By Brontë H. Lacsamana Reporter
Movie ReviewEnter the DragonDirected by Robert ClouseQCinema International Film Festival —Restored Classics
BOTH martial artists and lovers of kickass combat in movies were hooked on Bruce Lee in the 1970s (and even beyond) for his legendary skill and charisma as a fighter and as an actor. This writer, having been raised by a father who practices martial arts and adores movies himself, was well aware of Mr. Lee’s enormous presence on screen and in the lives of many.
When the QCinema International Film Festival announced that Robert Clouse’s Enter the Dragon would be part of its Restored Classics section, getting tickets for it was a no-brainer.
An unprecedented collaboration between Hollywood and Hong Kong, the 1973 film places Mr. Lee in a fighting tournament organized by the crime lord Han (played by an entertainingly stereotypically villainous Shih Kien). With the help of fellow competitors Roper (John Saxon) and Williams (Jim Kelly), he sets out to bust Han’s operation.
For sure, much has already been said about one of the most influential action films of all time. It set the standard for many kung fu films, spy movies, and revenge tales to come.
A few things struck this writer while watching the restored version on the big screen. One was that the remarkable bodily presence of Bruce Lee just doesn’t get old, whether he is acting or fighting (damn, those well-defined muscles and those intense eyes!). It is clear that his movies are a product of an ardent love for martial arts, reaching fans even today every time his character engages in a fight sequence or firmly reiterates his philosophies.
Another striking thing is the image of Hong Kong that this film captures. The floating slums and boats on Aberdeen Harbour, for example, paint a vivid picture of a place that no longer looks like that. On the big screen it conveys the awesome sense of the characters coming together to face the unknown.
However, there’s no doubt that younger people reliving this classic will mainly be viewing it given its revered placement in cinema history. It exists now as the bedrock for many more forms of media that followed, ones that today’s audiences grew up on, from Kill Bill to John Wick (and yes, now you understand why every fighting game MUST have a Bruce Lee type character).
Not all of its elements stand the test of time either — the martial artists having their pick from a lineup of women? The cross-dissolve to transition between scenes recalling the past? That slick, funky score by Lalo Schifrin? It’s stuff you definitely don’t get from movies today.
In a recent trip to Hong Kong, this writer made a few stops to prepare for the big-screen rewatch of the classic. These include Bruce Lee’s statue in the Avenue of Stars, which many tourists visit to this day, and a pop-up exhibit on the legendary martial artist at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin.
While Enter the Dragon exists now as some cultural artefact to draw inspiration and quote from, its allure as a kickass piece of entertainment still rings true. It is a timeless showcase of jaw-dropping fight choreography, silly plot points, and inspired set pieces like the mirror room towards the end.
This writer imagines her father in 1973, then in his late teens sitting on the stairs of a packed movie theater staring up at the screen in awe. She thinks back to the many teenagers at the Bruce Lee exhibit making TikToks of each other imitating his fighting poses next to vintage posters and action figures.
Mr. Lee’s most iconic movie, sometimes looking like a parody of itself, still succeeds at freezing him in time at his pinnacle, never to grow old or forgotten.