Let’s face it, Bruce Lee is cool and will be for as long as anyone remembers him. His is an iconic image that radiates self confidence and power. There are many stars that you can clearly say are born with charisma, and Mr. Lee is right there. The closest approximation to “Cool”, based simply on image that I can come up with is Steve McQueen. When I first heard about this movie, and saw other Kung Fu flicks that were coming out at the time, I was a doubter. “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid”. Han Solo was talking for me when I first thought about these movie. Come on, a guy by himself kicking ass on dozens of other guys? Just step back and take a shot. In fact there is even a moment in Enter the Dragon, where they bother to explain that there are no guns on the island. None of that matters when Bruce Lee swaggers onto the screen. He sells the idea on one against a hundred. I would pity the guy who tried using a gun, Lee would have smirked him right off the screen.
I can’t say that this movie was the template for every other chop socky film to come out since, especially since I haven’t seen them all. I can say that everyone who has come after Bruce Lee, has always been measured by him. Fair or unfair, he is the gold standard for martial arts. What is remarkable about this is that this movie is actually fairly primitive. The flashback structure for our characters introductions, the impenetrable fortress, the martial arts tournament; all of these are pieces of business that are found in other films and often done with greater panache. The dialogue and the acting is spotty, and some of the plot just seems like warmed over spy stuff. None of that matters because they had a STAR. There are two film making choices that I thought worked in this movie; the one against a hundred fight with the guards, and the final fight against Han as it is reflected in a series of mirrors. Lee makes the mass battle work with his choreography of the stunts and confrontations. He sells it with his persona. He can’t quite do that alone in the last scene because the guy playing the villain is not a very interesting actor, and he looks like he knows less kung fu than I do. So this is where the director and cinematographer earned they pay for the project. They shoot the moves through a prism of mirrors and angle to make it seem much more dramatic than it really is.
Everybody rightly mourns the early loss of Bruce Lee the actor, this film showed the world what his potential was. If he was this good in a piece of high grade schlock, it is easy to imagine how he could have evolved in some better projects. The movie is not bad, but there is a reason that it was so easy to parody over the years. There are over the top moments and cliches galore. Every henchman is loathsome, and is replaced by another equally loathsome. The goals of our heroes are straightforward and the plot does not surprise. As we were watching it this morning, Amanda commented that the Kentucky Fried Movie we saw a couple of weeks ago, was even funnier now. Allison is fascinated with “Balls of Fury”, a stupid ping pong takeoff on this movie, I think she would enjoy it even more if she watched all of Enter the Dragon.
My memory is imperfect, I do know that some other Bruce Lee movies played at the Alhambra Theater on Main and Atlantic. I know because Art and his brother Jamie, changed the marquee each week and he joked about Fists of Fury. Enter the Dragon though, played at the Garfield Theater to my recollection. I don’t remember who I saw it with, it might have been my late older brother Chris. We did see some films there together and this might have been one of them. There is some very brief nudity but the violence is not as graphic as it is today and I don’t think I heard any curse words this morning. That could be a simple magician’s trick however. Who would notice bad language when there is such coolness to look at?