1973 – Hong Kong, USA
Directors: Robert Clouse, Bruce Lee
Starring: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Shih Kien
Words: Joe Harris
An iconic pop culture figure of the 20th century, Bruce Lee’s achievements culturally and cinematically elevated martial arts and the film genre to new heights, leading to an explosion of people learning martial arts with incredible popularity in the 1970’s.
With the first martial arts movie to be produced by a major Hollywood studio, Warner Bros. offered Bruce Lee the opportunity to appear in what would come to be his final film – Enter The Dragon.
Enter The Dragon is widely regarded as one of the greatest martial arts movies of all time – in it we follow Lee, a Shaolin martial artist from Hong Kong, who receives an invitation to a martial arts tournament organised on an island by the criminal warlord known as Han.
An agent from British Intelligence approaches Lee and asks for his help in an undercover mission – Han is suspected of being involved in drug-smuggling and prostitution, and Lee is asked to infiltrate the island stronghold and liaise with an undercover operative.
Lee learns that Han was also once a Shaolin student, but had been expelled from their order for dishonouring their code, and that Han’s bodyguard O’Harra had been involved in the death of his sister. Lee agrees to the task, believing that his efforts will restore the Shaolin honour that Han has disgraced, and along with thoughts of his sister, now finds himself on a mission of revenge as well.
Joining Lee on the island are fellow competitors Roper and Williams – Roper (played by John Saxon), an American playboy gambler on the run from the mob, and Williams (Jim Kelly), an African-American on the run after defending himself against two racist white policeman.
What ensues is one of the most enthralling kung-fu movies of its time, with the anticipation leading up to every scene where Lee finds himself in a perilous situation being met above and beyond expectation with some astoundingly good bareknuckle action, defeating dozens of henchman with a striking ability on display clearly more than that of the rehearsed action choreography of present day actors simply going through the motions, with fight sequences standing the test of time – especially with ‘that nunchaku scene’.
The film is certainly of its era, with Han being reminiscent of a classic James Bond villain (having a prosthetic hand interchangeable with various weapons), and some of the dialogue is wrapped in the 70’s with an almost spaghetti western feel, but this now just adds a particular charm – all set against a superb score from renowned soundtrack composer Lalo Schifrin.
Going undercover in a martial arts tournament on an island fortress, we see why Bruce Lee became known across the world as one of the most exciting stars on screen, with the film culminating in the climactic and cinematically historic fight scene in a room of mirrors.
Bruce Lee died before Enter The Dragon was released in movie theatres in 1973, he never saw its widespread acclaim.
You may not have ever seen one of Lee’s films before, but you could introduce yourself to one of the biggest martial arts movies of all time and see why the man known as Bruce Lee became a legend.