Sunday, March 15, 2015

Enter the Dragon (1973)

There are lots of icons in action films.  In the 80's, guys like Stallone and Schwarzenegger led the way while the Chuck Norrises, van Dammes and Steven Seagals operated on the second tier of action film stardom.  In the 70's, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds ruled the roost but aside from them, one man was making an innovative splash with martial arts films.

Bruce Lee.

Enter the Dragon is his crowning achievement.  A briskly paced, fantastically entertaining blend of spy caper and martial arts revenge film, it pits Bruce against an evil martial arts master named Han (Shih Kien)who holds a deadly tournament on his private island.  Bruce must go there, not only to extract a British undercover agent but also to get revenge as one of his henchmen (Bob Wall) is responsible for the death of his sister.  Needless to say, our hero has all the motivation he needs to tear every bad guy on that island a new orifice before the film is even twenty minutes old.

Given that the plot is awesome simplicity in itself, let';s move on to the real great stuff.  First off, the cast is top notch,.  Bruce Lee was really a hell of an action star.  Charming, good looking and utterly cool, he strides through the movie with a quiet, playful sense of confidence that leads to some nicely funny bits that also are totally badass.  Put it this way, it takes a special sort of person to dryly remark to a guy smashing a board inches from his face that "boards don't hit back".

The rest of the cast is equally cool with John Saxon turning in a fun role as an unlucky gambler who is entered in the tournament (Though it's probably a bit of a stretch that he can easily beat the crap out of the baddie played by Bloodsport's Bolo Yeung.  Even van Damme had to work for his victory a little more); Jim Kelly is pretty terrific as Williams, a cocky young fighter who of course ends up being our obligatory sacrificial lamb and Shih Kien is fin as Han, giving the villain a classy aura of menace.

While the cast is good, everybody watching this film is here for the action.  This is one of those rare occasions where every single bit of action from, the demonstration fights to the huge epics (as in Bruce going through guards like they're made of paper) is top notch.

While the fight with the guards is a marvel of cinematic violence (one of the unfortunate baddies is a young Jackie Chan) to such a degree that even the bad guy comments on how awesome it is, I think my favorite bit of business is the absolute trashing Lee gives Bob Wall.  Wall's character is, as noted above, responsible the the death of Lee's sister and I think he gets in maybe half a hit while being completely stomped (literally at the end) by our hero.  The difference between this and the typical Steven Seagal fight scene is that you actually like Lee which helps a lot when he only gets a few scratches on him during the final fight with Han.

That end fight is pretty cool too with a mirror maze sequence and some nice direction from Robert Clouse who does a fine job with the rest of the film.  Enter the Dragon is a seminal achievement in action cinema.  It's fast, funny and has some of the best action scenes caught on film.  You gotta love it.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.