Warner Bros./Warner Bros. .
R4 . COLOR . 102 mins .
R . PAL
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
The last film to be completed by Bruce Lee before his untimely death in 1973, Enter the Dragon is still considered by many to be the zenith of its genre. There’s no doubt that this landmark film, the first ever collaboration between Hollywood and the then fledgling Hong Kong film industry, would have marked the meteoric rise of Lee in America. Tragically, Bruce did not live to see the film’s premiere.
Even by today’s standards, Lee is still regarded as one of the world’s greatest martial arts choreographers. After watching Enter the Dragon the reason for his enduring reputation is obvious. Lee was a master of the craft, a perfectly honed machine whose beautifully choreographed and lightning-fast fight scenes are both exciting and true to life.
In addition to crafting some of the best martial arts scenes ever filmed, Lee worked tirelessly as an ambassador for Chinese culture. His goal was to bring the philosophy and elegance of Asia to audiences around the world. Indeed, he worked as hard on the philosophical elements of his films as he did the action.
And so it was with Enter the Dragon. Unfortunately however, in the time between Bruce’s death and the films premiere, the film was recut, removing some of the more philosophical elements that Bruce had campaigned so tirelessly to include. Now with this Special Edition from Warner Brothers, we finally see the complete film as Bruce had intended it to be shown.
A lethal Shaolin monk (Lee), is recruited by the British government to infiltrate the island fortress of the evil Han (Kien Shih). A former Shaolin monk, Han has turned against the order and operates an elite martial arts school from his island off the coast of Hong Kong. The school is just a front (of course) for Han’s more unsavoury activities - drug smuggling and white slavery. Lee accepts the mission wishing to pursue has his own agenda - to punish Han for the murder of his sister and the disgrace Han has brought on the Shaolin order.
Do you hear what he said about your fro bro?
To gain access to the island, Lee accepts an invitation to Han’s annual martial arts tournament. Soon he is introduced to the other would-be contestants, including two Americans: Roper (John Saxon) a playboy who hopes to pay off some serious gambling debts, and Williams (Jim Kelly) a black street fighter who's just in it for the kicks (sic).
As the tournament gets under way, Lee makes nightly field trips into the guarded fortress in search of evidence. However, it soon becomes clear to Lee and the other contestants that Han’s real reason for the tournament is to recruit partners in evil, and that unwilling participants will not be leaving the island alive.
Like many action films of the late 60s and early 70s, Enter the Dragon borrows heavily from the Bond franchise. With Han carrying around a fluffy white cat and surrounding himself with lethal female bodyguards, the similarity to Dr No and other Bond antagonists is undeniable. But in the case of Enter the Dragon, the use of the Bond signature does more than increase the film’s appeal for a Western audience. The contrast between Lee and 007 provides a useful vehicle for illustrating the similarities and differences between Chinese and Western culture.
In terms of acting, I can’t deny that Enter the Dragon is largely b-grade. The exception to the rule is Bruce himself who, with his electrifying screen presence, delivers a measured, understated performance. The rest of the cast is undeniably second-rate. Jim Kelly, International Middle Weight Karate Champion of 1971 and star of Black Samurai, delivers a string of corny lines that are pure blaxploitation. And Kelly is good in comparison to John Saxon (Nightmare on Elm Street), the only ‘recognised’ Hollywood actor in the bunch. The rest of the cast is composed of martial artists and actors from Hong Kong whose performances are completely hidden below a mask of atrocious dubbing and ADR work.
As serious cinema, there is no disputing that Enter the Dragon does not stand up to close scrutiny. But all in all this b-grade exploitation piece is one hell of an enjoyable film, and delivers on action in a way that so many of today’s films cannot.
Warner have provided us with an anamorphic, widescreen presentation of Enter the Dragon which restores the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.31:1. Viewing the film at this ratio is a must - Lee’s fight scenes have been carefully choreographed to fill the entire frame. I must say that I am very impressed with the quality of the transfer; this is easily the best I have every seen the film look. Colours are vibrant and literally jump off the screen - showcasing the rich oriental set decorations and colourful costumes. Flesh tones are true to life and the black level is spot on. The transfer is completely void of compression artefacts.
Jackie Chan. The 2 second stooge.
Although Warner have done a great job with the transfer, the film is definitely beginning to show its age and there are many shortcomings in the source material. In terms of film artefacts, the print displays a constant stream of small, mostly unnoticeable specks. There’s also the occasional larger artefact, and end of reel markers can also be seen.
