Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.

So the Brattle was doing this series in August of kung-fu movies, and I resolved that if I saw any, it would be Enter the Dragon. I was reeled in by the promise of Robert Clouse directing Jim Kelly's first film role, and then there was the minor matter of how I'd never seen a Bruce Lee movie... I know, I know! I'm not very up on East Asian martial Arts movies in general, I'm sorry! Anyway turns out Enter the Dragon was a damn good choice, because it fucking ruuuuuules. Lee stars as, well, "Lee", a kickass Shaolin fighter who is sent as a spy into a pleasure island/martial arts community led by villainous Han (Shih Kien). He's invited several international fighters- including Lee, suave gambler Roper (John Saxon), and the ever-cool Williams (Jim Kelly)- to compete on his island in a martial arts tournament, but Lee knows something is afoot behind the scenes, and seeks to uncover Han's covert drug operation. To do that, he has to punch and kick a shit ton of people.

At first I thought this movie might be a little silly, what with the completely dubbed sound and huge-scale fight scenes, but once it gets going it's a legitimately awesome action movie with some good-natured wackiness thrown in. I basically loved every minute of it! The fights are fantastic, with some one-on-one battles mixed with large group free-for-alls and a nice blend of styles and weapons. There's even a cool one with a lady, though it ends tragically. I loved Bruce Lee, who is crazy muscular but also somehow kind of adorable? I especially loved his obvious disdain for the snooty British people who hire him. He hates how ineffective they are! Jim Kelly is beyond compelling, obviously, being the best dresser and the coolest fighter- he even takes a moment to beat up some racist cops! I noticed that the music would suddenly get better whenever he was onscreen, too, which I can appreciate. Sadly he's not in the whole movie but he gets some good scenes, and I dug the film enough as a whole that I didn't need Kelly onscreen to keep watching.

What else can I say except Enter the Dragon is completely excellent and utterly satisfying? It's fun but not cheesy, with likable characters and a range of killer fight scenes and interesting settings. I absolutely loved the climactic battle between Lee and Han, which ends in a confusing hall of mirrors and is very well shot. Great job, everyone, I want to watch this movie a billion more times.


PS Ok I caught the Jackie Chan appearance during the big brawl at the end, but I'm convinced he was also one of the thugs chasing Lee's sister in that flashback. Am I wrong? He's not credited on imdb as such and it was so quick I might have confused someone else for him.

Pair This Movie With: For more Jim Kelly, I emphatically recommend Black Belt Jones (also directed by Robert Clouse). And I now want to watch all of Bruce Lee's main movies, obviously! Also the fight scene with Lee's sister reminded me of that great Aesop Rock video with Patti Li.

Also my original movie poster design for this film is for sale.