they can be sold as sex slaves, while Lee is the good guy who is ultimately out to get revenge from Han for the death of his sister. Everything else is secondary, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some character development going on. The character Roper actually evolves as the film goes along. At first we just think that he’s a self important idiot, but we learn that he’s actually a good guy who does the right thing when called to action.
As you can tell I love this movie. I first saw it as a child in a movie theater in the 1970’s and I know that it heavily contributed to my interest in action films. If watching this film doesn’t change how you judge fight scenes then there is something wrong with you.