Enter the Dragon: Special Edition
February 17, 2004
When Enter the Dragon came out in 1973, it established Bruce Lee as a box office star in the United States. He was already a sensation in the rest of the world, but it was this U.S./Chinese co-production that transformed him into a pop culture phenomenon. Tragically, he died that year but his legacy only grew exponentially. Warner Brothers previously released a bare bones DVD a few years ago and have now assembled an impressive two-disc special edition packed with a substantial collection of extras and a stunning transfer of this legendary movie.
The movie’s story is pretty standard B-movie stuff. Mr. Lee (Lee) is enlisted by the American government to go undercover as a contestant at a martial arts tournament on a remote island hosted by the notorious Han (Kien). The government wants Lee to expose Han’s heroin operation but for the agent it is clearly a personal mission as Han’s right-hand man, Oharra (Wall), was responsible for the death of Lee’s sister. Once on the island, Lee meets fellow contestants, Roper (Saxon) and Williams (Kelly)—Americans who are in it for the money and the glory.
This may seem like a pretty generic plot, but it is handled in such an entertaining and exciting fashion. Michael Allin’s screenplay contains laughably clunky dialogue but the cast delivers it with conviction; and let’s face this is not the reason one watches this movie. Although, there are parts of the screenplay that Lee obviously had changed himself. In one scene, left out of the U.S. version but restored on this DVD, Lee’s mentor gives him some sage advice, “The enemy has only images and illusions—behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image and you will break the enemy.” This bit of dialogue cleverly foreshadows the film’s exciting climax.
Another thing that sets the movie apart from other examples of the genre is that it actually takes time out to show the personal motivations of the three main characters. Lee wants to take down Han as retribution for disgracing his mentor’s temple and philosophy. Roper is a compulsive gambler who owes a landshark a lot of money. Williams was harassed by racist cops for being black and so he beat them up and stole their patrol car.
Enter the Dragon works so well because of Bruce Lee. While B-movie vets John Saxon and Jim Kelly (this was his first film) are quite good in supporting, the film belongs to Lee. He brings an undeniable intensity and charisma to the role. It is impossible to separate the man from his character in the movie. He was in incredible physical shape—lean and muscular without an ounce of fat. Lee’s choreography of the fight scenes is also very impressive. Remember, this was back in the day before CGI and wire-work that is so prevalent in films like The Matrix (1999). The fights scenes are often captured in long shots with very little editing which must have required an amazing amount of skill on everyone’s part to make everything look so good. It is a credit to Lee’s skills that they come off looking just as impressive today as they did back then.
The first disc features a so-so audio commentary by the film’s producer, Paul Heller. It is a bit on the dull side as he speaks in a very low tone, almost a whisper at times. Things liven up a bit when he gets the movie’s screenwriter Michael Allin on the phone to talk about his experiences but otherwise there are too many lulls where Heller says nothing to make this a worthwhile listen to anyone except Lee enthusiasts.
Fortunately, things pick up on the next extra, “Blood and Steel: Making of Enter the Dragon.” Initially, none of the major Hollywood studios were interested in making the film with Lee as the star. It wasn’t until he became a huge international moneymaker that the studio executives decided to give him a shot. A lot of the crew talks about their experiences working on the movie and the challenge of working with a mostly Chinese-speaking crew. Unfortunately, only John Saxon from the principal cast members is interviewed. Where’s Jim Kelly?
“Bruce Lee: In His Own Words” is a fascinating 20-minute interview with the man. He comes across as a very eloquent speaker who was passionate about martial arts. He talks about his personal philosophy in detail and how he felt that martial arts were a way of honestly expressing oneself.
The “Linda Lee Cadwell Interview Gallery” is a 16-minute collection of soundbites from Lee’s wife. Amongst many other topics, she talks about how she met her late husband and how Enter the Dragon was a realization of his life-long dream to showcase Chinese culture on a mainstream level.
“Lair of the Dragon” includes a brief featurette made during the film’s production with some good on-the-set footage of scenes being shot and rare home movie footage of Lee practicing various moves.
The second disc contains two feature-length documentaries. The first, “Curse of the Dragon” is narrated by George Takei and examines Lee’s life and his enduring legacy, including the tragic deaths of him and his son, Brandon. Friends, family and colleagues all offer their take on Lee. It is interesting to learn about the prejudices he faced in Hollywood and how he was initially relegated to minor TV roles like Kato on The Green Hornet. Lee was unhappy being pigeonholed in this kind of role and desired to have the same kind of box office clout as someone like Steve McQueen.
“Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey” is a fascinating look at Lee’s unfinished last film, Game of Death. It was to be his most ambitious project. One in which Lee starred, wrote, directed and produced. He started making it before Enter the Dragon but was never able to finish it as he died shortly afterwards. Recently, Lee’s original script notes and writings were uncovered by researchers as was all of the existing original footage that he had shot. Using his extensive notes, Game of Death is assembled as he intended and shown in this documentary. Lee wears the now famous yellow and black jumpsuit (that Uma Thurman sports in Kill Bill) and the fight scenes have a more playful tone than in his previous movies but Lee’s trademark intensity is still there. Essentially, Lee and two of his disciples fight their way through a series of master martial artists (each one tougher and deadlier than the last) and advance various levels of a temple. Along the way, Lee’s disciples get the crapped kicked out of them while Lee does the actual hard work. The footage is excellent it is a tragedy that Lee was never able to complete the movie.
Finally, there are four theatrical trailers and seven TV spots.
Enter the Dragon is an entertaining martial arts film that contains all the trappings of a ‘70s era exploitation film: bad dialogue, intense violence, nudity and Lalo Schifrin’s funky score that sets just the right tone. However, Lee’s iconic status and his indisputable skill elevates the film to that of a martial arts classic. This is an excellent two-DVD special edition with two feature-length documentaries that fully immerse the viewer in Lee’s life and his personal philosophy.