Enter the Dragon (1973)
Enter the Dragon (1973)

Genre: Martial Arts Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: August 19th, 1973 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Robert Clouse Actors: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Ahna Capri, Shih Kien, Robert Wall, Angela Mao Ying, Betty Chung, Geoffrey Weeks

 


 

F

ollowing the code of the Shaolin Monk temple, Lee (Bruce Lee) takes responsibility and accepts the consequences of reaching a spiritual and physical zenith of martial arts capabilities – focusing not on an opponent or a specific technique, but rather preserving readiness for spontaneous reaction toward whatever might come. His teacher informs him of a rogue Shaolin warrior known as Han (Shih Kien), who has used the training for corruption and personal gain. In order to reclaim the temple’s lost honor, Lee must attend Han’s martial arts tournament to defeat the traitor.

Lee is further briefed by Mr. Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks), who apprises him of the competition, organized and conducted (held once every three years) on Han’s private fortress on an unaffiliated island near Hong Kong. It proves to be the reclusive rogue’s only contact with the outside world. He’s also continually chaperoned by formidable bodyguard Oharra (Bob Wall), seen in reconnaissance footage coolly absorbing back-breaking exercises of endurance. And though a secret agent, Mei Ling (Betty Chung), has infiltrated Han’s people, contact with her has been lost. Meanwhile, gambling-addicted Roper (John Saxon) flees aggressive debtors to arrive in Hong Kong for the tournament as well, joined by Vietnam buddy Williams (Jim Kelly).

A bizarrely mismatched boxing bout opens “Enter the Dragon,” which grandly and enthusiastically introduces American audiences to Bruce Lee, an action star intent on making an impression. He also possesses a very distinct attitude (mainly of disinterest and chagrin over his adversaries’ ineptitude). All of the fight choreography is staged by Lee himself, careful to show slow-motion maneuvers and raving battle cries, and to pit flocks of grossly incompetent soldiers against readied killing machines. There’s also an undeniable resemblance to “Dr. No,” with the villain and his fake hand, his secret underground laboratory, and a room of mirrors (used a year later in “The Man with the Golden Gun”) – and a James Bond-styled hierarchy of henchman, including the facially scarred Oharra, a muscular Asian named Bolo (Yang Sze), Han’s personal bodyguard daughters, and a final showdown with the mastermind himself.

The editing is confusing and the footage poorly assembled (though a few of the duels feature amusing camera angles), additionally paired with stereotypically bad dubbing. Several of the contenders receive flashback sequences solely for the sake of establishing insignificant backstory details – though most are simply designed to add another fight scene, with the first involving female combatant Su Lin (Angela Mao Ying), Lee’s sister. Lalo Schifrin’s jazzy yet mismatched music also doesn’t help matters. Once the assemblage gathers at the island, the plot gravitates toward a mystery, attempting to instill suspense in the uncovering of Han’s criminal plans. This is unfortunate, considering that “Enter the Dragon” should have been focused on highlighting Lee’s hand-to-hand combat skills rather than poorly mimicking a genuine whodunit. This leads to the actual martial arts moments becoming unstimulatingly spaced apart and occurring too infrequently. The fact that Lee has to share screentime with two other battlers continues to minimize his impressiveness – especially when it comes to Saxon, who is quite unconvincing as a martial artist. But when Lee does engage in a skirmish, a sincere zeal and intensity for awe-inspiring altercation composition takes over, which is enough to mostly redeem this mash of genre tropes.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10