At the risk of pissing off a lot of die-hard Bruce Lee fans (myself included actually) it pains me to say that Enter the Dragon just isn’t that good. Jackie Chan has made 10 films better than this and Jet Li half a dozen.
That isn’t to say that this film wasn’t a landmark at the time of release and that it doesn’t show massive promise, it does both of those things. But that is a little like saying were it not for injury or circumstance player X would be a better basketball player than Michael Jordan because, y’know he showed the signs after all!
Don’t worry my pony-tailed readers, I still view Bruce Lee as an icon who broke new ground and ushered in the era which saw Jackie and Jet find success, and he was also a man with amazing charisma and screen presence, but black and white films were amazing to people once too, then time passed and we realised that Big Bird was actually yellow.
Regardless Enter the Dragon will still go down in history as Bruce’s masterwork.
In the opening scenes Bruce consults with his master who it must be said is a total martial arts film cliché complete with wispy glued on beard and a bad dub that uses phrases even the Wu-Tang would find too corny to sample. The early scenes show that Bruce is indeed a great fighter but that he should never grow complacent and stop learning.
Shortly after Bruce is asked by the CIA to use his invite to a secret martial arts tournament to gain access to operations run by a bad guy named Mr Han to find evidence of naughtiness. Han is another villainous cliché whose every word is either a threat or a pompous boast, he even carries around a white cat that he continually strokes! He hosts the tournament every few years on his isolated island and invites only the best of the best along hoping to recruit some to his crew and business, once there the security level is very high. To amplify Bruce’s awareness level he is told by his Dad that one of Mr Han’s henchmen was directly responsible for the death of his sister.
Also invited to the tournament are the up-and-coming Williams (Jim Kelly with a bad-ass afro) and the more experienced crafty veteran Roper (John Saxon who somehow gets equal billing with Lee), along with some other cannon-fodder.
Once on the island there is an opening night grand welcoming banquet, after which there are chicks for all, four or five for Williams alone.
Bruce has a quick snoop and is only somewhat amazed to find there are large underground rooms in which various nefarious things may or may not be happening, along with many poor and needy men who are imprisoned for no apparent reason.
The next day at the tournament Han tells one and all that he knows someone was looking around and he unleashes his pet Bolo Yeung on the guards as a warning… but he doesn’t know Bruce very well.
The first man Bruce faces in the tournament is the treacherous henchman responsible for the death of his sister, needless to say Bruce moves onto the next round and the other guy doesn’t move again…
The tournament instantly becomes irrelevant when the following night Bruce is nabbed in the act in mid-snoop, cue a 25-on-one battle that he is winning easily until he is trapped and isolated. Even though the fight is choreographed in a far more fluid and realistic manner when compared with the older kung-fu movies there is still the sense that attackers are counting down for their shot as Bruce dispatches them, the brilliantly executed chaos of some of Jackie’s better works are non-existent here.
The film moves towards the climactic showdown and as soon as we learn that Mr Han has a metal hand it is always going to come down to him and Lee going one on one. The final fight is well staged but again just doesn’t have the visceral qualities and a sense of danger that other films that arrived later had, and once Bruce wins there are a couple of clumsy thumbs ups and the credits roll.
Final Rating – 8 / 10. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a worthy film despite the fact it hasn’t aged well. It is more a tragedy that Bruce didn’t live long enough to add to his cinematic legacy and set the bar even higher for Jackie Chan and those that followed.