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Enter the Dragon

BREAKING NEWS: ENTER THE DRAGON is a classic and it’s mainly because of Bruce Lee’s performance. More on this story as it develops.

Okay maybe that’s old news. He’d been trying for years to become a superstar in the US (he only went back to hong kong after being dissed one too many times by the white man). So it was a big deal for him to have his big american co-production. And in the movie he has so much screen presence that they had to build a special type of camera to film him, after going through six different regular cameras that broke because of his power.

Actually that’s complete bullshit, I just made that up. That woulda been cool though. Anyway anything you need to know about why Bruce Lee is such an icon is in this movie: the arrogant persona (his character is actually kind of a dick), the perfect physique, the powerful moves, the cool nunchucks, the occasional philosophy, the greatest theme song of all time (thank you Lalo Schifrin). But everybody knows that. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know if I talk about that. So let’s give some credit to the rest of the movie. For example, co-star John Saxon.

Enter the DragonNow right now I gotta apologize to John Saxon. More than once in other reviews I used him as an example of a certain type of action direction. I said that in this movie, they pulled the camera back to show everything Bruce was doing, and pushed it in to hide what John was not doing. Maybe I imagined it, maybe it just looks that way on the pan and scan tv version. But seeing the widescreen version I see that John Saxon (or stunt double) does do some good kicks and punches and crap. What I said was true to a certain extent but not as bad as I remembered it. And most of all I should acknowledge that Mr. Saxon did fine and apparently has a blackbelt in karate even though he was hired for his acting, which he has a brown belt in.

Even not counting Bruce there’s a real good cast. Sammo Hung is in there (fighting Bruce in the opening scene and doing amazing fat man handsprings), Bolo “Chinese Hercules” Yeung is in there as the imaginatively named henchman character Bolo, and of course you got Jim “Blackbelt Jones” Kelly and John Saxon as Bruce’s fellow good guy competitors. Jim and John both get flashbacks to explain why they’re on this island, and that makes me root for them. John owes a bunch of money to some mafia types, he’s only got 63 bucks in the bank and he needs to win the competition to get the money. Jim was about to go anyway but some fuckin pigs started harassing him, so he beat the shit out of them and stole their car. So it’s probaly best he’s on an island somewhere for a while. (Although he ends up staying there longer than you would wish. Spoiler.)

Bruce tops them all though because he has a landmark three motives for this movie. I can’t think of another kung fu movie that has to give three different motives. #1, he is sent on a mission to restore the honor of the Shaolin Temple, because this former shaolin monk Han is going around being an asshole, giving the Temple a bad name. #2, some british dudes want to send him there on a secret agent type mission to prove that Han is responsible for all these girls who keep turning up dead. It seems like Bruce lucked out getting sent on a secret agent mission to do something he was about to do anyway. And then he finds out #3, Han’s henchmen killed his sister. Or at least cornered her so she killed herself.

At the beginning we see that Bruce is from Shaolin, which I figure means he’s a monk. But he doesn’t seem like a monk because he wears a suit and tie sometimes, he goes on secret agent missions, he suggests killing the villain with a gun, and he even gambles. (It’s cool gambling though, he wins a hundred bucks on a praying mantis fight.) In comparison to Han though, he’s pretty straight laced. That fucker is no monk. He has a self sufficient island fortress with its own harem, heroin production plant, grape-feeding, and more. He not only wears a suit like Bruce does, he also has a collection of metal prosthetic hands. Some are like regular hands but one of them has fur on it and another one is like a bird talon. And one like Wolverine from the x-man movies. I figure if he was a monk he wouldn’t even get one prosthetic hand because you’re supposed to be humble and not own stuff, are you? But definitely not a variety of styles.

