Initially, Enter The Dragon is a three hander. The story follows John Saxon, Jim Kelly and Bruce Lee on their way to a martial arts tournament, compered by an ex-Shaolin monk who’s branched out into narcotics and prostitution. We get a little bit of back story for each. Saxon and Kelly, old ‘Nam buddies, are on the run from comedy gangsters, and racist honky cops, respectively. Lee’s motives are more personal.
Of the three, poor old John Saxon is by far the least capable. Bruce Lee is a proponent of The Art Of Fight Without Fighting. I’m not sure which martial art Saxon had been practicing, but I think it was The Art of Fighting Whilst Trying Not To Put Too Much Strain On The Testicles.
The tension is unbearable. Every time a high kick goes a little too high, will Saxon’s bean bag rip in two, and send his plums bouncing down a hill? At the very least, his tight polyester slacks will keep some sort of a hold on them, should a hospital visit to stitch them back in be needed.
As for Jim Kelly, he was an accomplished martial artist, and ran his own karate school. This much is obvious, when seen in action. Also, if we are ever in any doubt about Kelly’s black credentials, the film makes sure we don’t forget them, by making the soundtrack just a little bit funkier when he first appears onscreen, and reaffirming the notion that when it comes to a threesome, for a black guy, three just ain’t enough.
Eventually though, the film becomes Lee’s, showcasing his whip fast bone crunching skills to great effect. In an underground set piece that has him taking on a huge number of goons, he barely breaks a sweat. And if he does, it’s only because a solitary bead of perspiration running down his face would look more stylish than if it wasn’t.
He was also eager to showcase Chinese culture as well as his action moves. He succeeded. Not only did I learn not to concentrate on the finger, in case I miss all the heavenly glory, but I also learned that dipping a finger into a cut on your chest, and dabbing your tongue with your own blood, before unleashing Hell with a flurry of kicks and punches, is as cool as it gets. If that’s Chinese culture, well, count me in.
His final film before his untimely death, Lee was either murdered by triads, the victim of a family curse, or struck down by a special kind of super-duper martial arts punch that kills you three weeks after impact. But it was apparently a reaction to a headache tablet that finally copped for him.
Like many movie stars who have died before their time, we’re left to wonder about the films that could have been, had Lee lived longer. At the other end, Kien Shih, who was hardly a spring chicken when the film came out in 1973, only died in 2009 at the grand old age of 96.
The film is a fitting swan song. Whilst some might argue that the plot is a bit weak, and borrows from better movies, it’s well paced, and feels mean and lean where most modern action movies feel flabby. At one point, Jim Kelly says, “Man, you come right out of a comic book!” He’s talking to the bad guy, Han (Kien Shih), but he might as well be referring to the entire movie. Colourful, punchy, and to the point.