In the early 1970s Bruce Lee was all the craze. Being born in San Francisco and being a star in Hong Kong allowed him to become an international superstar and a bridge between the two countries.
Lee’s first action film that put him on the map was The Big Boss in 1971. His next two films were Fist of Fury and the Way of the Dragon, both made it onscreen in 1972. Enter the Dragon premiered one month after Lee’s death on 19th August 1973 and became one of the most influential martial arts, action films of all time.
Enter the Dragon's plot is simple but effective. Lee (played by Bruce Lee) infiltrates a drug kingpin’s named Han (played by Shih Kien) private island to gather incriminating evidence alongside fighting in his martial arts tournament. On top of that, Lee learns the man responsible for his sister’s death is working with Han. The story is nothing special and is generic, but Lee’s performance both in the action scenes and in the dramatic scenes really elevate the film.
There is a lot of behind-the-scenes snippets that are very interesting such as this film has both Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung in uncredited roles before they broke big in Hong Kong. Another aspect that is very interesting about this movie is that the entire film is shot in silence and voices dubbed over in during post production. Due to this film being funded by Warner Brothers (American) and Golden Harvest (Hong Kong) the film had two dubs, one in English and the other in Cantonese. Bruce Lee was both the Cantonese and the English dub. I am trying to imagine Bruce Lee in the recording booth doing his action scenes and re-enacting his screams. Bruce Lee apparently challenged and fought several real fights with the film extras and set intruders when they were filming. The film had a tight budget around $850,000 ($5,769,344.50 today) for an action film with giant set pieces even for today’s standards. But the film turned out to be one of the highest grossing films and is estimated to have garnered $350 million ($1.2 billion today) which is 410 times the original budget.
On top of all that, even with the film’s low budget the action sequences are some of the greatest that have ever hit the screen. Take that mirror fight scene at the end of the film (spoiler alert), trying to hide the crew and film in a room filled with mirrors whilst having the camera move and follow lee is a stroke of clever filmmaking.
Films that have been influenced from that scene would be John Wick 2 when Keanu and Ruby Rose fought in a room full of mirrors.
The cultural impact of Enter the Dragon knows no bounds as it inspired so many other pieces of media and the martial artists around the world. Dragonballz creator, Akira Toriyama was inspired by Enter The Dragon and fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were also inspired by Enter the Dragon. MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) was impacted by Bruce Lee’s philosophy on Martial Arts called Jeet Kune Do which was show cased in the beginning scene where Lee and Sammo Hung duke it out utilizing strikes and grappling. This is quite unheard of back in the 1970s and MMA fighters all around have credited Bruce Lee as their inspiration for taking the sport.
All in all, Enter the Dragon is the legacy Bruce Lee left behind after his death. I’d say it is his most influential film, but not my favourite film ( in fact I'd rate Fist of Fury) and has paved the way for action movies for decades to come.
The film is still very much watchable to this day due to it’s action packed sequences being quite ahead of its time. If I were to recommend which dub to watch, I think Lee’s performance really shines in the Cantonese dub, but the English dub is also quite good. All in all I would recommend this film.
Jason Lin is a film production student at UTS.