a critiQal film review Enter the Dragon (1973)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Lee (Lee) agrees to spy for an intelligence agency while attending the exclusive martial arts tournament the reclusive Han (Shih) is hosting on his own private island.

666 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 19s)

Everyone has always said that Bruce Lee is the penultimate martial artist, and that his final film, Enter the Dragon, is the one movie not to miss. Since I’d never gotten around to seeing it, I jumped at the chance when I discovered it available on NetFlix® for instant viewing.

Would this classic kung fu movie be as relevant today, or is Enter the Dragon remembered more fondly since it was Bruce Lee’s last film?

As a veteran martial arts legend, Bruce Lee is known as much for his moves as he is for his acting. While 1973 cinematography couldn’t seem to quite keep up with him, he is still exciting to watch as a fighter in this deadly tournament. His co-horts, including John Saxon, seem a bit out of their element as fellow martial arts fighters, and the acting varies from decent to rather bad, but they manage to stumble through on their way to providing the kicks and punches that viewers are looking for.

Still, those kicks and punches are not without fault, mostly in the directing style. While Bruce delivers solid hit after solid hit that will make viewers wince, the director spends a bit too much time zooming in too close on the characters, and failing to let the viewer watch the action unfold. That isn’t to say the zoom-in technique isn’t occasionally effective – it is, since it sort of pioneers the “first-person” effect that would later become so popular in video games and the like…plus, sometimes it’s interesting not knowing how many opponents the hero is up against. But then this effect gets a bit old, and thankfully there are some sequences where the viewer is able to view both sides.

As with most films, the fight sequences get more complicated as time goes on, involving more and more people. The only exception is an opening sequence involving the only girl fighter in the entire film – and against multiple opponents. This scene nearly outdoes most of the other fight sequences up until the climactic final battle which contains literally more fighters than the viewer can easily count.

The storyline is rather simplistic, with vengeance being the primary goal, and the film at first falters through the use of too many flashbacks, but once the fighters arrive on the island, the film comes together to wend viewers through scene after scene. Sure, there are 70’s-era stereotypes (the single black character in the film boasts of his sexual prowess while sporting an impressive afro and talking about how good he looks while kicking his way through his opponents), but that’s to be expected. It’s nice to see that they let at least one woman do some fighting, however, paving the way for girl fighters from Michelle Yeoh to Maggie Chung to Ziyi Zhang.

Enter the Dragon also was a heavy influence on Mortal Kombat (1995) as well – both the video games and the films. A secret martial arts tournament on a private island owned by a villainous evildoer? Substitute Bruce Lee for Liu Kang, switch cocky black guy Williams with cocky white guy Johnny Cage, let some females into the tournament and add your token black guy, mix with magic and supernatural powers and voila! Enter the Dragon becomes Mortal Kombat (1995).

So, a movie enduring enough to create an entire genre of martial art tournament films – from Mortal Kombat (1995) to Tekken and DOA: Dead or Alive (2006), just to name a few – has got to be good right? Yup. Despite the heavy use of flashbacks and the occasionally tiresome zoom-in technique, it’s still entertaining as all get out to watch Bruce punch, kick and use every other means at his disposable (including an impressive display with nunchucks) to beat on the bad guys even with the uneven acting and the rather dated cinematography.

Enter the Dragon is still a classic…and despite it’s occasional fault, it’s still easy to see why this concept has spawned so many homages/imitators over the years.

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