Film review: Enter the Dragon

Enter the Dragon (1973) directed by Robert Clouse

I can’t believe I hadn’t seen this movie sooner.

This film truly holds up as a masterpiece of 70s Hong Kong martial arts cheese. You know, I don’t get why people are so keen on martial arts parodies (Kung Fury, Kung Pow!, Ku Fu Hustle, what have you) when the originals are already quite comically entertaining. I must’ve giggled every five or so minutes while watching this movie. And what makes authentic martial arts film obviously superior to their soft knuckle parodies is that they depict people who are actually talented at martial arts.

So what’s the grand plot of this masterpiece? The late, great Bruce Lee plays a powerful Shaolin monk imaginatively named ‘Lee’. Due to his abilities, Lee is called upon by the British intelligence service to infiltrate a martial arts tournament being held on a private island off the coast of Hong Kong by the villainous crime boss Han.

On his perilous journey, Lee is accompanied by two diversity hires. Roper, a cardsharp white guy, as well as Williams, a streetwise black guy (who, incidentally, was forced to beat up two racist American cops on his way to Hong Kong because duh). There’s also some backstory about Lee’s sister being murdered by one of Han’s henchmen, but I’m not entirely sure what that was all about.

Now, if this sounds awfully similar to the half-assed plot of every PlayStation fighting game in existence, then you’d be right: Enter the Dragon was a brave pioneer in finding excuse scenarios for shirtless dudes to beat the snot out of each other in an enclosed environment.

Lets quickly run down a list of what Enter the Dragon has in store for you, dear moviegoer:

  • A preposterous fighting tournament island? Check.
  • A howling Bruce Lee who conveniently keeps getting his shirt ripped off? Check.
  • A funk-inspired soundtrack? Check.
  • A low budget Bond villain and evil lair? Check.
  • A thirteen-year-old boy’s conception of racial/sexual politics? Single, double, triple check.

To elaborate on that last point, during their stay, the hospitable yet nefarious Han sends Lee, Roper, and Williams his entourage of beautiful ladies as evening gifts. Lee—the pure and righteous Asian man—declines the offer and keeps his mind on the mission. In contrast, Roper (our token white guy) goes straight to the top and seduces the head procuress, while Williams (our mighty black hero) shows off his libidinal kung fu by going to bed with multiple women at the same time. It’s not exactly subtle.

In my opinion, it’s worth checking out if you get the chance. A lot of the fight choreography still holds up. And Hong Kong in its heyday is rendered, albeit briefly, in all its robust glory. Just remember that this is a film where the villain pets a white cat while delivering a monologue. Really.

“You have offended my family and you have offended the Shaolin Temple!”

An odd observation: One of the side characters in the movie is supposed to be a thuggish kung fu fighter from New Zealand. However, he is played by a Queensland martial artist. Sure, whatever. But what makes this case truly bizarre was that the director—in his attempt to make the character more Kiwi—decided to dub over the actor’s dialogue with what sounds to my ears like a mangled Aussie bogan accent, rendering the character even less of a New Zealander than initially.

Truly, a thirteen-year-old boy’s conception of the world.

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