Ever seen a 70s martial arts movie? Even if you haven’t, I bet you know exactly what to expect from this one. I don’t think I’d ever watched one until now. But Bruce Lee and everything about Enter the Dragon have been parodied and referenced so many times in the years since, that it’s hard to not feel like I’ve seen it all before.
After topping his class at ass kicking school, Lee (Bruce Lee) is deployed on a covert mission to infiltrate the island lair of Mr Han (Kien Shih). He’s running drugs and running whores, and not the willing ones with hearts of gold either. These chicks are straight up kidnapped and sold as sex slaves. Every few years, Mr Han holds a tournament to help strengthen his ranks of henchmen. Lee uses the tournament as an excuse to pop over, and there is much fighting.
As a bad guy, Mr Han is just a little too over the top. In a movie that seems to have gone all out on sets and locations, the dodgy cheapness of his many fake hands is laughable. The last one seriously looks like 4 steaks knives sticking out of a tissue box spray painted silver. His henchman, Bolo Yeung, is legitimately threatening and would have made a much more menacing opponent for Lee’s final battle. But I guess the film makers thought Mr Han and his chintzy fake bare claw were more impressive.
The story is paper thin and really doesn’t matter. What does matter is, it keeps finding reasons to have dudes fight. Mr Han as a couple of scary bodyguards and Lee gets some almost allies in Williams (Jim Kelley) and Roper (John Saxon). As American fighters taking part in the tournament, they also get a couple of cool fight scenes each to add a little variety.
I know this is probably a dumb question, typical of someone new to the genre, but seriously, what’s the story with the sound effects? How did they become a staple of this kind of movie? Did people back in the day think they were badass? Because all I could think with every ‘crack’, ‘snap’ and ‘thonk’ was how ridiculous, cartoony and just dumb they were.
One thing about Enter the Dragon that does more than hold up though, is Bruce Lee’s fighting. Watching, it became immediately clear why he’s still the most famous name associated with movie martial arts, even though he’s been dead for forty years. His physicality, intensity and skill is just amazing. It’s impossible not be blown away when he’s really going for it.
From what I can tell, Enter the Dragon is the epitome of this genre. The sound effects, the slow motion fights, the constantly zooming camera, the bad over dubbing of voices, the awesome soundtrack. This seems to be the blueprint of every rip off and piss-take I’ve ever seen. And for all its cheesiness, I totally understand its place as genre classic.