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Enter The Dragon (Blu-ray)

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Actors: Bruce Lee / Studio: Warner Home Video / Released: 2 July 2007

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      20.06.2012 09:53
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      The most famous martial arts film of all time

      The Warners Blu-ray is only about £7.50 at the moment.

      Enter the Dragon (1973) is usually credited as the film which started the American Kung Fu craze in the 70s, and the film that made Bruce Lee an international megastar (he was already a big star in Hong Kong). I'm not a huge fan of martial arts movies, especially tournament-based ones, but this has what a film like this needs. It's trashy, fun, and never stops moving, and while I don't really subscribe to the cult of Bruce, I'd be the first to admit that he had star quality in spades.

      Like Where Eagles Dare or Flash Gordon, it's very much comfort food - a film I can watch when I'm ill and immediately feel better. I checked out the Blu-ray while suffering from a vexatious dose of man flu and felt slightly better. For a while.

      A big-time crime kingpin, Han, runs a heroin/sex slave operation from his island near Hong Kong. He's also hosting an international martial arts tournament, conveniently enough. The British send in Shaolin monk martial arts genius Lee, whose sister was killed by Han's men, to find evidence of Han's shady dealings. Also present for the tournament are American gambler Roper and African American all-round cool dude Williams.

      In truth, the actual tournament takes up very little of the film, and that's definitely a good thing. While I'm sure martial arts enthusiasts will enjoy watching all that sort of stuff, it leaves me a bit cold. I prefer the more general fight scenes, in which a bunch of guards will get kicked around by Lee, usually having obligingly come at him one at a time rather than rushing him all at once. Although they try to find a justification for the tournament in plot terms, it's a pretty daft idea for a story - international criminal masterminds would not invite a bunch of randoms who all happen to be really, really good at fighting to their secret island base. But it rattles along quickly enough that you don't really notice how silly it is until it's over.

      The film is actually not that well directed. The clumsy, wobbly slow zoom into Bruce Lee in the opening scene has no grace at all. The director keeps zooming in on Lee's face during fight scenes, usually to catch him looking particularly deranged. There are very few shots that try to do anything other than capture what's happening in front of the camera. While flashy direction can certainly get in the way, it does feel a little disappointing that this film hardly does anything filmy.

      The design is good, having a brightly coloured Marvel superhero feel to it (one of the characters even describes Han as a comic-book villain at one point). Although there are a lot of bright, primary colours, it's actually a bit murkier than you'd expect (and than I remembered). I guess the sun didn't want to come out while they were filming. The music, by Lalo Schifrin, is great - one of his best soundtracks. The opening theme, with its mixture of funky basslines and a vaguely oriental sounding orchestral melody, is as iconic in its own way as Morricone's spaghetti western themes.

      Of course, it's all about Bruce Lee. He has amazing charisma, and his fight scenes look stunning to my untrained eye. He has a kind of arrogant strut during his battles, although some of his eye-popping super-pumped facial expressions are a bit silly. He wisely doesn't try to stretch himself as an actor - the sneaky face he makes when he's stealthily prowling round after dark is pretty funny, but otherwise he's good. The voices have been dubbed pretty badly generally, but I assume Lee did his own voice. He has an odd habit of adding extra syllables in the middle of any word with an ee sound: 'Have some tee-ea' or, most famously, 'Don't think! Fee-ee-eel!" It's tragic that he died so young, but I suspect his lack of versatility would have led to his Hollywood popularity being fleeting anyway. He'd either have returned to Hong Kong or ended up in Corman films after a few years, when the fad passed. I imagine he'd be filming The Expendables 2 right about now.

      Roper is played by the always-welcome John Saxon, a B-movie perennial who starred in some of my favourite Italian horror films. He's pretty good, although never quite looks convincing in the fight scenes. Better in that regard is Jim Kelly as Williams, with an amazing afro and the funniest dialogue in the film ('Bullshit, Mr Han-man!"). There are good performers among the other martial artists at the tourney, but while Shih Kien gives an exemplary Bond-villain performance as Han, he is never convincing when fighting.

      There's a bit of nudity; this is only a step or two up from proper exploitation. I'm not completely sure why it warrants an 18 these days. Happily the version on this DVD is finally uncensored. The BBFC had a weird obsession with nunchuks, meaning a whole scene of Bruce using them was chopped. This is now restored, and maybe that's why it's still 18. It's odd that Williams, the guy with the supposed social conscience, seems so willing to make use of the prostitutes Han offers his guests, but I suppose it was the early 70s. Black people could be equals, but I guess women still couldn't (even the saintly Lee seems to be interested in one of the women, albeit a secret agent woman. He's meant to be a monk!)

      Still, as a comic-book adventure this film does absolutely everything you'd want it to do. And if I ever end up fighting my archenemy to the death, I hope I get to do it in a hall of mirrors!

      The Blu-ray has curiously variable picture quality, presumably based on the quality of the original film. Sometimes it's so clear that you can see every bead of sweat on Bruce's face; other times it looks rather murky and blurred. I suspect it's probably the best it can look in the current format, but I think because I always imagine it to be more garishly coloured than it actually is, I was very slightly disappointed.

      There are plenty of extras, but none were terribly interesting. Most were about Bruce Lee, including interviews with his widow and various old clips of him from TV. I wasn't interested enough to watch all of these; I'll happily watch this film, but I don't need to know everything about the guy. I guess he is to martial artists what Jimi Hendrix is to guitarists - the thing to aspire to, who was supremely cool and brilliant at what he did, and who ended up buried in Seattle. So I daresay for fans this stuff would all be interesting.

      More general, and therefore more worthwhile, was a 'making of' documentary, with a lot from the producers and some surviving cast members (sadly not Jim Kelly). These extras are all in standard definition, and the sound level on the 'making of' was weirdly low. I couldn't get all the way through the producer's commentary. There are also loads of trailers, most of which mention John Saxon before Bruce Lee (I guess he was better known in the States at the time). They occasionally flirt with racism - describing Han as 'inscrutable' is straight out of the Big Book of Fu Manchu Clichés, and particularly stupid given that he isn't terribly inscrutable - but again, I guess it was the early 70s, so we shouldn't expect too much.

      The extras aren't really worth your time, to be honest. The film is, though, if you enjoy a good bit of uncomplicated action fun. And the Blu-ray is cheap enough to be worth getting. This deserves a place in a chap's film collection.

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