Fast & Furious: Bruce Lee in ENTER THE DRAGON (Warner Brothers 1973)

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Haai-ya! The Seventies was the era of kung-fu cinema, and nobody did ’em better than the great Bruce Lee. Probably the biggest martial arts star ever, Lee came to prominence in the USA as Kato in the 60’s series THE GREEN HORNET. He acted and trained Hollywood stars in the art of kung fu, including James Coburn and Steve McQueen. When the kung fu craze hit the screens, Lee’s Hong Kong films THE BIG BOSS and FISTS OF FURY were released here to packed houses. ENTER THE DRAGON was Lee’s first American starring film, and unfortunately his last due to his untimely death shortly after the films’ release.

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The plot’s pretty simple: Shaolin martial arts master Lee is sent to thwart the evil Han, a Shaolin gone rogue, involved with the drug and white slavery trades. Han is the ruler of his own island, and he’s holding a martial-arts tournament there. Americans Roper (John Saxon) and Williams (Jim Kelly of BLACK BELT JONES ) are also among those entering the tournament. The film follows Lee’s efforts to investigate the goings-on, and winds up with a battle royal as Han unleashes his minions on Lee and Roper. Of course, Han is eventually vanquished, and the world is made safe from Han’s nefarious schemes.

In between, there’s a ton of kung fu action that comes fast and furious, with Bruce Lee at the center of it all. The cast features cult actor John Saxon (JOE KIDD, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) and karate champ Jim Kelly (BLACK BELT JONES ) in his film debut. The evil Han is Hong Kong actor Shih Kien, whose voice was dubbed by Charlie Chan’s Number Son, Keye Luke.

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The film is a visual delight as directed by Robert Clouse. Clouse was primarily an action director (DARKER THAN AMBER, BLACK BELT JONES, THE BIG BRAWL) and there’s a reason for that- he was deaf! Particularly stunning is the final showdown between Lee and Han, a Hall of Mirrors scene reminiscent of Orson Welles’ THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI. Lalo Schifrin’s score keeps things moving along at a brisk clip.

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Bruce Lee is credited as fight choreographer, and his style is like a well orchestrated dance. Lee was working on directing and starring in GAME OF DEATH when he died of cerebral edema, and Clouse was brought in to complete the film, released posthumously after Lee’s death. ENTER THE DRAGON stands as final tribute to his legacy, an all-out assault you won’t want to miss. (I can’t help thinking of the “Fistful of Yen” segment from THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE  though, a perfect parody of martial arts movies, especially this one! “Totaw consetwation!” )

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