|Enter the Dragon
1973 - R - 110 Mins.
|Director: Robert Clouse
|Producer: Raymond Chow, Paul M. Heller, Bruce Lee, Fred Weintraub
|Written By: Michael Allin
|Starring: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Kien Shih, Ahna Capri, Angela Mao Ying
|Review by: Jake Cremins
'Enter the Dragon' is exciting, stylish, breathless and preposterous. Any and every excuse for a fight scene is cause for a fight scene, and you better believe there are a lot of excuses. The plot is kind of brilliant, in a backwards way; it's not that it doesn't stand up to close scrutiny, but that it doesn't stand up to scrutiny at all. To ask even one logical question is to be watching the wrong movie.
Bruce Lee whispers sweet nothings into the ear of the sinister Han, in this tender love scene from 'Enter the Dragon.'
The movie concerns Han (Kien Shih), a sinister man who studied with the same martial arts teacher as Bruce Lee's character ("Lee"), but has chosen to use his knowledge for evil. Now he operates an island fortress that serves as the hub of a drug and prostitution racket, under the guise of a martial arts academy. There is an explanation of how one could run an efficient prostitution racket on a heavily guarded island, but somehow I've forgotten it. Han is planning to hold a martial arts competition, and Lee is hired by a shady government organization to attend and bring down Han's operation from the inside.
There's more: we, and Lee, learn that Lee's sister committed suicide years ago because she was being chased by a group of Han's henchmen, who were planning to rape her. This information is imparted in a flashback that, attempted rape aside, is pretty hilarious: one of Lee's teachers pulls him aside before he leaves for the island and says, more or less, "Oh, by the way, remember when your sister mysteriously died? Well..."
Joining in this mission are Roper (John Saxon), a fighter who's deep in debt and just along for the money, and Williams (Jim Kelly), who seems to actually want to win the competition more than anything else. (He certainly has no problem with the on-site bordello, ha ha ha.) Once they arrive the movie really gets into its rhythm, in which several fight scenes are separated by scenes leading to and from the fight scenes. Han turns out to be a close cinematic cousin of Dr. No, complete with mechanical hand, although unlike Dr. No he never runs out of new uses for it--or new hands, for that matter.
A movie like this is all in the style. The story is told with just the right mix of solemnity, silliness and energy to be constantly entertaining, and wisely doesn't even try to be remotely plausible. It's just a clothesline for various fight sequences, all of which are so stylish, fast and exciting that the movie really could have been about anything. This is exemplified by a spectacularly silly sequence in which Lee sneaks out of his room at night, runs around the compound, is threatened by a German Sheperd, has a stupendous fight with several henchmen, and then finally goes back to his room, all without revealing why he left in the first place. The next day, Han handles this breach of security in a way so ruthless and yet so classy that you kind of suspect he wishes his henchmen screwed up more often, so that he could put on a big show.
In between all of this Saxon and Kelly provide most of the personality (Lee, who has done romance and even comedy in previous movies, is treated here as a pair of fists with an actor attached). Kelly, an actual fighter making his film debut, has a likeably sunny disposition; he hams it up a bit too much during the scene where he's told to select a girl to spend the night with, but is mostly fun to watch. Saxon, who's given most of the heavy lifting, projects just the right air of world-weary amusement, and handles a tour of Han's secret facilities with what can only be described as remarkable composure.
All of this leads up to a climactic fight, or fights, in which every single person in this movie flies through the air while punching and kicking every other single person in this movie. This is helped along by the scores of tired-looking old men Han is--for what reason I have no idea--keeping in cells down below his compound. ("Refuse found in waterfront bars," he says, and leaves it at that.) They are so happy to be set free in the final reel that they magically transform into lithe and youthful kung fu fighters by the time they run outside and join the fray. Good thing they were around, eh?