Enter the Dragon (Part One)

Posted: August 29, 2013 by patricksponaugle in Movie Review
Tags: , , , , , ,

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Once again, I’m pulling over a movie review that I made in Facebook this July.

My wife and daughter had gone up to Boston for a few days. This gave me a chance to watch a quality action movie, and I was moved to post observations. Like World War Z, it took two postings over two nights, below is the (mostly) unedited review from Facebook.

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ENTER THE DRAGON Review, by Pat Sponaugle (this guy right here.)

(This is PART ONE. I totally ran out of time and need to hit the hay, PART TWO will be released soon.)

Forty Years Ago (according to IMDB but also according to the Romans (MCMLXXIII)) Enter the Dragon hit theaters and was awesome. The End.

Okay, I should say some more. I was not even 10 in 1973. Let’s see, since I’m, er, 22 now, that means I was -18 or something when it came out. Yeah. But I was a really big -18 year old, roughly the size of a fourth grader. (Just accept that and move on)

I first heard about the movie after I heard about Bruce Lee’s death. Then I had to have someone explain to me who Bruce Lee was. Then I was really bummed that I probably would not be able to see the movie, being only 9. Er, I mean, -18.

Years later, I corrected that oversight, and really enjoyed Enter the Dragon.

This weekend, while checking out a Big Lots store that just opened nearby, I noticed Enter the Dragon in the bargain bin. I quickly slapped down $3, took the DVD home, and planned on an evening of old school 70’s whoopass.

The last time I had seen the movie had probably been in 1990 or so when I was… -1. Yeah. So I was wondering on my rewatch if the movie holds up.

I found a lot of things about the movie interesting, and I’m just going to talk about them. This might go long.

Once again, like I said in my two-part World War Z review, I have no credentials or qualifications to review movies, other than having seen them. So I might be better than Rex Reed. BOOM!

Warning: I’m also going to spoil the hell out of the movie. I’m going to talk about the plot, who lives, who dies, how they die, possibly how they live, controversy, race, human trafficking, etc.

If you are just reading this review in the hopes of deciding if you should see ENTER THE DRAGON…

STOP READING AND GO WATCH IT! This has nothing at all to do with the quality of the movie. It entirely has to do with the movie being a cultural event. Bruce Lee was a beautiful athlete and an amazing physical star. Enter the Dragon was incredibly influential in getting Martial Arts movies noticed by the Western world, and I suspect influenced many people into studying martial arts, a pastime that I support and encourage.

You still want a Non-Spoilery Review? Fine. Here it is:

Enter the Dragon is a Martial Arts movie from the 1970s, starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, and Jim Kelly in leading protagonist capacities. The plot centers around a martial arts tournament on a remote island by a mysterious shady character, Han (played by veteran Hong Kong martial arts movie villain Kien Shih (credited as Shih Kien))

The movie is certainly a product of its time, but some of the fight choreography is amazing (choreographed by Bruce Lee) and the Western leads are particularly charming even if one is a good actor and the other is simply Cool as Hell. (Bruce happens to be charming and cool as well. I’ll talk about his acting in my spoiler review.)

I’m not going to rate it; I have no objective basis since I am hopelessly biased. It is much better than typical martial arts movies of its time, though.

Okay, SPOILER ALERT. Going to talk details now.

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If You Proceed, You Will Be Spoiled

I’ll give a really quick plot synopsis.

A former Shaolin Temple member, Han, owns an island that is pretty much a law unto its own. He holds a Martial Arts tournament every three years. The local government (since this is the 70s and it’s near Hong Kong, we’ll just say this is the British rulers of Hong Kong) suspect Han of various criminal activities. They want the Shaolin Temple to send their best martial artist Lee to the tournament in hopes of investigating, and to uncover evidence that would allow the authorities to raid the island. It is explained to Lee by a close friend (or mentor, or family member: I am not sure of the actual relation) that Lee’s sister had died years before due to an attempted assault by Han’s minions.

Also attending the tournament are two Westerners, Roper and Williams (John Saxon and Jim Kelly.) While the men are assembling in Hong Kong prior to sailing to Han’s island fortress, viewers are presented with flashbacks that provide some backstory or insight into the characters of Roper and Williams.

(Didn’t I say quick plot synopsis? I’ll try to speed up.)

SaxonAndKelly

John Saxon’s character Roper appears to be a businessman with a gambling problem and a large gambling debt. We know very little about Kelly’s character Williams except that he has been invited to the tournament, and is forced to defend himself while he is walking with his luggage through the neighborhood, setting off for the airport. His opponents are two Watts Riot era policemen who target Williams for no reason other than possibly an ingrained policy of intimidation. I’ll talk more on this in a moment, but the scene struck me in a way that it did not years ago.

There was a fantastic scene on the voyage to Han’s island where Lee puts a brutish thug in his place without having to fight him. I could devote an entire post to this, and I might later, but I’ll skip it for now.

