Enter the Dragon (1973)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-09-22
I hadn’t seen “Enter of the Dragon” for decades and while watching Bruce Lee’s bouncy lateral moves, especially late in the movie, I was reminded of the way that Muhammad Ali moved around the ring while taunting his opponents. Like Ali, Bruce Lee was not cool—he was the opposite of cool, he was blazing hot. Jim Kelly was cool, John Saxon was supposed to be cool but Lee, with his grimacing, posing and noisemaking, couldn’t be cool if he were on an iceberg. Cool is technique, form and grace. Ballet is cool. Hot is passion, speed and incandescence. Opera is hot. Ali was hot. Lee was hot.

When “Enter the Dragon” played in Chicago about 35 years ago we were amazed. A lot of us found out how difficult it was to control a set of nunchaku—or how easy it was to hit oneself on the back of the head while flipping them around—trying to emulate Lee. While the movie is an artifact of its times it was and remains a very important one. Its strengths made its weaknesses, especially looking back from the 21st century, even more apparent.

The way the filmmakers treated race and ethnicity is no worse than many Hollywood movies of the era but its casual racism stands out since “Way of the Dragon” couldn’t have been made without Bruce Lee. One of the most egregious instances is the highlighting of the hyper-sexuality of Williams, the only black character. When Tania brings her girls around to the bedrooms of the combatants Williams selects four or five of them as his sex partners for the night and says he would have picked more but he had an early fight in the morning.

The Asian “Other” is also dismissed as inferior to or contingent upon the Caucasian world. The sets have as much red lacquer furniture, carved dragons and stylized lions to fill the kitschiest faux-antique store imaginable. The Chinese are tools to be used—mainly against each other, of course--while the norm is Braithwaite, the white Hong Kong police official who entreats Lee to help break up the drug ring run by the evil Mr. Han.

In presenting Chinese people generally as alien, foreign (in China!) and somehow different the filmmakers decided to throw away some terrific scenes shot at water level of the Hong Kong harbor and the families who live on the cramped boats of its floating slums. As it was these very stark images were used more for local color than anything else while they were a much more significant contrast between the two cultures—to be poor in Asia was (and is) a lot poorer than in the United States. Williams remarked on their extreme poverty but that was the extent of the characters noticing what they were sailing through.

The fights in “Enter the Dragon” were choreographed, executed and shot in ways that hadn’t been done before, at least not on such a consistently high level. Lee was to martial arts filmmaking what Astaire was to the dance musical. Neither of them changed everything but both of them revolutionized how their specialties were filmed and edited and set a standard for future artists to shoot for.

Very highly recommended
Reviewer Score: 9