Tuesday, 21 September 2010

ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) ***(1/2)

"The first American produced martial arts spectacular!"
In the years since his bizarre and tragic death, martial arts legend and master Bruce Lee has become an icon within the Kung-fu movie genre. Having only previously played a couple of American speaking parts before, this was Lee's introduction to Western audiences, but due to his tragic death just weeks before the film's American release, it would never be known what he would have been capable of as a box-office star. However ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), certainly was the film that made his career and it made him famous because of it and although the sadness being that he would never make it big in other films, this type of film which combined Asian art with American brutality helped its popularity with audiences who soon became obsessed with the ambition to become involved with kung-fu fighting.

Lee plays the role of a character who shares his surname Lee, stars as a martial arts expert who is recruited by the British government to infiltrate an island fortress, under the cover of being invited to a martial arts tournament, to investigate a possible slavery/drug ring led by a former nemesis of his. However he isn't the only fighter taking part in the tournament as he is accompanied on the trip by American socialite Roeper (John Saxon) who is on the run from debt-collectors and African American pimp Williams (Jim Kelly) who has a run-in with the cops. Lee is made aware of the situation going on in the island through an undercover agent Mei Ling (Betty Chung) who is posing as a geisha for the villain who hosts the tournament. The participants of the event are given luxury within the place including nice food, a stylish environment and given women to lust over but clearly something is amiss at this isolated island fortress, as Lee discovers that his nemesis Han (Shih Kien) is the host of the tournament and is also the leader of the same gang that murdered his sister. This being the simple reason for Lee wanting revenge but as the tournament kicks in, the fighters take part in brutal contests with Lee, Roeper and Williams showing their strength in fighting. However Lee becomes determined to find out information, but the death of one of the two other fighters complicates things, although he soon discovers that Han is keeping prisoners in his underground cave. This eventually sees Lee fighting it out with Han in a riotous and full-blown showdown that also involves hundreds of men using their hands and feet to fight to the death, in an action-packed finale that really did kick start the use of Kung-Fu moves in Hollywood blockbusters.

The action really does make the film exciting with its amazing fight sequences, from the first fight to the last. Lee himself choreographed his fight stunts and clearly it is obvious that he was such an excellent performer of the art. Many of the fights in this movie, more specially the ones where Lee is involved, have a surreal feeling to them. He brings a kind of grace to his action scenes that have yet to be topped by any actor alive today. Lee even brings many of his own personal philosophies to this film, which makes much sense and perhaps help to understand some of the more philosophical elements to the story. Of course, the plot is simple and slightly predictable but the action really does help it become more memorable than other action films which have tried the same kind of method. The script by Michael Allin felt like a James Bond flick but this film being much more violent than anything you'd see in a pre-Daniel Craig as Bond film. The acting is also typical of this genre though Lee does stand out well with his good speaking of English but the energy of his fighting made him become more acceptive as an action hero character. Kien Shih is compelling as the evil Han, even if his fight scenes are, at times, a bit less convincing than the master Lee's or the fact that his voicing in the film is dubbed. Lee and Shih are the performance highlights of the film. Though Saxon does a passable job, his performance is a bit unconventional at times while Kelly's dialogue in the film is wooden but obviously part of the cliches of action films of the 1970s. Another big mention deserves to go to the music which many Takeshi Castle fans will associate with the Honeycomb maze challenge on the show but in this though its cheesy, it adds to the fun of what made a great action film. Bruce Lee was forever immortalized with this film and it will be cherished and praised forever even if some fight scenes in this get too tiresome to watch. A flawed but enthralling film that certainly had everybody kung-fu fighting!


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