Children of Bond - Enter the Dragon

bruce lee dragon

Enter the Dragon is a classic 1973 Hong Kong based martial arts film directed by Robert Clouse and starring Bruce Lee. Lee (known simply as Lee in the film also) plays a Shaolin monk and martial arts expert sequestered by intelligence bigwig Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks) to investigate the dealings of the mysterious and highly dubious Han (Kien Shih). Han is hosting a huge martial arts tournament over several days on his remote private island and the suspicion is that he uses the competition as a front to recruit new muscle to his criminal gangs and continue his dabblings in drug smuggling, gun running and prostitution. "We'd very much like you to attend THAT particular tournament, Mr Lee," suggests the very British Braithwaite. Lee duly agrees to pry into Han's complex and secrets on the island and expose any criminal activities. His motivation is heightened by the knowledge that Han was once part of the Shaolin Temple but disgraced it and - most importantly of all - was also responsible for the death of his sister Su Lin (Angela Mao) through his bodyguard Oharra (Bob Wall).
A high-energy action film with great fight sequences, Enter the Dragon is somewhat dated of course but the camp seventies trappings are a lot of fun to modern eyes and there is much to enjoy here. Enter the Dragon plays like a low-budget James Bond at times but also stands as perhaps the seminal martial arts picture and a perfect showcase for the physical dexterity of its much missed star - who sadly died at just 33 years of age not long after the completion of the film. We begin with a prologue in the Shaolin temple where Lee challenges a young student to hit him and dispenses various mystical nonsense - the type of stuff that is much spoofed in comic kung fu films and skits but oddly enjoyable too when played with a straight face. "Don't think," says Lee. "FEEL. It's like a finger pointing at the moon." We start the film proper in winning fashion with some nice, authentic location work in Hong Kong and the arrival of some of the key characters competing in Han's tournament.
Although this is essentially a vehicle for Bruce Lee, he has two co-stars of sorts in the form of John Saxon and Jim Kelly respectively. The always dependable Saxon plays Roper, a suave self-deprecating American playboy on the run from his gambling debts and now in Hong Kong to compete in Han's tournament. We see a flashback of Saxon playing golf in the United States in comical seventies fashions and then deploying his kung fu skills when some stereotypical action film goons of the era arrive to get the money he owes. "It's the dough Roper, or we gotta break something. You got it?"
Saxon obviously isn't as convincing in the fight scenes as Lee and the athletic Kelly - who were both martial artists in real life - but he does pretty well nonetheless and is certainly a lot more dignified and believable beating people up than the portly Franco Nero was in Enter the Ninja, one of countless films spawned in the wake of Enter the Dragon. Kelly - the star of the camp cult classic Black Belt Jones - plays Williams, a jive-talking black martial artist from the ghetto with the largest Afro in cinematic history. Williams is tired of police harassment - we see him duffing up several policemen after being provoked in his flashback - and now plans to win Han's tournament. Jones is good value as the cocky Williams. "Man, you come right out of a comic book," he, er, jives, to the film's enjoyably theatrical villain.
The film is good fun when the action switches to Han's private island and we meet Betty Chung as Mei Ling, Lee's inside contact. There is a real James Bond feel to Enter the Dragon at times as Lee and the other guests are wined and dined in lavish fashion and he eventually slips out of his quarters late at night in the type of black secret operative clobber that Sean Connery had over the top of his tuxedo in the PTS of Goldfinger. Lee deploys climbing ropes to clandestinely infiltrate the inner echelons of Han's operations and complex and this is all highly enjoyable. Han is obviously a James Bond villain with his secret base, private island, penchant for calling people by their surnames, musings on his unique line of work - "We are investing in corruption, Mr Roper. The business of corruption is like any other business!" - metal hand (pure Ian Fleming), and urbane and civilised exterior which, of course, hides a complete and utter nutcase up to all sorts of nonsense.
bruce lee bond

"Gentlemen, welcome," charms Han. "You honour our island. I look forward to a tournament of truly epic proportions. We are unique, gentlemen, in that we create ourselves. Through long years of rigorous training, sacrifice, denial, pain, we forge our bodies in the fire of our will. But tonight, let us celebrate. Gentlemen, you have our gratitude." Han even has a classic Bond villain speech when he talks about how Sparta, Rome, The Knights of Europe, and the Samurai flourished because they worshipped strength.
The martial tournament is great fun and with Lee's surreptitious investigations, Enter the Dragon has a brisk pace where martial arts action is always to the forefront. The imposing Yang Tse as Bolo and Bob Wall as Oharra both make suitably formidable and unhinged opponents as heavies of Han here and Wall has a well staged flashback sequence that shows us the fate of Lee's sister Su Lin. Wall, with a heavy scar on one side of his face, is another character who wouldn't have been out of place in a Bond film and one can easily imagine him grappling with Roger Moore before a tie-straightening quip or two. The film benefits a great deal from the numerous martial artist extras and the panning shots of them all in action on Han's lawns give the film a feeling of scope at times with a huge free for all brawl at the end.
The lack of guns gives Enter the Dragon a refreshing quality, heightened by the extraordinary prowess of Lee - who beats up about a million opponents and baddies (including some great fights in the underground complex of Han) with athletic grace and some enjoyably OTT sound effects. "My style?" says Lee. "You could call it the art of fighting without fighting." Lee uses his own voice in the film and isn't bad at all, projecting a strong, reserved screen image with his undoubted charisma.
Some of the dialogue is perhaps a little cheesy and the clothes are rather comical but Enter the Dragon is a kinetic comic book adventure that one should enjoy rather than scrutinise too closely. It all builds to a classic climax with Han's nefarious activities in his secret complex rumbled and a wonderful and iconic hall of mirrors duel between Lee and Han. Despite the somewhat dated air, Enter the Dragon is an undoubted classic of the genre and great fun.

- Jake

c 2014 Alternative 007

james bond alpine