Friday, February 28, 2014

Movie Review: "Enter The Dragon" by David Pretty

Enter the Dragon is a fun, colorful and undeniably-funky chop-socky flick.

The eternal Bruce Lee plays a Shaolin martial artist who's tapped by MI-6 to infiltrate the island fortress of  the mysterious "Mr. Han". A fallen Shaolin student himself, the ludicrously-wealthy Han has decreed that a martial arts tournament be held every three years to satiate his own twisted desires.

Lee enters the competition to gather evidence on Han's illicit activities which include prostitution, opium production and gratuitous impersonation of a low-rent James Bond villain. Conveniently, Lee also discovers early on that one of Han's chief goons was personally responsible for his sister's death.

With the hoariest of kung-fu movie cliche's now set in place, Lee travels to the island to avenge her death and fulfill his mission. Once there he's joined by two other international competitors: a white American philanthropist named Roper who's racked up a massive gambling debt and Williams, a Black Panther/Soul Brother type who's on the lam after pummeling the crap out of two racist cops in L.A. who eventually took their frustrations out on Rodney King years later. True story. Well, no, not really. 

After faring quite well in the initial competition, Lee manages to infiltrate Han's sleazy inner sanctum, but not without getting into a dust up with some guards. When Han hears about the overt snooping the following day he immediately morphs into full blown super-villain mode. He kills a handful of his own men to make an example out of them, tries to extort Roper into becoming his stateside connection, pits Lee up against the meathead who killed his sister, and personally dispatches one of the competitors as a warm-up. 

Needless to say, it's only a matter of time before everything goes totally batshit nuts and Lee is forced to fight, by my conservative estimation, approximately ONE MILLION DUDES and then eventually finds himself in mortal combat with the evil Han himself.

Looking like the human equivalent of a coiled spring throughout the entire film, the iconic Lee is completely hypnotic to watch. It's also fun to see John Saxon in fighting form since up to now I've only seen him as Heather Langenkamp's dad in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Sporting an afro that could easily be considered the Eighth Wonder of the World, Jim Kelley as also great as the self-assured Williams. Finally Shih Kien is appropriately menacing as Han even if his interchangeable hands and habitual white-cat strokery make him a pretty derivative and cartoonish bad guy.

The film itself is rife with gaudy decor, psychedelic color and opulent access. Unfortunately, it's also guilty of trotting out a few sexist and racist stereotype but I'm will to let this slide a bit considering that the movie is a snapshot of a long-bygone era. Although some viewers might find the film too low-key they really need to know that it was made back when everything was done practically, on camera and without the aid of CGI or complicated special effects. These dudes were actually getting kicked around here; just ask Jackie Chan who briefly appears in the film. Supposedly he got clobbered by Lee for real during an alternate fight scene.

Although Enter the Dragon might seem a bit dated at first, as soon as Lee ditches the shirt, gets bloodied by claw marks and starts kicking extras in the chest while screaming eloquent lines like "WA-CHAAAA!!!" the film instantly transforms into pure pop culture gold. Honestly, it's akin to Marilyn Monroe's updraft skirt scene in The Seven Year Itch or Charles Foster Kane's exhalation of  "Rosebud!" in Citizen Kane. Not only is the film a unique time capsule it's also the perfect vehicle to showcase the charisma and talent of its unique and prematurely-departed super star.

   Tilt: up.

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