The writer of the movie (some gwilo named Michael Allin who later wrote TRUCK TURNER) admits he didn’t know shit about martial arts or kung fu movies, but that helps I think because it’s weird seeing a kung fu movie that thinks it’s supposed to be a James Bond or a Flint movie. You got this crazy island and a weird villain (“straight out of a comic book” says Jim Kelly) and a bunch of deadly killer babes and a gimmicky end scene. Bruce sneaks around a secret fortress at night, but he’s so good at it that he gets bored and yawns. This movie also takes the one-man-against-many cliche to the highest possible level. There is literally dozens of dudes swarming down the hallway toward Bruce and for him dispatching them is about as hard as swatting a bunch of ping pong balls with a tennis racket.

I mentioned Flint a minute ago and that reminds me, James Coburn was one of Bruce Lee’s celebrity students. He tried to help Bruce develop american projects like the one that became Kung Fu and the one that became CIRCLE OF IRON. There’s a documentary on the ENTER THE DRAGON dvd that has footage from Bruce’s funeral here in Seattle. And James Coburn and Steve McQueen were two of the pallbearers. Can you imagine that? James Coburn and Steven McQueen were both learning kung fu from this guy. Of course it’s a real bummer he had such a young death by misadventure but especially if you figure he coulda made a kung fu movie with him, Coburn and Steve McfuckingQueen. The Great Escape 2, maybe.

One of these days I’m gonna do a thorough study of the works of Robert Clouse. This guy directed all across the spectrum of martial arts because he did everything from this to BLACKBELT JONES to GYMKATA and CHINA O’BRIEN. Also THE BIG BRAWL with Jackie Chan which alot of people say is bad but I liked it years ago. Partly due to Lalo Schifrin’s funky theme song though.

In the end though I gotta wonder, what the fuck happened to John Saxon’s character, Roper? He gives Bruce a thumbs up but here he is with no tournament and no money. Did he get killed when he came back? Did he just stay on the island? Maybe he stole some of Han’s artifacts, sold them on ’70s ebay, and paid the guys back. I don’t know but I hope some day they make a sequel to explain it. Dear America, we plan to make a sequel to Enter the Dragon, but since Bruce Lee is dead it will be only about John Saxon’s character. Thank you for your understanding. It is mainly for Vern, he requested this. Your friend, international co-production. I’m sure that would go over well.

This entry was posted on Friday, June 24th, 2005 at 12:15 pm and is filed under Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

48 Responses to “Enter the Dragon”

  1. It kills me…kills me…that the great William Smith was offered the part that went to Saxon, but he had to turn it down due to other commitments.

    Lee and Smith in a movie together? My mind would never stop gettin’ blown, man.

  2. This is on tv right now. i love it. It’s a classic for sure. Is it really the best martial arts movie of all time though?

  3. It isn’t but my God is it great.

  4. I hope my question isn’t saying it’t not great because it is great.

  5. Vern, I was gonna say that I guess we’ll never know what happened to Roper, but John Saxon is 83 next week.

    And then I saw the story from earlier this week that David Leitch is “in talks” to remake ENTER THE DRAGON. So, if it ever happens, I think we must hope that they deal with the whole what-happened-to-Roper situation.

  6. Guys – can I be real a second? For just a millisecond?

    I never saw ENTER THE DRAGON before. I have no idea why, but it was playing in the local theater on Saturday so obviously I went. Great atmosphere – 11pm show, sold out theater full of hipsters shouting and cheering, they even showed awesome trailers before the movie (MS 45, HIT MAN, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, TANGO & CASH, SAMURAI COP). So I enjoyed the hell out of it.

    But…this is an objectively BAD movie. There’s a few minutes of Bruce Lee being awesome here and there but most of the movie is kind of terrible. The plot makes absolutely no sense and most of the people in it couldn’t fight to save their lives (get the fuck out of here with that John Saxon black belt bullshit). I have pretty much zero interest in seeing it again. If I had never heard of ENTER THE DRAGON and just randomly came across this on cable, I would not think it was a classic. This movie is not fit to hold BLOODSPORT’s bloody bandana. I feel like this is maybe one of those movies that people see and love when they’re young and watch it now with rose-tinted glasses.

