Starring: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly
Director: Robert Clouse
Running Time: 102 mins
Enter The Dragon is an American/Hong Kong film about a skilled martial artist who is recruited to spy on a reclusive crime lord, gaining access to a secretive island lair by agreeing to particpate in a brutal martial arts tournament.
Martial arts movies have always been a bit of a bugbear for me. They’re undeniably impressive when it comes to great action and fight choreography, but I’ve always felt the emphasis on the art of the fight really gets in the way of good storytelling, making those action scenes more often than not drag on a little too much.
Enter The Dragon, however, is far more than just a martial arts exhibition, and although it also features legendarily impressive fighting skill and talent on screen, it’s an enjoyable, engaging action blockbuster, with the same feel as a good old Bond movie that sees Bruce Lee infiltrate a villain’s lair to find the truth and ultimately bring justice.
So, as someone who’s tended to shy away from martial arts movies in the past, I was really surprised by Enter The Dragon. It’s not the opulent show of style over substance that some of the more modern films are (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero etc.), but rather an impressively engaging story with good blockbuster fun factor and even a bit of grit throughout too.
There’s a lot to like about the movie, but the most enjoyable part of it has to be its classic Bond vibes, combining its own unique martial arts spectacle with a thoroughly entertianing tale of espionage. The darker, grittier elements of the film mean it leans more to the side of a Sean Connery 007 film than a Roger Moore one, but that still means there’s a lot of fun to be had, especially when the film goes deliberately over the top with its presentation of the fight between good and evil.
Particularly reminiscent of the likes of You Only Live Twice, Enter The Dragon is at times a delightfully preposterous watch. The martial arts are as real as they get, and that’s spectacular to see on screen, but then some parts of the movie (the villain’s massive underground lair, the fellow undercover operatives in his ranks, and the villain himself) are plainly ridiculous.
But the good thing is that the movie knows it, and goes all out to entertain you with that craziness. And in tandem with the Bond-esque vibes, it all comes together rather well, making for a thoroughly enjoyable spy blockbuster.
However, one thing to know about Enter The Dragon is that it’s not all fun and games. As I said, there is a grittier vibe to the film as well, and while it does feature some far-fetched silliness here and there, there are much darker elements at play that would never make it into a Bond movie.
In that, the story aims to be a little more impressive and engaging than ultimately proves the case. The darker, more brutal story elements do bring a greater intensity at times – particularly to the fight scenes – but in terms of deepening your intrigue and excitement to the story as a whole, they often prove more jarring than thrilling, occasionally clashing a little too much with those delightful Bond vibes.
Saying that, however, without a little bit more grit and peril at play, the action here wouldn’t have been anywhere near good as it turns out. Bruce Lee and his co-stars’ martial arts skills are hugely impressive to see, and the fight choreography throughout is spectacular to say the least.
However, what sets this apart from being a simple martial arts exhibition is the fact that there’s real peril at stake in those fight sequences, with a threat of serious injury or worse to those engaged in combat, all coming across in far more striking and relatable fashion than any martial arts film I’ve seen before.
Couple that with the enjoyability factor of the plot, and Enter The Dragon proves to be a rather good action movie. With engaging and impressive fight sequences interspersing a high-stakes, often enjoyably ridiculous Bond-esque plot, the film is a surprisingly entertaining watch throughout, and although it doesn’t always balance its darker and lighter sides to great effect, that doesn’t stop Enter The Dragon from giving you a great time, which is why I’m giving it a 7.3.