12.19.2011

Ka-POW!

ENTER THE DRAGON (1973)
Merry Martial Arts-mas.
Honestly, what better way to celebrate the spirit of giving, loving, and bad wool sweaters than to watch Bruce Lee kick the shit out of everyone? My point exactly. Let's just say it, yes? Enter The Dragon (1973) is better than flying sabertooth tigers, badass mama cats, and Tom Hardy rapping. Enter The Dragon is basically better than everything. It's really not hard to see why. Bruce Lee (thinly disguised as Lee) takes on a case of 007 proportions when he agrees to join a martial arts tournament on an exclusive island to spy on an evil crime lord. To top it all off, it's a martial arts movie with undercurrents of spy thriller and blaxploitation, revenge films and redemption films. The best part of the movie for me is the way it's set up. A clear, straightforward plot, filled to the brim with lively characters. Despite the fact that it's an exciting action movie, the action is really just a nice little side dish to what is a wonderfully character driven flick.

Image from midnightonly.com.
Bruce Lee helms the film as the ever stoic Jedi fortune cookie. He's one with the force and stuff, and knows how to fight with his mind, not his strength. But with his strength too. Just look at those arms! The best thing about Lee is that, while he's a bonafide badass with superior martial skills and a battle cry that could explode bald eagles, he's got a great sense of humor. Instead of sitting lotus style on his high horse casting a weary eye on all those beneath him, he carries on with a sly grin and a couple well-deserved pranks on anyone who dares to piss him off. It makes him powerful, knowledgeable, but human. Why did we love Yoda in the original Star Wars? Because he chuckled at his own jokes as he mumbled incoherently to himself. Why did we hate Yoda in the new Star Wars? Because he had no personality and sat there stroking his butt-ugly CGI chin. You can be all powerful and still be all human, in a way that lets the audience actually connect to the character. Furthermore, Lee does have a revenge plot going--man indirectly killed his sister, yadayada. But somehow that's less important than the bonds he makes with the other characters, and the bromance he shares with all of them.

Image from midnightonly.com
Roper is our mandatory white guy lens, because we clearly need someone to translate all this asian crap for us. Did I mention the racism is borderline ridiculous? But you know what--I can handle it. Because unlike some movies from the 70s, the "minorities characters" here were...well. Badasses. Sure, they might've taken on all the stereotypes, but they fought their own fights, whooped the bad guys asses, and did it all in style. And Roper is...well. Just a very amicable tool. You can't help but like Roper. Played by John Saxon, Roper spends more time gambling than he does actually fighting, and will play the odds just to make a pretty penny. But when he does take a swing...he'll knock a man down in a single hit. Despite the fact that he's a gambling addict, Roper has a surprisingly high bar of unshakable principles and while every man has his price, Roper keeps his nose clean of nefarious business and stays true to his friends. You go, Roper.

Next up, Roper's Nam pal and token black friend, Williams, played by Jim Kelly. Williams is a cool cat with a happenin' jive, whatever that means. He's the kind of man who is constantly followed by a funky theme song and often found getting shafted by the po-po. What's a brotha to do? Beat the pigs up, that's what. The great thing about Williams is while he fulfills basically every blaxploitation stereotype, including his unquenchable sexual appetite, you've got to hand it to the guy, he does it all in style. I mean, after watching him pull his sweet martial arts moves, what small army of hookers wouldn't throw themselves at him?

As for the bad guys, we have a couple worth mentioning. First up we have Parsons, played by a guy who will never work again after this movie. He's one of the fighters in the tournament who isn't so much a bad guy as he is a straight up bully--he beats on the help, which is a clear sign that he's a psychopath. Parsons is a great character not because of anything he does, but because of his purpose in the story. He's simply there to add weight to the tournament so it's not a bunch of guys we like beating each other up, and he adds a nice extra layer of tension to the story (and then satisfaction when he gets his ass handed to him). In short, it's just plain smart screenwriting. As for the real villains, we've got the evil millionaire who pulls all the strings, known only as Han (Kien Shih). Han has a great deadpan evil thing going, but more than that, he's missing a hand and replaces said missing hand with various cruel hooks. So. What more can you really want from that? For henchmen, he's got Bolo (the thinly disguised Bolo Yeung), who is the prime example of what happens when you mate with an ox. Really, terrifying human being. And then there's O'Harra (Robert Wall), who is sleazy as hell and sports a scar across the side of his face to prove it. Oh, and he killed Lee's sister. Prepare to die.