    Sidebar – speaking of BLOODSPORT, I always love seeing Bolo Yeung. True story – my dad ate dinner at his house once in HK. He invested in a movie in the 90s that had Bolo in it. He also met Cyndi Lauper while he was in HK…I’m not sure which one I’m more jealous of.

  7. That was very brave of you. Whenever someone says it’s the greatest martial arts movie of all time I think they are insane.

  8. I love ENTER THE DRAGON but I haven’t watched it all the way through it since I was probably 15 or 16, so maybe the bloom would be off the rose if I saw it now. I think it’s got some absolutely great iconic moments (Bruce licking the blood from the cut- what??? Incredibly badass), but even as a kid, I was annoyed that John Saxon lives and Jim Kelly dies. The movie would be improved quite a bit if that were reversed in my opinion.

    I guess thinking about it, it probably wouldn’t even make my personal top 5 martial arts movies, given the quality of what we can expect these days.

  9. It’s not a great martial arts movie but it is a great piece of funky 70s schlock. The theme song alone!

  10. Of course it’s not the greatest martial arts movie ever made! But we have to consider the time it hit theaters. The James Bond craze was at a new high, blaxploitation was in and kung fu was a new thing for most people. ENTER THE DRAGON has everything you could want from a movie at this particular time in history. The sold posters of Lee for years to people who hadn’t even heard of the movie. And I would claim that it’s the only one from Bruce that todays kids would ever consider to sit through. The others are to badly lit and styled to even get a vote in.

  11. That’s entirely possible with it being on English and everything.

    The score is pretty great.

  12. I think Bruce not being a blue-collar hero or ‘hero for the people’ really takes a lot out of his appeal. He’s not nearly as fun or exciting to watch as just another guy working for the man.

    Still like it though and the only people whoever said it was the best martial arts movie of all time never watch martial arts movies.

  13. By the way, what is the best martial arts movie ever made?

  14. Bruce Lee = RETURN OF THE DRAGON. The fight with Norris at the end is amazing.

    Jackie Chan = DRUNKEN MASTER 2 or POLICE STORY 2, depending on how I feel when I get out of bed.

    Jet Li = ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 2 or FIST OF LEGEND. See above.

    Other contenders: THE RAID. THE PROTECTOR. A case could be made for JOHN WICK 2 or 3, I think.

    Those are my faves. Looking forward to seeing what you guys think.

  15. My instantaneous, gut reaction was THE RAID so that’s my vote because if I actually start thinking about it, I’ll never be able to pick one. My brain is already trying to make me come up with more choices.

  16. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon win an Oscar so that’s something.

  17. I don’t think there’s a correct answer, but if it’s going to be considered there have to be some Shaw Brothers joints in contention. 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER is the best I’ve seen and 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN does it for me on repeat viewings.

  18. Wrong! There is an answer:

    Gymkata's Pommel Horse Fight (DTM Presents #002)

    Dollar Theater Massacre Presents #002 This is THE fight scene from 1985's Gymkata, in which Olympic Gymnast Johnathan Cabot (played by actual gymnast Kurt Th...

  19. 8 Diagram Pole Fighter is a strong choice. Broadening to include wu xia movies, other Shaw Bros flicks I would add into consideration:

    New One-Armed Swordsman
    Five Element Ninjas
    The Crippled Avengers
    Shaolin Intruders

    I could keep listing great Shaw Bros movies, but those are the ones I consider the creme de le creme.

    Non-Shaw Bros:

    Come Drink With Me
    Dragon Gate Inn
    Police Story
    Young Master
    The Raid movies
    The Night Comes for Us
    Duel to the Death

  20. I guess the list changes every now and then, but right now it’s FIST OF LEGEND, 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER, ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA II and DRAGONS FOREVER as runners up, and with IRON MONKEY on top. Can’t get enough of that movie!

  21. For the record, I’ve never seen anyone actually call ENTER THE DRAGON the “best” martial arts movie ever but after watching it this week I looked it up and a lot of people call it “one of the best kung fu movies” which is bullshit IMO.

