Enter The Dragon

Dir: Robert Clouse, 1973

20/10

Enter The Dragon

The ultimate martial arts film! No chop socky movie could ever come close to the sheer awesomeness this is. In fact this film is so awesome that I’ve had to give it double the maximum score!

Bruce Lee plays Lee. That’s it. Just Lee. A mononym. That immediately exudes cool. Lee is tasked by British Intelligence to go undercover at Mr. Han’s martial arts tournament. Han is using the tournament as a front for his heroin smuggling and prostitution ring. It’s Lee’s job to find the evidence and alert the authorities.

Competitors from all around the world are invited which two of them are from the USA, Roper (John Saxon) and Williams (Jim Kelly). Roper and Williams and are old Vietnam buddies.

The film has not dated well at all but that just adds to it’s brilliance. The dialogue is littered with 70’s anachronisms like “cat”, as in Kelly’s line “who’s this Han, cat?”.

This film is stuck in the seventies. By today’s standards some of the film could be seen as questionable. Kelly comes off  the worst. Here he is portrayed as a stereotypical black man employing jive slang, listening to jive music he is cocky, arrogant and highly sexual. A bevy of prostitutes are offered to him to choose one from but chooses several and apologises for missing anyone out but he’s tired!

With an afro and sideburns, wearing a crushed velvet suit Williams is the quintessential seventies ghetto pimp. His backstory sees him at a dojo for black empowerment, the walls adorned with posters for the Black Panther Party. On exiting the dojo he gives the black power fist sign to the sensei and is then harassed by two racist police officers. With little effort he subdues the officers and steals their police car.

But Jim Kelly does get to utter one the film’s best lines, “bullshit, Mr. Han, man!”.

An alternative title on it’s release was “The Deadly Three” referring to Lee, Williams and Roper. Sensibly, they decided to scrap that title and go with the familiar one capitalising on Bruce’s infamy for his box office hit “Way Of The Dragon”.

Williams doesn’t have anything to do with Lee and doesn’t help him in the slightest so to refer to him in the title would just be plain daft.

Roper is a gambling addict who owes $125,000 to a mobster. Of course the mobster sends his goons out to give him a good hiding and he wipes the floor with them and then absconding to Hong Kong to enter the tournament.

The director, Robert Clouse, throws in every cliche he can think of. The flashback sequences dissolve with a blurry wave effect like something you’d see on an episode of “Star Trek”. In a flashback to the death of Lee’s sister, several men accost her and her dad so, naturally, being a karate expert, she flails her hands and feet around and pulls a lot of funny faces, typical of the Golden Harvest output. On running from the attackers she trips over allowing them to catch up with her. Totally unoriginal. Clouse’s got no idea about editing. He even uses a quick shot from earlier in the film later on!

The scenes of action are masterful. Choreographed by Bruce himself the epic battle in the underground tombs is sheer brilliance. It’s exciting, amazing, impressive. Lee’s skills of martial artist mastery is astounding. Truly phenomenal.

Of course the most famous scene arrives when Bruce takes a pair of nunchakus off one of the footmen and whirls it round his body so deftly you’d think it was part of him. A bit of trivia for those who don’t know but if you look very carefully when Lee snaps the guards neck you can see it’s a very young Jackie Chan. The opening scene has Bruce fighting none other than Sammo Hung.

Unfortunately, for many years, fans of the film in Great Britain were treated to a heavily censored version. On it’s original release the UK censors demanded a few cuts to be made to violence and O’Hara (Bob Wall) attacking Lee with two broken bottles. A few years later, a new director of the board, James Ferman, had taken over and he had an irrational fear of martial arts weapons, concerned that everybody would go around swinging the very difficult weapon to come by.

Warner Bros. were ordered to withdraw all prints of the film and resubmit to the board. Ferman saw the film, reinstated a few of the original cuts but, now, insisted that all sight of nunchakus (or chain sticks as he liked to called them) be removed. Obeying the order the film was re released back in cinemas sans nunchakus.

ENTER THE DRAGON censored poster (2)
Re release poster. Note how the original had Bruce Lee holding nunchakus and has now been painted over to represent a bo staff.

Released uncut on video at the height of the video boom (and shown uncut on British television station ITV in the early eighties) the film fell foul of the (already) draconian Video Recordings Act 1984. Warner resubmitted the film for a video certificate in 1988 and was awarded an ’18’ certificate but only after, once again, the removal of the feared weapon and the scenes of Bolo (Yang Tze/Bolo Yeung) breaking the bones of Han’s guards. The back cover even had the disclaimer “BBFC Edited Version”. All in all a total of 1 min 45 secs were snipped.

enter the dragon uk vhs 1st bbfc release
Insert for the first official BBFC rated video release
enter the dragon uk vhs back cover
Back cover insert. Note the disclaimer “BBFC Edited Version”

Through the passage of time “Enter The Dragon” was reissued on video several times, each time more and more footage was allowed through but never in it’s complete form. An extended version was issued that contained footage cut by the producers before release and introduced by Linda Lee Cadwell, Bruce’s widow. Despite her saying that it was the uncut version and a very brief shot of Lee swinging the dreaded weapon it was still censored.

But then, in 1998, Ferman retired and the public rejoiced. His narrow minded view would be banished and adults would be treated like adults.

Following his retirement the BBFC saw fit to issue ratings that Ferman had previously denied,”The Exorcist” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” being notable.A DVD release of the extended cut followed at the start of the influx of DVD but this also was cut.

ENTER THE DRAGON censored uk dvd
First censored UK DVD release with the bo staff in place of the nunchakus

Eventually, the board relaxed it’s policy on offensive weapons (martial arts ones, especially) and duly issued an uncut certificate to the 2001 DVD citing on their website the words that is like music to all film fans “all previous BBFC cuts waived”.

enter the dragon uncut uk dvd (2)
Uncut DVD release with the unaltered nunchakus on display

Everybody must see this! The soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin wholly captures the tone of the film. The main theme alone is a perfect rendition of Asian/spy/martial arts genres punctuated by Lee’s screams of “waahhh!”.

“Enter The Dragon” is sadly Lee’s swansong as he died three weeks prior to the release but his magnetism and action star status is eternally cemented in this, the most perfect of action films.

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