"Bolo no like you like that!"

Speaking of the sister, a moment for the women. There's a an undercover woman played by Bette Chung, who really does fuck all. But she keeps a platonic relationship with the male lead, so that must make her some sort of super spy. Lee's sister on the other hand is a total badass. Su Lin (Angela Mao) proves herself to be worthy to carry Bruce Lee's blood in her veins when she gets chased down by an army of men and knocks them down like dominos. She pwns the hell out of any sinister man who crosses her path, and it's only after four minutes and a multitude of extras that they finally corner her and prompt her to kill herself to save her honor. Speaking of extras...holy shit. Is that Jackie Chan?

In short, Enter The Dragon is really the Christmas gift that keeps giving. To hell with a puppy, I want nunchucks in my stockings. Which are also better than Arnold's Pizza Shop.

6 comments:

  1. I LOVE Bruce Lee and this is a must view that I keep on my shelf when I want some badass action. "battle cry that could explode bald eagles" LOL love that metaphor. :)

    Bruce wanted to bring that self-depracation to Kato, but they stomped all over that with size twelve narrow-minded steel-toed boots.

    And it's John Saxon before he got sliced up by Freddy Kruger.

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  2. Thanks! And I agree! I'm surprisingly new to Bruce Lee territory, but this movie sold me. I could literally find no fault!

    Dammit, I can't even think of Bruce Lee and Kato in the same sentence. He's just too badass!

    A Nightmare on Elm Street! That totally did not connect with me. Definitely adds a whole new level to his character.

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  3. Dang, it's too long since I saw Enter the Dragon; Lee is just phenomenal. If you're new to BL, I would recommend checking out Way of the Dragon. There are some naff "comedy" moments in it, but there is no denying the quality of the action. Lee kicks all kinds of ass with nunchucks outside the back of a restaurant, and the climactic fight with the "unfeasibly hairy" Chuck Norris is amazing!

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  4. I will definitely have to check it out! I actually saw part of that fight randomly on youtube and it made my life. Now I just have to find out the context behind it. Bruce Lee is way too badass for my brain to even comprehend.

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  5. Enter the Dragon really is a movie treasure. It's a crime that Lee died at all, much less before this pic was released to the public.

    You're dead right that this movie gives us a distinct and interesting group of people to watch, and that it's a strong part of its appeal. It's almost like an Agatha Christie story, but the big cast of characters are involved with drug-smuggling warlords and a no-holds-barred martial arts tournament - awesome!

    Lee's charisma is exceptional, as is the fact that he doesn't rely on his physicality for everything. He had everything needed to be a major Hollywood star.

    EtD is exciting, well-filmed, and its story is told effectively. The humor and dialogue are all fine, and I wish there were many more movies like this.

    Want to think of something extra-funny? The first Mortal Kombat movie was clearly trying to tell almost this exact story - down to the evil Asian guy with his own island fortress - and it did poorly with the fighting and the story and in getting us invested in the characters. It's extra-shocking to see how closely MK tracks EtD, only to have awful, awful dialogue: "You will die!" "No - you will die!"

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  6. It really is a crime! Alas, Bruce Lee, his badassitry could not be physically contained in mortal form.

    And I definitely see the Agatha Christie reference. Honestly, the fight scenes, yes, badass. I was there. But it was the characters that really hooked me into the movie and reeled me right in. And all of it wound up together...I'm there!

    Now, part of me wants to see Mortal Kombat just so I can make the connection. Not that I can see why anyone would ever want to try to retell this story...because they'd fail. In ten different ways. And clearly did.

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