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Enter the Dragon (1973)

R   |    |  Action, Crime, Drama


Enter the Dragon (1973) Poster

A martial artist agrees to spy on a reclusive crime lord using his invitation to a tournament there as cover.

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7.7/10
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  • Bruce Lee and Jim Kelly in Enter the Dragon (1973)
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  • Enter the Dragon (1973)
  • Bruce Lee and John Saxon in Enter the Dragon (1973)
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26 June 2004 | oshram-3
10
| Still a classic three decades later
Long held to be the grand-daddy of all martial arts films, Enter the Dragon was recently re- released on DVD with the full treatment – digital restoration, a few short scenes added back in, and interviews with all of the surviving cast, plus some extras about the film and a few interviews with Bruce Lee.

Most of you have probably already seen it, as it's thirty years old, but even though the film is almost absurdly steeped in the 70s, it still holds up remarkably well. Aside from dangerously wide lapels and some corny era-related dialogue (most notably delivered by Jim Kelly, the film's only African American). Enter the Dragon still delivers the same powerful punch it did three decades ago.

Of course, back then, it was merely the best martial arts film. Now, however, it is the chief testament to the grace and skill of Bruce Lee, and the only one of his four films that he had any sort of creative control over – and you can see the difference between this and his Hong Kong films easily.

Lee does a Tony Danza and plays Mr. Lee, a shao-lin warrior who is recruited by a foreign government (it's assumed to be the English but is never explicitly stated) to infiltrate the island of a megalomaniac martial artist named Han (Kien Shih) who holds tournaments to find the best martial artists in the world. And because that's not enough motivation, it's also revealed that Han's bodyguard, Oharra (Robert Wall) killed Bruce's sister three years ago. So, like every Lee movie, there is a personal vendetta involved, and like every Lee film, Bruce's character asks forgiveness from his family for the deadly violence he is about to unleash. Along for the ride are gamblaholic Roper (John Saxon) and ghetto survivor Williams (Kelly).

The plot seems like a contrivance now, but that was before it was copied to death in the last three decades. It's actually a plausible and somewhat clever excuse to show people what they came to see – Bruce Lee repeatedly kicking butt. From the opening fight scene (against Sammo Hung) through the fabulous finale where Lee single-handedly takes on half the island, the movie is a joy to watch on the physical level. It's the world's greatest martial artist at his peak, in a showcase perfectly designed for him. It was an ideal if unintentional shrine to the man.

Lee is not merely content to let us watch him bash people, though; some of his philosophy penetrates the movie, which is probably the real reason why Enter the Dragon has stayed so fresh so long. Lee talks about spirituality with a young charge and even gives us an amusing and illustrative lesson in his 'art of fighting without fighting' – which is the credo of any real warrior. Lee also shows us the flip side; the show-offs and power-hungry who are only in it for the physical and material advantage. He takes care to show us how debased they are before dispatching them, however.

While Saxon and the rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable (Jim Kelly overdoes it a bit, but oddly that fits the film), Lee is terrific in this piece. Bruce Lee was a riveting performer and nowhere is that better demonstrated than in this movie. It's a testament to his legacy that three decades later, no one has come close to his skill, and people are still stealing ideas from him (Kill Bill, etc.). It gives one pause while watching Enter the Dragon to think of just what Bruce Lee could have accomplished had he lived.

I suppose those who don't like martial arts wouldn't care for this film, but I've seen it convert even unbelievers before. Lee is that good, and that charismatic, that you can't help but be drawn to him. Certainly his greatest film is worth checking out again on this spiffy new re- release. Even if you're not the biggest martial arts fan, how often do you get to check out a legend at the top of his game?

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Did You Know?

Trivia

The scene in which Lee states that his style was the style of "Fighting Without Fighting" and then lures Parsons into boarding a dinghy is based upon a famous anecdote involving the sixteenth century samurai Tsukahara Bokuden.


Quotes

Lee: Teacher?
Shaolin Abbott: I see your talents have gone beyond the mere physical level. Your skills are now at the point of spiritual insight. I have several questions. What is the highest technique you hope to achieve ?
Lee: To have no technique.
Shaolin Abbott: Very good. What are your...


Goofs

When Han walks John Saxon through his museum, the various hands are all (correctly) left, until they reach the skeletal hand that was Han's real hand. It's a right hand.


Alternate Versions

In the UK, the film was passed 'X' by the BBFC with cuts for the cinema release in 1973. 5 cuts were made to violence including the removal of the broken bottle attack at the end of the Lee/Oharra fight. In 1979, the film was recalled so that a sequence in which Bruce Lee twirls and uses nunchaku could be deleted, along with another sequence in which nunchaku were seen being carried. In 1988 the video version was passed '18' with 1 minute 45 seconds cut. Three of the five violence cuts made in 1973 were waived but two were maintained (the first cut is to an offscreen neckbreak - this version cuts away just as Bolo crouches to jerk and snap a poor sap's spine. The second cut occurs when Bolo cradles the final opponent in order to slowly break his back - the process and sound effect of this act had been shortened). The cuts to nunchakus implemented in 1979 were repeated for video. However, in 1991 the Board modified its policy so that the weapon was no longer removed on sight. After 1991 a number of representations of nunchaku were passed but only when they were not actually in use. The video of "Enter the Dragon" was resubmitted again in 1993 for widescreen release. This time the two remaining violence cuts were waived, as was the brief sight of nunchaku being carried, in accordance with the new policy. The only cut made this time was to sight of Bruce Lee twirling and briefly using the nunchaku (21 seconds cut). "Enter the Dragon" was resubmitted in its uncut form in 2001 and, in accordance with the BBFC's revised policy, has now been passed '18' without cuts.

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Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Action | Crime | Drama | Thriller

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