Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Enter the Dragon (1973)

          A pulpy blend of martial arts and James Bond-style intrigue, Enter the Dragon suffers from predictable plotting, cardboard characterizations, and action sequences that border on self-parody. Plus, the less said about the acting, the better. Nonetheless, Enter the Dragon is fascinating almost entirely because of its leading man, Bruce Lee. Like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, Lee became a pop-culture icon by dying young—he passed away at the age of 32 days before Enter the Dragon, his first English-language starring role, premiered. Like his fellow tragic legends, Lee justifies his enduring appeal with a peerless onscreen persona. During fight scenes, Lee makes things that shouldn’t even be possible look effortless through his unique combination of grace, power, and speed. Therefore, even though the movie’s combat is accompanied by the campy sound effects that dominated ’70s martial-arts pictures coming out of Asia, Lee emerges as a cinematic badass of the highest order.
          As for the picture itself, Enter the Dragon is pure escapist silliness. An international criminal named Han (Shih Ken) holds a martial-arts tournament on his private island. Government agents ask Lee’s character (who is also named Lee) to participate so he can sneak around the island and determine whether Han is up to something nefarious. Also invited to the tournament are Americans Roper (John Saxon), a white man in debt to the mob, and Williams (Jim Kelly), a black man running from charges of assaulting police officers. Lee, Roper, and Williams participate in the tournament by day and discover Han’s criminal activities by night, leading to a giant confrontation as good guys, accompanied by legions of freed prisoners, battle Han and his minions during an island-wide martial-arts showdown. The movie’s zippy climax involves a duel between Han and Lee in a hall of mirrors, with Han wearing a set of metal talons in place of his missing left hand. Ken, who starred in dozens of martial-arts movies before appearing Enter the Dragon, makes a formidable opponent for Lee.
          Although Enter the Dragon wasn’t the very martial-arts story to find success in America—TV series Kung Fu debuted in 1972, and the 1971 indie Billy Jack made a mint when it was re-released in 1973, just a few months before Enter the Dragon hit theaters—the fact that Enter the Dragon was a U.S./Hong Kong coproduction ensured the film was steeped in genre tropes most American audiences hadn’t seen before. Furthermore, director Robert Clouse shot Enter the Dragon’s fight scenes in such an enjoyably cartoonish manner that the picture became a major inspiration the ’70s kung fu craze. So, while it’s easy to identify the picture’s campy faults (many of which were mercilessly satirized in the 1977 comedy flick Kentucky Fried Movie), Enter the Dragon is unquestionably one of the defining movies of the ’70s.

Enter the Dragon: GROOVY

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hey, Peter, I'm so glad I found your blog. Man, what memories these movies bring up.

Yes, by far, Enter the Dragon is the best Kung fu movie, ever!

Very insightful blog, will be back for more.

When you get time, visit our family blog at: Cop-a-squat.com and cop-a-squat and let's talk.

~Paul Worthington