    I think when people try to name the best martial arts movie they tend to: 1) overrate the older movies that influenced everything after; and 2) try to answer what they think other people want to hear.

    Like pegsman said, the list changes frequently but my tgut op 5 based on how many times I’ve rewatched and enjoyed them are:

    1. POLICE STORY 1
    2. BLOODSPORT
    3. BLOOD AND BONE
    4. UNDISPUTED 2/3/4
    5. THE PROTECTOR

    I might have a bias because I rewatched POLICE STORY like 2 weeks ago but what a fucking movie that is! I was grinning from ear to ear the whole time. To be honest, I don’t remember POLICE STORY 2 but I just put it on. I love that it starts with highlights from POLICE STORY 1…I was kind of tempted to just watch that one again. Anyway, the above are all movies that if I walked past a TV playing them, I would immediately stop and watch the whole movie.

    I should mention that I have not seen too many Shaw Brothers movies. In the last few months I watched 36 CHAMBERS OF SHAOLIN, RETURN TO THE 36 CHAMBERS, and THE FIVE VENOMS for the first time. And they are awesome, but for me they are just not as good as more recent stuff, and not nearly as rewatchable. I love older movies in general, but when it comes to martial arts, there has been a quantum leap in quality since the 70s (though I appreciate those movies especially for the qualities they have that can’t be replicated these days). I definitely need to watch 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER. And also THE FLYING GUILLOTINE. Maybe this weekend.

  22. Actually, I came here to defend ENTER THE DRAGON, but I see y’all have moved on.

    Even so, just to be clear, even if ENTER THE DRAGON was never the greatest martial arts movie ever, there is no way it is an objectively bad movie. As noted above, Schifrin’s score is great; the production values are well above anything seen in Bruce’s other films and pretty much above the Shaw Brothers output in general; the plot’s coherent; the lead is charismatic; John Saxon is drole and Jim Kelly is cool: it has memorable dialogue: and it has multiple great moments – Aberdeen Harbour, the fight with Oharra, the dungeon fights, the mirror room – and those moments belong to Bruce, the star. Jim Kelly may’ve been a better actor than John Saxon was a martial artist, but we also get Bob Wall and Bolo, and anyway – subjectively – I always liked Roper. Retrospectively, we also get to enjoy Sammo Hung, and Jackie Chan and the voice of Keye Luke. All that and you get a sub-Bond plot that also involves a secret fight tournament. Sure mileage may vary, but this is not a bad movie.

    “Don’t think. FEEL! It’s like a finger pointing away to the moon… Do not concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!”

  23. I personally would not put Police Story on the list when I don’t even think it’s Jackie Chan’s best movie. It’s not even the best Police Story. It’s fucking awesome when it’s awesome though.

  24. I don’t think anyone would call ENTER THE DRAGON a bad movie. It’s just a reaction to the fact that a lot of people have posters of Bruce with the scars from Han’s claws on their walls, next to Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, and they’ve decided that this is THE kung fu icon of all times.

  25. Well, if we’re doing lists, (and since my Star Trek Facebook game won’t load), here’s my mostly uninformed Top 5 Chop Socky Flicks, sans commentary:

    1. Fist of Legend
    2. Drunken Master (’78)
    3. IP Man
    4. Supercop
    5. Operation: Condor

  26. A quick look at the various lists tells me that Fei-Hung Wong is a popular guy. And that’s a role I would really have liked to see Bruce Lee take on. Even if his style would have clashed with Wong’s.

  27. RIP Ringo Lam. I will have to watch his Say-Yuk Fong movie BURNING PARADISE tonight.

  28. Sternshein – when is the last time you watched POLICE STORY? When I saw it recently I had the mindset going in that there is a lot of crappy acting and lame comedy with amazing action sprinkled throughout. And I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the whole movie, even the lame comedy. And the action? It is absolutely crazy. I rewound and watched the opening scene 3 times! The mall scene I only watched 2 times but still. It is an incredible achievement just for those two scenes alone and there is lots of other amazing stuff in between. So that’s why I give it the #1 slot. I will finish watching POLICE STORY 2 tonight and report back.

