15:00 - 13th September 2013, by Calum Waddell

Enter the Dragon: 40th Anniversary Edition

So here we are, 40 years later, celebrating the most famous martial arts movie of all time. Enter the Dragon is, of course, also the opus that would have launched Bruce Lee into Hollywood superstardom had he not passed away shortly after filming wrapped. Tragically dying aged just 32, Lee left us with only four leading man roles: The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), Way of the Dragon (1972) and this - the only one of the quartet to be shot in English. The question is, then, how does it stand up to Father Time?

The good news is that Enter the Dragon remains a fantastic - if hugely derivative - romp. Helmed by the reliable journeyman Robert Clouse, a puzzling choice for the project given the hack-work which he is most famous for (including 1974's blaxploitation opus Black Belt Jones and 1982's giant rat fear-fiasco Deadly Eyes), the film is certainly slickly produced. The plot, in which Lee is invited to a secluded island to compete in a mysterious martial arts competition, is nothing to write home about. The boss of the battle - Mr. Han (essayed by Hong Kong movie legend Shih Kien) - is using his land, and kung-fu training camp, as a front for a narcotics ring and it is up to Lee to break the charade. What results is a final reel that imitates The Most Dangerous Game (1932), whilst Han and his island are obviously inspired by the villainous aplomb of the James Bond movies - most notably the Japanese-based Sean Connery classic You Only Live Twice (1967).

Lee, who makes up in charisma what he lacks in actual acting talent, is assisted in his mission by two cult favourites: John Saxon - who would later become famous for his role in the Nightmare on Elm Street series - and Jim Kelly, the blaxploitation actor of the aforementioned Black Belt Jones. Whilst Kelly is killed off relatively quickly, the thespian skills of Saxon are more relevant to Enter the Dragon than many have noted, and his charismatic Playboy character really picks up the slack when Lee is not strutting his stuff. As for the actual fights - Enter the Dragon will always be most famous for the sight of Lee stalking Han in a hall of mirrors, with gory lacerations carved deep into his chest. However, there is so much more to appreciate here, even if the pace takes a little time to pick up. The finale - in which Lee breaks necks, whips up a storm with his token nunchakus, and engages in a breathtaking array of perfectly choreographed hand-to-hand combat - is still stunning. Watching this unfold, four decades after-the-fact, and one is reminded of what the world lost when Lee passed away at such a young age.

Ultimately, Lee - with his chiselled body - is nearly impossible not to watch. Putting almost every other action hero in history to shame, Lee's facial expressions, movements and prowess radiate with the confidence of a man on his way to the top of his profession. Even his much imitated, high pitched 'whoop' is less laughable than one might expect, given the endless spoofs that have followed: seen in context, it appears less like a farcical vocalisation and more of an animalistic call to combat. In short: it still carries the power to send shivers down the spine.

Despite the fact Lee would not make another movie (Clouse would wrap a completed film around what little footage existed from the incomplete Game of the Death - the resulting romp released in 1978), it feels redundant to ponder what he may have done after Enter the Dragon. From what does remain of Lee's vision for Game of Death, it is clear that his straight-faced approach to martial arts movies was going to be at odds with the eventual rise of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung (both of whom appear, very briefly, in Enter the Dragon). Consequently, what we are left with - as far as Lee's legacy goes - is grittier and harder edged kung fu epics, whose brutality and bloodletting complimented his own tough guy persona. In this sense, the fierce and unforgiving Enter the Dragon more than serves its purpose.

Ultimately, Way of the Dragon - which famously highlights his gladiatorial showdown with Chuck Norris - is our bet for Lee's finest achievement, but Enter the Dragon rivals The Big Boss as his second best. This 40th Anniversary Edition presents the movie as sharp as it will probably ever look and the vast array of additional features really compliment an understanding of Lee's life as well as the making of this - his most beloved - work. Of course, anyone with even the most fleeting interest in 20th century pop culture has to see Enter the Dragon - which means that if you are reading these words and have yet to own this timeless blockbuster, you really have little excuse not to pick it up now.

Almost entirely critic-proof, Enter the Dragon is so legendary that is feels pointless to criticise its faults. Instead, let us celebrate some kickass kung-fu, Bruce Lee-style.
SCORE: 4/5
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