In a too-brief career, martial artist/actor Bruce Lee appeared in only four complete films before his untimely death in 1973 at the age of 32, The Big Boss (released in the U.S. as Fists of Fury), Fist of Fury (released in the U.S. as The Chinese Connection), Way of the Dragon (released here as Return of the Dragon), and Enter the Dragon, his first (and last) English-language film. A fifth film, Game of Death, begun before Enter the Dragon, but left unfinished at the time of Lee's death, was released in 1978 with doubles and stand-ins. A Golden Harvest and Warner Bros. co-production (the first of its kind), Enter the Dragon promised to make the charismatic Lee a star not just internationally (he was already that), but an American one as well. Lee died less than a week before Enter the Dragon's Hong Kong premiere.

At the behest of Warner Bros., Lee agreed to share co-lead status with an American actor, John Saxon (Roper), and to widen the demographics to urban audiences with an African-American martial arts star, Jim Kelly (Williams). Three leads meant less time on-screen for Lee, but that did little to blunt Lee's impact whenever Enter the Dragon returned to his character and storyline. When we first meet Lee (he's called Lee in the film too), he's in practice mode, beating a pudgy opponent (Sammo Hung) in an easy match-up. After Lee engages in a Kung-Fu-style exchange of Eastern-influenced platitudes with an orange-robed, elder Shaolin monk, he meets an official from a Europol-like organization, Mr. Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks).

Braithwaite wants to recruit Lee to fight in an upcoming martial arts tournament on a secluded island retreat owned by Han (Kien Shih), a James Bond-inspired villain (e.g., Doctor No). Han runs his island like a dictatorship, imprisoning or forcing them to fight to the death in the tournament. Braithwaite wants Lee to uncover evidence of Han's illegal activities. Once Lee has evidence, Braithwaite can justify an armed invasion of the island to shut down Han's operations. The screenplay gives Lee an overly familiar revenge motive for agreeing to Braithwaite's proposition: Han's improbably Caucasian bodyguard, O'Hara (Robert Wall), caused the death of Lee's sister. The Lee's and O'Hara comes courtesy comes via one of four clumsy flashbacks (each lead gets one) accompanied by the seriously old-school rippling effect to separate the flashback from scenes taking place in the present.



Roper (Saxon sporting one of the worst toupees ever put to celluloid) and Williams (drawing his strength from his Afro and sideburns) enjoy Han's hospitality (e.g., food, drink, and women), while the ascetic Lee prepares himself for the next match or tries to uncover information about Han's activities. In classic Bond fashion (but with a much smaller budget), Han has an underground lair where his henchmen, including a young Jackie Chan in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo, keep Han's enemies imprisoned, drugged, or enslaved, working to purify the source of his fortune: opium. Lee wears a black body suit while he's in secret agent mode but later loses his shirt (literally) to better show off his physique.



Enter the Dragon's fight scenes may not be sophisticated by today's standards, but that matters little when Lee is onscreen. Lee choreographed his own fight scenes, even going as far as directing the opening sequence with Sammo Hung and the Shaolin monk. Lee, however, smartly left the best for last. With the tournament devolving into a free-for-fall, Lee tracks Han to his weapons museum and, after a brief confrontation, a Hall of Mirrors. More than 8,000 mirrors were used in the climactic fight inside Han's Hall of Mirrors. Constructed more for suspense than martial arts action, the scene turns on fleeting contact between Lee and Han. With knowledge of the Hall of Mirrors on his side and replacing his hand with a metallic claw, Han gets the better of Lee, clawing his face (twice), his chest (twice), and his back (once). Lee channels his anger into laser-sharp focus, pouncing the moment Han errs.



Feel free to share your thoughts about Enter the Dragon's greatness in the comments below, along with your favorite scene.