Enter the Dragon

Year: 1973
Production Co: Golden Harvest
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Robert Clouse
Writer: Michael Allin
Cast: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Bolo Yeung

Because of the period and the genre this emerged from, I expected a movie that – while historically worth knowing – would be badly paced, edited and acted. Though it's kind of sacrilegious to say it, a lot of these grindhouse cult classics are.

I'm sure a lot of fans know much more about how the project came together than I do, but as Warner Bros is listed as the production company, it seems like they swooped in to the Golden Harvest office and promised to give the genre a much bigger budget and international recognition if it could borrow the Hong Kong film industry's stars and playbook.

As such, it's well designed and has a sense of tone and ambience befitting a (presumably) larger budget than most of the movies from the kung fu action movement. There's a really nice James Bond vibe with the remote island, the underground chambers and the hall of mirrors climactic battle that makes it more than just the chop socky shlock you're expecting.

Lee (Lee) is a Shaolin Temple acolyte and former tough guy approached by the British government authorities to bust a crime lord who runs a martial arts tournament on his private island as a cover for running drugs and prostitution. Lee reluctantly agrees, only signing on because the leader of a gang of thugs who caused his sister's death years before is now the villain's right hand man.

Two Americans also travel to the tournament, playboy criminal Roper (John Saxon) and martial artist Williams (Jim Kelly) – the character trading heavily on black archetypes we'd see parodied later in Undercover Brother.

And that's about it for the plot. The trio cross paths more so than team up, and I got the sense Roper and Williams' stories were more about taking the script up to the 90 minute mark. It's Lee's movie through and through – he's the one you're here to see and he doesn't disappoint.

Never the best of actors, it's when he's swinging punches or kicks or twisting and flipping his sinewy body every which way that Lee really performs – complete with the extremely musical fight vocalisations that would be hilarious in any other context.

It doesn't bog itself down with more plot than a movie of this style needs – which is what makes it better than most others in the genre – and good sets, production design and cinematography bookend the amazing fight choreography, with Lee's star shining in the middle of it all. It's tragic that he died just weeks before it was due to be released in theatres.

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