A constant amount of film grain, although virtually unnoticeable in brighter scenes, becomes apparent as the image darkens. As a result, the level of detail varies considerably throughout; shadow detail likewise. The detail is also affected by an image that is at times soft or poorly focussed. Combined with the film grain, this causes background detail to vary markedly from scene to scene.
But although I am honour bound to report these deficiencies in the final image, this is all to be expected for a film that’s nearly 30 years old and was produced on a below average budget. Despite the shortcomings, It still looks fantastic!
Only one soundtrack is provided, English Dolby Digital 5.1. Given the below average budget, and the 1973 production year, there isn’t much chance of a stellar audio experience. However through digital remastering, Warner have done their best to create as good a soundtrack as possible.
The remix of Lalo Schifrin's excellent oriental score (which manages to escape sounding cliché even today) nicely balances the sound from both side and rear speakers. The subwoofer is enlisted to add body to its booming rhythms. The score is showcased in a Dolby Digital 5.1, music only track.
In keeping with its genre, the fights are filled with those cheezy sound effects (you know the ones) and the ADR work is consistently poor. Ambient noise is basically non-existent, but Warner have managed to add body to the sound effects, giving them a fuller sound a pulling them out into the centre of the room. Despite accents that are sometimes hard to understand, the dialogue is distinct and clear.
We are finally delivered a Region 4 Special Edition release of Enter the Dragon, despite being available in Region 1 since 1998 (where it was released as a 25th anniversary edition). In keeping with the early release of the Region 1 version, the disc is presented in a single layer, double sided format with the film on one side and the extra features on the other. The menus are 16x9 enhanced, static and silent. For a film of it’s age, a comprehensive set of extras have been provided:
Commentary by producer Paul Heller: Heller talks sporadically about the film from conception to release including interesting on-set incidents and the aspects Bruce brought to the production. Writer Michael Allin chimes in now and again from the telephone. Although Heller does not speak continuously, he provides some interesting anecdotes for fans of the film.
Introduction by Linda Lee Cadwell: (2:12) Placed at the beginning of the feature, Bruce Lee’s widow Linda Lee Cadwell gives a short introduction to Enter the Dragon. Presented in full frame, Linda introduces this ‘original version’ - Bruce’s vision of a film that he was very close too. Although this short intro is interesting, it can’t be skipped.
Original 1973 featurette: (7:39) Full frame, B&W and colour footage from on the set. There is some cheesy 70s narration, but there is some great stuff here. The transfer is reasonable (as good as the feature).
Wheel of Fortune Cookie!
New featurette ‘Bruce Lee in his own Words’: (19:21) Full frame, B&W. The first of John Little’s documentaries on Bruce. Comprised of a montage of television interview footage from 1971 (after release of The Big Boss), home movie footage, and on-set stills from Enter the Dragon. There is no narrative, with Bruce’s own dialogue sourced from the television interview, radio interviews and deleted scenes. Bruce expounds on his philosophy of ‘no style’ in martial arts, the origins of styles and the problems this has generated, and muses on the nature of fame. If you have never heard Bruce talk, this provides a great introduction to the man and his philosophy.
Linda Lee Cadwell Interview Gallery: 10 snippets of an interview with Linda, talking on a range of subjects from her relationship with Bruce, Bruce’s motivation for getting into the cinema, and the development of Enter the Dragon.
Backyard Workout with Bruce: (1:40) Short excerpts from home movies showing Bruce training in his back yard.
Theatrical Trailers: 1.85:1, non-anamorphic. 4 versions of the trailer to enjoy, all with the 70s version of that American voice-over guy. Interestingly the trailers focus on the 3 protagonists together in equal measure, not Bruce alone.
TV Spots: 7 full-frame spots. That voice-over guy is back.
Cast and Crew: A list of credits for the movie, including stars, writer, director, and producers.
The fact that Bruce Lee, the star of only a handful of low budget films, is still as much of an icon today as he was 28 years ago, speaks for itself. Single handedly, Bruce redefined and perfected the martial arts film, giving it cinematic credibility and spawning a new genre. Warners Special Edition presentation of Enter the Dragon is worthy of this great film, providing a fantastic transfer and an interesting bunch of extras that will please both casual and die-hard fans alike. If you have never seen one of Bruce’s movies, start with Enter The Dragon! This is definitely recommended viewing.