Enter the Dragon is one of those movies that has unfortunately become a staple of Asian cinema for Americans. Enter the Dragon was effectively the final film of Bruce Lee before his death at age 33 of brain edema. Inarguably, Enter the Dragon has been the pinnacle of cinematic martial arts experiences ever since its release in 1973. although Lee never lived to see its incredible reception, it proved that his self-belief and determination was wholly justified. His box office success in Asia was so huge that US companies like Warner Bros couldn’t ignore what a phenomenon this man had become.
Lee (Bruce Lee) is a Shaolin monk who has been enlisted by an intelligence agency to track down the nefarious Han. Joining three other martial arts experts, Lee travels to Han’s remote island to participate in a martial arts tournament. In Eenter the Dragon, the best parts of the film involve him in either a fight, or just generally looking badass. And while they say that sometimes the best career move is to die, Lee’s full boxoffice power and creative potential were largely untapped at his time of death and remain tragically so. However, Let’s face it, as a film, Enter the Dragon really doesn’t hold up to the greatest of scrutiny.
The formulaic story, a crude James Bond riff with a hint of blaxploitation outrageousness, is wearying in the early going, but it hardly matters as the dynamite fighting sequences begin to dominate near the halfway point. Watching Enter the Dragon today, over 35 years since it first debuted, I’m guessing that some younger moviegoers unfamiliar with cinema history may simply shrug their shoulders at the bad dubbing and CGI-less action sequences. But as a cinema buff of late ’70s kung fu films, let me tell you that Lee’s over-the-top, physically amazing stunts in Enter the Dragon were truly ground-breaking at the time.
Rampant martial-arts violence ranges from non-lethal bouts to kung-fu fatalities, with snapped necks, crushed bodies, and speared corpses. He was also poetry in motion. He wasn’t vulgar or brutal. When he beat the tar out of a large group of attackers, you feel admiration, even as you can see the joy in his face. With stylish visuals, fashionably unfashionable attire and hairdos, a refreshing lack of today’s computerized chicanery and wire-foolishness, and the most charismatic martial artist ever to pummel Bolo, it’s no wonder it generated countless imitators and made Lee a worldwide phenomenon.