Movies To Watch With Your Dad Before You Die: Enter the Dragon
Bruce Lee. What else is there to say, really? A man ahead of his time. My argument is that Bruce Lee, and his seminal film Enter the Dragon, pretty much invented the Hollywood martial arts flick, as it was indeed the first Hollywood-produced martial arts film. For many audience members at the film’s opening, which took place just six days after his mysterious death, it would be their first exposure to the genre. Luckily for the audience members and for film, Dragon knocked it out of the park. Its influence on film can still be seen today. Without Bruce Lee, there would be no Jackie Chan, no Jet Li – heck, even Chuck Norris‘ first credited film appearance was in Return of the Dragon.
Apart from shining the light on Asian martial arts actors, Enter the Dragon also influenced action movies irrevocably. How much fun would Jason Statham‘s Transporter movies be if he just shot everyone? And just how grating would it be to watch Chris Tucker shriek at people by himself in the Rush Hour pics if Jackie Chan wasn’t there to balance him out?
I almost hesitate to categorize this as a movie to watch with your dad, because the first time I saw Enter the Dragon, it was indeed a family affair. My household had, and still has, an appreciation for the martial arts. My dad, having been involved in martial arts for a number of years, influenced the rest of us on how amazing, beautiful and dangerous the martial arts can be. My brother and I pretty much grew up with this understanding. And as much as we appreciate people like Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Tony Jaa, and, of course, the legendary Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee is the granddaddy of them all; and when thinking of Bruce Lee, there is no other film of his quite like the seminal Enter the Dragon.
Part kung fu flick and part spy flick, Enter the Dragon, directed by Robert Clouse, follows Bruce Lee as a Shaolin monk who becomes recruited by a government intelligence agency to participate in a martial arts tournament hosted by Han, a former student of the school Lee is involved in. He is to participate in the tournament by day, and skulk around gathering evidence to bring down the tournament’s leader, Han.
Along the way, Lee is accompanied by John Saxon‘s smooth-talking Roper, a man who joins the tournament to escape his crippling gambling debts, and Williams, played by Jim Kelly, who participates in order to win – and look good doing it.
Speaking of Jim Kelly, his introduction into the film is priceless. Given all the recent race-fueled unrest here in the states, it fills me with unequaled joy watching Jim Kelly beat the bigotry out of a couple of cops that stop him for no reason. When shown the baton, Kelly promptly divides it with his fist, continues to render the cops useless, then steal their patrol car.
And then there’s villain Han, the owner of the island fortress, and the proprietor of the tournament. Played with the same amount of zeal and vigor as a Bond villain, Kien Shih absolutely owns the role, especially towards the second half of the film when his good-natured veneer cracks away. This is especially true when Williams is the first to see how brutal Han can truly be.
One of the many reasons this film is so great is that the fighting is only one aspect of the package. The wonderful and fearsome fight sequences serve the overall movie, as opposed to the movie being slapped together merely as a showcase for Lee’s talents. Here we have intrigue, humor, sexuality and even a revenge subplot. Having said that, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a different actor could have been just as satisfying to see dole out flying kicks as Lee, but there still is enough in the movie to make this more than just a typical guy flick.
Another reason everyone on planet Earth needs to see Dragon is the cast. While Lee is obviously the big draw in this film, there still is an ensemble feel to it. Roper, Williams and Han all have their substantial screen time without Lee being in the shot, and this makes the movie feel like more of a balanced piece as opposed to being solely a vehicle for Lee.
Side note: an interesting bit of trivia I learned from ye olde internets is that John Saxon and Jim Kelly were supposed to have each other’s roles in the original script. Leave it to Saxon’s agent to switch things around. I imagine the switch had something to do with Saxon’s star power being a little stronger than Kelly’s at the time – this was Kelly’s second film ever. This note, of course, in no way diminishes Kelly’s own influence on film – Undercover Brother and Black Dynamite would not exist without him. Please watch Black Belt Jones, which Robert Clouse also directed a year after Dragon.
Key scene: about halfway through the movie, Lee is given his first tournament opponent, Oharrah, played by quintessential martial arts stuntman Bob Wall. When Oharrah disobeys the rules and continues to attack Lee, Lee basically mops the floor with Oharrah. The slow-motion running kick Lee gives Oharrah is felt through the screen. In fact, the one you see on screen may be the real thing – during shooting, Lee cut his hand on one of the broken bottles used during the fight because of Wall’s poor timing, so Lee retaliated with a real flying kick. The kick was so hard the stuntman meant to break Wall’s fall broke both his arms.
Another great sequence takes place in the cave underneath the tournament, where Han’s real business flourishes. Lee is caught sneaking around, prompting the alarm to ring and sending in guard after guard to seize Lee. This sequence plays as a showcase for Lee, as he swaps from one classical martial arts weapon to the next, polishing off about a thousand poor souls. Or like 50, I lost count.
Enter the Dragon is a timeless film. While there are some very definitive 70s styles present, like the main characters’ pant legs and Jim Kelly’s stunning afro, the whole piece exists in a vacuum out of time, much like some of the stronger James Bond movies. The characters, the plot and, of course, the action all make this a stunning addition to both Movies to Watch With Your Dad and Movies to See Before You Die. However, as I pointed out, your entire family needs to watch this. So please watch Enter the Dragon with your entire family before you die.
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P.S. I’ll just leave this here. It is a real time, no film trickery display of Bruce Lee’s speed: