Enter the Dragon (1973)
Director: Robert Clouse
Cast: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Robert Wall, Shih Kien
Plot: A martial artist agrees to spy on a reclusive crime lord using his invitation to a tournament there as cover.
Genre: Action / Crime
Rating: PG for partial nudity, sexual references and violence. (Ought to be PG13).
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: MILD)
“Why doesn't somebody pull out a .45 and, bang, settle it?”
This was the film that turned Bruce Lee from a popular Hong Kong martial arts star to an international icon who continues to be revered in all corners of the globe, and whose tragic early death remains to be a sore point when discussing about his short lifetime of accomplishments.
Enter the Dragon, directed by Robert Clouse, was Lee's American breakthrough, where he truly comes of age as a globally-known martial arts hero whose unique fighting styles and techniques are brilliantly staged for audiences on the big screen.
Lee's choreography of stunt work and fight scenes is breathtaking, as is his physical and charismatic presence as an actor. The climactic showdown between Lee and the main villain called Han (Shih Kien) in a mysterious room with mirrors for walls is the film's major highlight, a heightened visual experience for both the viewer and for Lee, who struggles to get his and his adversary's bearings right.
The plot is simplistic – Lee enters a martial arts tournament as a participant to infiltrate a crime lord's secret operations on an isolated island. Lalo Schifrin's cheeky, spy-ish score with Oriental elements aurally accompanies the sight of seeing a stealthy Bruce Lee operating like a silent ninja.
Lee is joined by a few skilled folks who know a thing or two about fighting, but these supporting characters prove to be quite redundant as their presence in the film is merely perfunctory, with the filmmakers leveraging on them as counterpoints to Lee's personality, rather than being key drivers of the narrative.
This is after spending too long a time to set up the movie and characters to justify their importance. If there was only Bruce, Clouse's film would have been tighter plotting-wise, and would have worked more effectively.
Enter the Dragon is now widely regarded as an action classic, a key work in the martial arts canon. But that cannot hide the fact that it is only involving and engaging in bits and pieces. I feel that it is Bruce Lee who entertains, but not the movie. It is generally poorly-paced (though it gets better), and while the action scenes are raw, realistic and brutal, I still think that the film does not quite hit the heights that its reputation suggests.
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