Director Robert Clouse’s Enter the Dragon is a great example of martial arts movies at their finest, and arguably one of Bruce Lee’s best films in his short-lived, yet influential, career. It is certainly one of my personal favorites as a movie that really stands out amongst an abundance of other martial arts films that exist in the genre.
A Shaolin martial artist named Lee (Bruce Lee) is approached by a British Intelligence agent named Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks) who urges him to accept his invitation to a martial arts tournament in order to help with the investigation of the man who invited him, Mr. Han (Kien Shih). Han was previously a Shaolin student who had been expelled, and he is suspected to be involved in drug trafficking and prostitution. Lee agrees to the mission, and upon his journey he learns that one of Han’s bodyguards was responsible for death of Lee’s sister. Lee is then fueled by revenge as well as saving the honor of Shaolin. Lee meets a couple of other competitors including Williams (Jim Kelly), a smooth-talking African American who has fled the United States after defending himself against two racist policemen, Roper (John Saxon), an ambitious gambler who is on the run from the mob, and a woman named Mei Ling (Betty Chung), an agent who was put on the island in order to gather intelligence for the investigation. After sneaking out of his bedroom one night, Lee finds an entrance an underground location where Han runs his drug business from, and ends up in a massive fight with a bunch of guards. When Han finds out one of his competitors has been sneaking out and snooping around, things begin to escalate and cause trouble for Lee and the other competitors on the island.
Enter the Dragon was Bruce Lee’s last film before his untimely death–six days before its release in Hong Kong–and it was also his most successful movie. It was also the first Hollywood produced Chinese martial arts film. It familiarized the western world with martial arts culture, and made the kung fu craze quite popular. This was before people widely knew who martial artists like Jet Li and Jackie Chan were (Chan actually has a small cameo in this movie–he gets his neck snapped by Lee, poor guy). It has all the elements you would expect in an older martial arts movie–the main actor posing and glaring into the screen, unrealistic sound effects, cheesy dialogue and not so perfect dubbing. Despite whatever you may be thinking from that description, none of these things take away from the film’s greatness. It’s a real epitomizing example of martial arts cinema. They weren’t made to be super realistic. They were made to entertain, to familiarize people with different cultures, to make use of actors’ awesome fighting talents, and to just plain kick ass, and this movie does all of that.
The fight scenes are incredible, with the master, Bruce Lee, doing all of his own stunts. You don’t really find too many martial arts movies from the 70’s that seem as hard hitting as this one. Plus, this movie is sure to please those who like martial arts without wires. The scene where Lee sneaks into the underground drug lab and fights off like fifty guys on his own is not only entertaining, but also very well choreographed, almost like a dance number, except way more brutal.
Bruce Lee was a captivating individual when seen dishing out his impressive fighting skills to large, impending groups of bad guys. I can only imagine what kind of a career he would’ve had, had he not left this earth at the young age of 32. Despite having such a short career, he has remained to be one of the most influential martial arts actors of all time, so influential, in fact, fans raised thousands of dollars in order to erect a memorial bronze statue of him in Hong Kong, and it resides there today along the Avenue of Stars.
Enter the Dragon is still highly praised to this day, which shows how well it stands the test of time, aside from the very 70’s hair cuts and outfits. This is a movie that has introduced a lot of people into the world of martial arts. The actors bring a lot of charisma to the screen, especially Jim Kelly and John Saxon, the fight scenes are well choreographed and expertly executed without the use of any wires, and Bruce Lee brings a philosophical element to the story that might not have existed otherwise. It’s a shame that he was not able to expand upon his success with not only just western audiences, but audiences in general. However, we were lucky enough to get this last film, and Lee’s legacy will continue to live on through its influence and success for many years to come.