Review: ‘Enter the Dragon’

As the film that introduced Bruce Lee to Western audiences, "Enter the Dragon" has managed to keep its cult status for more than 30 years. Produced in a historic Hong Kong-Hollywood joint venture, "Enter the Dragon" was intended to bring Lee's skills and philosophy to America.

As the film that introduced Bruce Lee to Western audiences, “Enter the Dragon” has managed to keep its cult status for more than 30 years. Produced in a historic Hong Kong-Hollywood joint venture, “Enter the Dragon” was intended to bring Lee’s skills and philosophy to America. It succeeded, but it is still debatable whether its success was due to its own merits as a martial arts spectacle or to the unfortunate and mysterious death of Lee, whose own cult is much bigger than any of his films.

Coinciding with the success of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” pics, the director’s homage to the martial arts films of the Shaw Brothers (who pre-date Bruce Lee), this two-disc set also commemorates the 30th anniversary of the first kung fu actioner most Western audiences had ever seen.

Unfortunately, this set includes most of the initial DVD release from five years ago (with a new, cleaned-up digital transfer). There are some extra bonus features, but the only commentary comes from producer Paul Heller, who did the previous disc. Commentary from widow Linda Lee Cadwell or Lee’s co-stars would have been a kick for fans. Still, this is the version to own.

Among the five hours of material is a new 30-minute documentary, “Blood and Steel: Making of ‘Enter the Dragon,'” (“Blood and Steel” was the original name of the film). Disc also includes previously seen docs “Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey,” which re-creates Lee’s vision for “Game of Death,” released after he died; and producer Fred Weintraub’s excellent “Bruce Lee: The Curse of the Dragon,” narrated by George Takei.

In the latter, co-star Chuck Norris compares Lee to James Dean and Elvis Presley. But according to actor and former student James Coburn, Lee really wanted the career of another student: Steve McQueen. As Coburn says, “Steve wanted what Bruce had, and Bruce wanted what Steve had.” In a sad footnote, doc includes footage of McQueen and Coburn as pallbearers at Lee’s funeral.

The plot of “Enter the Dragon” was influenced by the James Bond films: the hero pitted against a power-hungry megalomaniac on a remote island. (Ironically, Bond would return the favor by using kung fu elements in “The Man With the Golden Gun” two years later.) Yet in many ways Lee was more believable than Bond. Deprived of gadgets, he had to rely on his wits and fighting technique. And even the thin story of “Enter the Dragon” allowed him some internal battles (such as the instinct to avenge his sister vs. his anti-violence philosophy).

Warner Bros., unconvinced of Lee’s bankability, cast the martial arts master opposite then Hollywood star John Saxon, a brown belt in karate, and martial arts champ Jim Kelly (soon to be an action star himself in 1974’s “Black Belt Jones”).

While Lee’s sudden death weeks before the movie’s release solidified his icon status, he also influenced generations to come, including “The Matrix” trilogy and John Woo’s films, as well as action stars like Jet Li and Jackie Chan. (Chan was a stunt man in “Enter the Dragon,” and fellow action star Sammo Hung appears as Lee’s first opponent.)

Other extras include an array of “Dragon” trailers and TV spots.

Film is notable for its funky Lalo Schifrin score, which stands on its own as a classic. Lee once told Schifrin he used to train to the composer’s “Mission: Impossible” theme.

Enter the Dragon

Two disc special edition


A Warner Bros. Home Video release of the 1973 Warner Bros. release. Produced by Bruce Lee, Paul Heller, Fred Weintraub and Leonard Ho. Directed by Robert Clouse. Written by Michael Allin.


With: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Bob Wall, Shih Kien, Jim Kelly.
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