    Borg9 – I enjoyed ETD for what it was but for me it was some awesome stuff crammed into a bad movie. I can see why people like it and I can definitely see its influence, but I don’t think it stacks up very well at all against later martial arts and kung fu movies. And most of the awesome stuff I had seen already through other media. But you know what bothered me the most about that movie? It’s supposed to be based around a fighting tournament and they don’t show any brackets, they only show like half of the first round, the whole thing makes no sense (like the rest of the movie).

  29. I watched it on July 5th of last year. It’s great. I’m not saying it’s not great but there is too much junk filler in the middle and he has had better fight scenes before and after. If we’re talking greatest stunt movie of all time, I’d say it’s probably up there. But we’re talking martial arts movies and it doesn’t rank that high in that regard.

  30. I watched a bunch of Jackie’s movies last year, and even if DRAGONS FOREVER is a better martial arts movie, POLICE STORY is way up there.

  31. Sorry, if I was overly strident. I don’t want to come across as a Bruce fanboy, I just think that, irrespective of its influence or legacy, there’s too much awesome stuff in ETD to allow us to dismiss it as simply a bad movie.

    But there’s a lot going on in these comments now, and I’ve “wasted” a lot of time today trying to get my head around it. By greatest martial arts movies, I assume we mean great movies with great fights, not just one or the other. So the original SPL and FLASH POINT have great fights (well, a great fight in the case of FLASH POINT) but are less than perfect movies, while the later King Hu wuxia films are truly great but no one watches them for the fights.

    Also, I’ll happily concede that the rose-tinted thing is real: I love the first Mad Max movie far more than any of the sequels, while I can see that at least two of the sequels are objectively better, just because of what it meant at the time.

    But I don’t think people who profess love for old Shaw Brothers movies are simply succumbing to nostalgia or some critical orthodoxy. I may be misattributing, and I’m certainly paraphrasing, but I think it was Mr. Majestyk who said that in order to care about the fight, I first need to care about the fighter. And that’s what those old movies have going for them.

    I certainly don’t need “realism”, whatever that is. The people who complain about papier mache sets, or crimson blood, or absurd physics-mocking wire work will hold up something like THE NIGHT COMES FOR US (a great film, to be sure) as somehow better because it is “more realistic”, completely ignoring the impossibility of a human being taking those kind of beatings. What I, what we, want is suspension of disbelief. Once I’m invested in the story and the character they can jump over buildings or take on an army with a pencil, and if they do it with artistry and imagination, you’ll probably get a great movie.

    So yes:
    THE 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER – Hallsy, you WILL want one of those wooden wolves!
    THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN
    COME DRINK WITH ME – actually a Shaw Bros film; Hu got tired of their penny-pinching and took himself off to Taiwan afterwards.
    DRAGON GATE INN
    FIST OF LEGEND
    TOM-YUM-GOONG – Can we all just agree to call it that and forget Dragon Dynasty ever heard of it? It was WARRIOR something here in the UK anyway.
    THE RAID
    and
    SPL2 – I know there are people here who didn’t care for it, but it really is the modern benchmark.

    Did I already apologise for being overly strident?

  32. I don’t think that was me. I’ve cared about lots of fights over the years without giving a damn about the fighters. But it is always better when you give a damn who wins or loses.

    I feel like I was giving ETD short shrift. I am probably the biggest Bruce Lee skeptic here, simply because there are like 30 screen martial artists who have far better filmographies than he does so I resist the hero worship that goes along with his name. But none of that matters because ETD is a magnificently entertaining motion picture, full of iconic images and sequences, fun characters, and some of the best mystical hokum ever committed to film. It might not be the best 70s movie, but it’s probably the most 70s movie.

  33. I don’t know what strident means but there’s certainly nothing to apologize for. I love the kind of people that love Bruce Lee movies and I knew before I posted that my take would probably look a bit silly.

