Marking the 40th Anniversary of the first martial arts film produced by one of the big Hollywood studios, a new Blu-ray of the classic Enter the Dragon landed last week from Warner Bros. This re-mastered release boasts an improved transfer and a few new extras from the 2007 Blu-ray, but the real star is the movie itself and the man it revolves around, Bruce Lee. Already a star in Asia, Lee finally made a splash with mainstream Western audiences with this film. Sadly, it would be his last as the actor died at age 32 before Enter the Dragon was released.
It might seem quaint to audiences raised on a more frenetic action movie style, but there’s something refreshing about the old school action sequences, staged and shot with a simplicity and clarity emphasizing the skill of its star rather than trying to disguise the lack thereof. Lee was an amazing specimen in an era when action stars weren’t necessarily noted for their physicality. Think Roger Moore as James Bond. Smaller in stature and bulk, Lee was wiry, quick, graceful and powerful. Dragon constantly pits him against larger opponents, emphasizes his technique which turns the disadvantages of a smaller build into advantages.
What Lee lacked in traditional acting range, he more than compensated for in an amazing charisma which grabs and holds your attention every second he’s on screen. Whether he’s philosophizing to a young student or fighting with his cat-like yowls, he makes a memorable impact.
The American filmmakers were wise to recognize what they had in Lee and to let him shine on his own. They brought in Americans John Saxon and Jim Kelly to help bridge the cultural gap, but this is Lee’s show all the way. The stripped down story about entering a martial arts tournament on a private island run by a drug kingpin is a simple excuse to string together a lot of entertaining fight sequences and it all works beautifully. I should add a special shout out for Lalo (Dirty Harry) Schifrin’s typically terrific score
The source print is in surprisingly good shape for a 40-year-old film and to my untechnical eye, the film has never looked better than it does on this Blu-ray. The image is softer and grainier than you’ll find with a modern release, but that’s to be expected.
Most of the extras – including the lightly informative commentary track by producer Paul Heller and the 85 minute documentary Curse of the Dragon about Lee and his mysterious untimely death – were included in previous DVD releases. Notably absent is the popular 2000 documentary on Lee’s life The Warrior’s Journey. In its place is an examination of how many of the film’s locations look today in the 10 minute Return to Han Island and the 26 minute Now Way as Way which was produced and directed by Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee and features such stars as George Takei and Sugar Ray Leonard talking about their personal journeys and how those relate to Lee’s own philosophy. These are non-essential viewing. More interesting is the 20 minute Wing Chun: The Art that Introduced Kung Fu to Bruce Lee which interviews teachers and practitioners and gives a brief history of the martial art that Lee helped make famous. There is also a packet of swag including an iron on patch, a bunch of production stills and a motion lenticular of Lee working his magic with the nunchaku.
There isn’t much here if you’re thinking of replacing a copy of the film you already own, but if you like action movies and you don’t already have it, this is a must-have for your collection. This movie cemented the influence of martial arts in Western culture and it provided the template for countless action movies to come. Bruce Lee is forever the model of the ultimate ass-kicking movie star. He has yet to be equaled 40 years later and he was never more magnetic than he was in Enter the Dragon.
The Blu-ray is available at Amazon.
Filed under: Blu-ray Review