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I spent a bit of time thinking, about how Tony Jaa never really became as big as i thought he would be, for a while (circa 2005) everyone i knew was talking about him, film websites and the like were filled with “you have to see this man!” diatribes on Jaa’s physical feats. While yes there were certainly language barriers that kept him firmly in being a cult action hero (as well as personal struggles), i personally attributed to it being more his lack of screen presence.
It goes without saying that Jaa’s physicality on its own certainly got him deserved attention, but he just wasn’t/isn’t a movie star to me. I barely remember what he looks like, or what he sounds like when i try to remember his films. Contrast this to Bruce Lee, and you can see where i’m going with this; When he shows up in the rain, in that brilliant white suit, and with that pained expression on his face in Fists of Fury no one in their right mind can deny this man was meant to be seen on a big screen.
It’s this charisma, this immediately recognisable presence that i credit with helping him get Enter The Dragon made, and allowed him to become one of the first Asian superstars, where he remains to this day.
Apart from Fist of Fury, this is truly Mr. Lee’s most polished and expensive production. Big Boss and Return of the Dragon, while still being decent martial arts movies, can’t escape their low production values. Here, the picture and sound are sharp, and the production design doesn’t give the enormous impression that it was shot on other film’s sets and back lots during their lunch breaks.
It should be a problem that, the film is saddled with the obligatory white man (Saxon), and token black man (Kelly) so that the money men wouldn’t be sweating buckets because Bruce looks too Asian to possibly sell tickets. But thankfully that isn’t the case, John Saxon is just such a smooth talking likable guy (like a 1970’s George Clooney or something), and Jim Kelly channels the best parts of Shaft and the Blaxploitation films into an undeniably cool character, that they add to the film’s charm.
Also, if you’ve only heard about Bruce’s physic and never had a chance to see him move, i can’t really say that there isn’t a better film to see him here, this man clearly worked out… Seriously he looks like bullets would just ricochet off of any part of his body, if he just flexed that area. His speed and precision were at their absolute peak here, and his dedication to his art clearly shows.
Also, there is a small, (and i mean small) brutally violent cameo by a young Jackie Chan, and a slightly bigger one by an equally (unrecognisable) young Sammo Hung. Also also, the film’s score combines funk and oriental flourishes and is indeed quite nice.
I’m not sure how much input Bruce had in the cinematography of his fights (he did choreograph them, so he may have had large input as to how to shoot them), or if Robert Clouse just didn’t have the ability to shoot a decent action scene, but the same problem that is present in Return of the Dragon is more or less here in just as bad a way. That being, the fights look more like demonstration videos than cinematic fight scenes. This is especially the case during Bruce’s underground brawl. The shots are more or less locked off, with Bruce staying in the middle punching people, and while yes this gives us the clearest view of his incredible talents, it doesn’t make for very visually stimulating sequences.
While in his three previous films, Bruce shows he is not the most gifted of actors, his charisma makes up for that short coming, and ultimately he is a very likable guy in all of them. Here, in “Enter the Dragon”, he plays it completely straight, switching from being bored to incredibly intense, with very little humour to be had to make up the middle. While i can appreciate that perhaps most people prefer to see Bruce Lee as the bad ass he really is, i prefer to see him in his lighter moments.
The general consensus is that this is a crown jewel in the martial arts film crown, is as good a way for anyone who had their career tragically cut short to leave off from, and that it stands as Bruce Lee’s greatest film. I will agree with the first two points. My pick for Bruce’s greatest will always be Fist of Fury, and that is mostly based on the failure of the fight scenes here to be nicely presented. I have a feeling i’m in the minority but so be it.
Regardless of my personal feelings, if you are just deciding to get into Bruce Lee to see what all the fuss is about, i say there is no better place to start then here with Enter The Dragon.
**** OUT OF FIVE