  34. Enter the Dragon is good fun, and I say this as someone who is not at all a Bruce Lee fan, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that it’s partly responsible for why Americans think martial arts movies are corny bullshit movies for kids where dudes make silly noises and strike weird poses and the plot is a bunch of comic book nonsense. This movie, along with the bad dubbing that was done to a lot of movies back in the day, have lead people to think of the whole genre as kitschy and worthy of mockery.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, there ARE plenty of risible martial arts movies like that, but also lots of classic action/adventure movies that are more akin to our Westerns than they are the stereotypical “So, you think your kung fu is pretty good, huh?” depiction you always get in pop culture, at least when I was growing up.

  35. *can’t shake the feeling

  36. I was kinda turning this question over in my head all yesterday and I still don’t think I can come up with a totally satisfying answer. There’s just such a range of tone that it really depends what I’m in the mood for on a given day- Hard-hitting, kinetic fights? ONG-BAK! Gritty crime thriller? THE NIGHT COMES FOR US! Swords and samurais? SWORD OF DOOM! Period-piece pseudo-biopic? IP MAN! Straight-up comedy? KUNG FU HUSTLE!

    I think, today, right now, if I had to point to a single movie that encapsulates what I enjoy about martial arts flicks, I guess the *overall winner* for me would be 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN. But I’m realizing that I don’t think I’ve seen 8 DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER, so maybe I should get on that.

  37. Yeah, I think I just meant that I didn’t mean to bite anybody’s head off.

    Mr. M, so perhaps it was Original Paul, a fellow Briton and an entertaining controversialist. In any case, you’re right. I nearly added BLOOD AND BONE to my list until I realised it contradicted my argument. But maybe the cold open fight there is a statement of intent, the film makers writing a cheque they then proceed to cash in handsomely.

  38. That does sound like Paul. I think I argued with him about it so you confused the two of us. It’s a pretty good theory but in practice there are way too many amazing fights between bland leading men and faceless stunt guys to discount the sheer joy of dynamic movement as a major component of a fight scene’s success.

  39. If we’re talking best fights, then I think we are all sleeping on NINJA 2. But at the same time, I don’t rate it very highly overall as a movie. The fights are amazing though. I should re-watch that one.

  40. Hallsy, I also have Ninja 2 on tap for a rewatch. I’ve gotten over my weird aversion to Scott Adkins. Don’t ask.

  41. I think the dubbing and look of the DEADLY VENOMS movies are more responsible for all those parodies and jokes. ENTER THE DRAGON was more something you had to like if you were to be considered to be cool. And, to be fair, compared to the other stars from Hong Kong at that time, Bruce Lee was a very charismatic star. And the movie, as Majestyk said, fit the vibe of the 70’s like a glove.

  42. I was reminded this morning about Jackie Chan. This past year I saw both Police Story and Drunken Master 2 and Drunken Master 2, in my opinion, is the much better movie.

  43. It’s better as a martial arts movie, you mean?

  44. I said what I said :)

    It’s both a better movie and a better martial arts movie.

  45. A few years ago I would have agreed with you. But having re-watched a bunch of Jackie’s movies recently I must say I find the old school humour involving Fei-Hung’s parents in DRUNKEN MASTER 2 a bit off putting. Liu probably meant it as a hommage to 70’s films, but it wasn’t funny back then either. At least the comedy involving Maggie Cheung in POLICE STORY pass as good slapstick.

  46. I have never actually seen either DRUNKEN MASTER so I just ordered the blu ray of part 2 (also ordered WHO AM I and MR NICE GUY).

  47. Who Am I isn’t a good movie throughout but the rooftop fight scene near the end is one of his greatest figure scenes.

    There is a whole scene in Police Story involving the fake attempt at the murder/rape of Brigitte Lin. 80s/90s HK humor ia weird

  48. I was surprised to find that NEW POLICE STORY was very good, in fact one of Chan’s best.

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