Once on Han’s island, the competitors are treated to a feast, then later women are brought by for their pleasure. (I’ll talk more on this later.) Lee manages to contact Mei Ling, a female agent that the authorities had already put in place.

There is an initial day of tournament matches, which largely takes place to establish Roper and Williams as a team. The two are friends from their shared service in the Vietnam war, and while one is competing, the other is managing gambling wagers on their performance.

In the evening Lee, with the assistance of Mei Ling, infiltrates Han’s fortress interior and discovers evidence of criminal enterprise. He has no chance to radio the authorities, and briefly engages a handful of Han’s guards before escaping.

At the same time, after being entertained by several of Han’s sex workers, Jim Kelly’s Williams character breaks curfew and leaves the living quarters to enjoy the night air and practice his art. His presence is noted by guards.

The next day, Han chides the competitors about breaking curfew, and has the guards Lee defeated killed at the hands of his minion Bolo. Bolo (credited as Yang Sze) will eventually go on to perform (usually as a villainous heavy) in many action movies, credited as Bolo Yeung. He’s a scary dude, with a surprisingly young-looking face. Like a monstrous muscled toddler.

The day ends with Lee killing Han’s right hand man, Oharra (played by Bob Wall with nearly zero lines of dialog.) Oharra was directly responsible for the assault on Lee’s sister, and so the battle is quite significant. I’ll talk more on this later.

Oharra

That evening, Han accuses Williams’ character of being responsible for the previous night’s attack on the guards. When the protesting Williams is reluctant to tell Han whom he saw out and about (Williams saw Lee fleeing while relaxing after training), Williams and Han fight. Han has a metal prosthetic hand, which he uses as a brutal bludgeon to overpower Williams.

Han then meets with Roper to offer the down-on-his-luck gambler a piece of his criminal operation. (I assume Williams would have been offered a similar deal, to be Han’s representative to his community.)

Roper seems uneasy with the arrangement, but does not refuse, even when discovering the fate of his friend Williams. Perhaps *because* of discovering the fate of Williams.

Meanwhile, Lee, with the assistance of a cobra, gains entrance to the island’s radio room and telegraphs a message to the authorities.

What follows is perhaps the best non-wire-fu sequence in any martial arts movie. It was like watching a text book video of martial arts styles, spanning empty hands, staff, single sticks, and ending in breathtaking nunchaku action. Lee engages guards bare handed, and ends up wielding a staff, helpfully provided by a less-proficient staff-carrying guard. (At this moment, the two dogs that had been co-existing peacefully on my lap FLIPPED OUT so I nearly missed the actual sequence where Bruce abandoned his staff for two single sticks. I at first assumed that the staff broke.)

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They Look Innocent, But They Are Fiends

Bruce Lee had been trained in single stick use by his student Dan Inosanto. Filipino stickfighting (commonly referred to as Escrima, Arnis, or Kali, although it’s been explained to me that there are differences in those three arts that should make them regarded as distinct, but lets handwave that away for the moment. I’m a movie watcher, not a hoplologist. (That’s totally a word. It means someone who studies human combative behavior and performance.)) as I said, Filipino Stickfighting is really cool to see.

I’ve been to Dan Inosanto seminars, so seeing Lee just kick ass with the sticks was great.

But then he gets his hands on the nunchaku.

By why talk about it? Actions speak louder than words.

Lee unfortunately gets captured, trapped in a small chamber with doors that seal him in.

The following day, John Saxon’s Roper character is ordered by Han to fight Lee (presumably to kill him) as a loyalty trial. When Roper refuses, Han orders Bolo to match up with Roper. Roper defeats Bolo (I’m not really convinced that would happen, Bolo is pretty badass) and infuriated, Han begins to order waves of men to attack Lee and Roper. There’s a lot of Boot to the Head.

Mei Ling frees an army of captives from Han’s dungeon, who engage Han’s men, allowing Lee to pursue Han into his fortress where they fight to Han’s demise.

The authorities, acting on Lee’s telegraph from the previous evening (apparently they had to all get a good night’s sleep and have a healthy breakfast before helicoptering over to bring law and order to the island) show up and bring law and order to the island (like I just said. Hey, it’s late.)

So, the good guys win! Although Williams might not see it that way, since he ended up beaten to death. So 2/3rds of the good guys win! Well, expect Roper is still in debt to the mob. And his love interest who I totally omitted from my review died. So, just Bruce Lee wins!

And that’s awesome.

Okay, I have a lot more to say in my analysis. I’m going to talk about racial issues, the Watts riots, human sex trafficking, are our good guys actually good guys?, some notes on the fight scenes, who was a good actor, who wasn’t, who the jury might be out on. I’m going to talk Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu too.

The only thing I won’t do is run a six minute mile. (That is a reference that only listeners to the Jay and Jack podcast would get.)

But I can’t do all of that tonight. I’m beat. Need to head to bed, and go to work tomorrow. Or rather THIS MORNING. Ugh.

But tomorrow evening (or rather, TONIGHT), I’ll try to address the points above.

Until Part Two, Best Regards to you and yours.

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