Plot – A secret agent comes to an opium lord’s island fortress with other fighters for a martial-arts tournament – Enter the Dragon.
Director – Robert Clouse
Released – 1973
A young secret agent (Lee) has to infiltrate the island base and discover all the secrets of its rich and powerful owner. This action-adventure could easily be mistaken for a cheesy knock-off like James Bond with martial arts, complete with underground factories and even a scene when the bad guy strokes a white cat, but despite the obvious low budget and a clichéd plot, Enter the Dragon proves to be rather charming, making it easier to see why this film has developed such a cult following.
This plot. A martial arts contest on a remote island, a template copied time and time again since, including 1988’s Bloodsport or 1995’s Mortal Kombat. But here’s they present it in a way that feels fresh and interesting, taking the time to introduce subplots and develop secondary characters to a much greater extent than most martial arts films of the time.
But the biggest difference between this and most that followed is just how central Chinese culture is to the film, each character understands the culture and mythology, aided by the fact you’re not watching an Asian hero battling an Asian villain, rather than a westerner travelling to Asia and beating up the locals.
Just as you’d expect from a Bruce Lee film, the action is fast-paced and exciting, with the movies most memorable fight seeing the master of martial arts overcoming a couple of dozen fighter without breaking a sweat. Kicking hard, blocking easily, and when needed breaks a few bones. Lee exudes a truly powerful screen-presence than makes you sad that this was his final complete performance before his untimely death.
Onto the co-stars, everyone is clearly having fun with this, clearly cliched plot filled with cheesy dialogue, especially Shih Kien as the over-the-top chief villain Han. John Saxon as the token white American fighter also proves himself in the action, while also popping up throughout to provide the movie with comic relief. Where the film falls down and feels slightly dated is its dabbling in the blaxploitation sub-genre with Jim Kelly’s character, Williams.
Enter the Dragon isn’t an Oscar-worthy film, it’s pretty lightweight in terms of storyline, borrows heavily from the Bond films and plays out exactly how you’d expect. But it remains a solid action that showcase’s Lee’s talents wonderfully.
If you liked: Rocky, Warrior, Road House