Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Enter the Dragon (25th Anniversary Special Edition)

The Action Mutant…
clears the passage of his inner sanctum after one too many Cherry Cokes.

Enter the Dragon

review by Joe Burrows

When it comes to certain genres, it’s all about seminal moments. For War films, it was the harrowing bombing scenes in All Quiet on the Western Front. For Romance, it was Rhett telling Scarlett he didn’t give a damn. For Pauly Shore, it was BioDome (God, I hated that movie). For Martial Arts, it had to be (to me, at least) the climactic “mirror maze” scene in Enter the Dragon. That sequence (wholly reminiscent of the climax of Orson Welles’ 1948 cult classic The Lady from Shanghai) showed that Martial Arts films could be something more than the badly dubbed, late night punch lines they would eventually become. Many believed that if the film’s star hadn’t died way too soon (three weeks before the movie’s premiere), it would have never gotten to that point. Of course, it’s all hindsight now but considering the film was also the seminal moment of Bruce Lee’s very short career, one has to wonder what could have been. (Note: This is a review of the 110 minute 25th Anniversary Special Edition, as opposed to the 99 minute original theatrical version.)

The Plot, as it was:
Bruce is Lee (yeah, stretch much), the highest ranking pupil of the Shaolin Temple. He gets invited to a prestigious Martial Arts tournament held by the evil Han (Shih Kien). It’s not that simple though, as government agent Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks) recruits Lee to infiltrate Han’s island fortress and bust up his drug producing/smuggling ring. He isn’t alone, as American fighters Roper and Williams (John Saxon and Jim Kelly) have their own agendas and soon realize this is no normal tournament.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
I’m just going to get this out of the way right now… Enter the Dragon is slightly overrated. Be honest with yourself; would this film be as memorable without Bruce Lee as the lead? The story, which was admittedly banged out quickly to capitalize on Lee’s burgeoning popularity in the states, is nothing new and it seemingly takes forever to get to the fireworks fact…I mean, island (did we really need all of those flashback sequences?) To be honest, the flick comes across as one of those “the sum of its parts is better than the whole” deals. Of course, the biggest part is Bruce Lee and when he gets a chance to do his thing in the film’s second half, we’re treated to a Kung Fu smorgasbord of fun. His war cries, charisma, magma-like intensity and general kickassery are enough to make even the slightest film memorable. That’s not to say that there aren’t other memorable elements of EtD, as Saxon and Kelly have their moments to shine and Kien makes the iron handed Han deliciously evil (also, count all of the future Martial Arts stars that make bit roles). But let’s face it, it’s The Bruce Lee Show and we’re all just along for the ride…even if it takes a while to get started.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Though not a big surprise, that’s Bolo Yeung (credited under the name Yang Sze) as Han’s muscle Bolo. He was 35 at the time, which needs to be pointed out because he would be 50 when he had his biggest role in 1988’s Bloodsport.
- Jackie Chan shows up but don’t blink…he’s the extra/thug that gets his neck snapped by Bruce.
- Sammo Hung (Magnificent Butcher) is the chubby, yet agile fighter that Bruce spars with in the opening scene.
- Yuen Biao is one of the tournament fighters. Interestingly, all “Three Brothers” are unaccredited. My, how that would change.
- Keye Luke (Gremlins, TV’s Kung Fu) overdubbed Shih Kien’s dialogue, as the latter actor didn’t speak English and just phonetically sounded out his lines.

Body Count/Violence: 12. And this is definitely up for discussion! The thing is Bruce does so much ass kicking in the second half (kicks, punches, tosses, backdrops, stomps, necksnaps, etc.) that it’s hard to count which ones are deaths and which are just beatings. Wah Yuen (one of the tournament fighters) is credited as being killed thrice in the film, playing a different character each time. However, I couldn’t point the man out even if I tried so needless to say, I gave up counting long into the climactic fight. The 12 are mainly the principal characters and ones that are pretty easy to point out (the four fighters Bolo mauls, for example) but if you threw in everyone that Bruce beats down, it would easily reach past 100. There’s also some stabbing, slashing, impaling and such but nothing too bloody.

Sexuality/Nudity: Ahna Capri shows her chest in a bedroom scene and there’s some gratuitous T&A in another bedroom shot.

Language/Dialogue: I could have sworn Saxon said “bullshit” at one point but it seemed kind of muted so other than that…no.

How bad was it?:
Everyone pretty much terms this an Action classic for one reason only…John Saxon! I kid, I kid. It’s for the man …you know, the big guy. No, not that big guy…Bruce!

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Did it ever! Produced in a scant 2 months for a crazy small budget of $850,000, Enter the Dragon would be released widely on 8/19/73 and go on to gross an estimated $25 million in the states for Warner Bros. It would earn another $90 million overseas and it’s pretty apparent that had Bruce Lee lived on, he could have punched his proverbial ticket just about anywhere.

Film: ***1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ****1/2/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.

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