In the early 70s in the UK, and indeed worldwide, we were in the grip of Kung Fu Fever. A huge reason for this was the John Carradine TV show Kung Fu but another major factor was the Bruce Lee film Enter The Dragon.
Imagine an unholy blend of martial arts, Blaxploitation, action and even James Bond. But there is a lot more as to why the film is just sooo good. One major reason is that it feels authentic. This was the moment that martial arts movies truly broke into the mainstream rather than such films being imported and playing to niche audiences in drive-ins and grindhouse theatres. Enter the Dragon was the joint venture of Golden Harvest, a studio based in Hong Kong who were well known for producing such fare and Warner Bros in America who recognised that martial arts movies were becoming very popular indeed. Bruce Lee’s star had been steadily rising also. Lee would also stage all of the fight scenes within the film and even make casting suggestions. Rod Taylor was due to take the role which was eventually taken on by John Saxon but was vetoed by Lee as he felt him to be too tall for the role.
It’s also great to see a film with black, white and Asian leads. We get the world-weariness of John Saxon, the Blaxploitation cool cat that is Jim Kelly and then we get Bruce Lee. I could watch Mr Lee all day long and the only negative that I have about Enter The Dragon is that Lee passed away just after the film was completed. It’s a massive tragedy that this amazing talent couldn’t be enjoyed in more films after this masterpiece was made. Lee was 32 when he passed away.
Lee’s fight scenes are some of the best I’ve ever seen on screen and are almost supernaturally brilliant. I love what I’ve dubbed ‘The Bruce Lee Strut’ that he adopts when he’s in full flow. But Lee’s acting skills and natural charisma also shine through which makes his death even more devastating. I love the snippets of philosophy that his character dispenses throughout the film. Add to this that Lee is one of the most stylish men I’ve ever seen in a film. He really is cool as fuck and, in my humble opinion, one of the best leading men in film history.
But there’s also a strong horror element to the film also. Lee’s nemesis is Mr Hans, a drug lord and pimp who is missing a hand but puts this to his advantage as he can now fix numerous deadly fake hands to his stump consisting of things like deadly razors (years before Freddy Krueger) or even claws. The film’s ending sequence within the hall of mirrors is the stuff of nightmares.
Add to this Lalo Schifrin’s funky soundtrack. I love the stories about Lalo wanting some of Lee’s war cries on the soundtrack as part of some of the tracks but rather than taking these from fight scenes, he brought Lee into the studio to specifically record them. The idea of Lee in the studio making these sounds is surreally fantastic.
There is also a scope to the film that makes it gorgeous to look at with amazing cinematography and direction. It feels like Warner Bros and Golden Harvest wanted to pour all of their available talent into making a classic rather than just knocking out a quick film to make a few bucks. And audiences knew this and the film went on to make $400m with a budget of $850,000. Enter The Dragon is also now seen as one of the best action/martial arts films ever made and has even been included in the National Film Registry as a work of massive cultural significance. And deservedly so.