Length: 98 min
Budget: $0.85 million (US)
Worldwide Gross: $90 million (US)
The Unscene Punch
Steel doors slam shut! Our hero is trapped! A few short moments ago, he was a raging tsunami of martial arts power. Now, he patiently sits: accepting defeat, powerless against his fate. You have never seen a hero like this. Nor had the thousands who left the theatre resolving to learn the martial arts and improve their fate. Welcome to “Enter the Dragon”: one of the most motivational movies ever.
The scenario is simple. A martial arts tournament. A remote island. The host, Han, a renegade Shaolin. His tournament? A cover for recruiting muscle to a cynical and cruel drug business. To expose Han, a CIA-like agency recruits a good Shaolin played by Bruce Lee. With the tournament as cover, he is to get on the island and look for incriminating evidence. Visiting his father before leaving, Lee suddenly discovers Han’s right-hand man had victimized his own family. His sister chose suicide rather than suffer a humiliating rape by his thugs. Now, our hero has a burning personal motive to fight Han. Yet violent revenge would dishonor the dead sister’s code. Can our hero keep his own violence within the rules? Or just for self defence? Or will the all-too human desire for justice reduce him to becoming an outlaw to the code? One no better than Han?
A great fighter begins with a feint, a fake punch. In “Enter the Dragon,” the fake is the movie’s opening style. Lalo Schifrin’s music (he also wrote the “Mission: Impossible” theme) propels every scene. It provides a continual emotional upbeat. The bright primary colours make a happy assault on the senses. So does the active camera. Light-hearted. Joyful. Not serious. It’s carnival. Most importantly, it disarms our expectation of ‘realism.’ Relax. Indulge yourself with pure enjoyment. Have fun. No one will teach or preach. All this frees the audience to enjoy, learn or change, each to his own pleasure.
Then there are the fight scenes. From the very opening, a feast for the eye. Choreographed by Lee, they are perfectly staged and executed. A power ballet. Not violent, except as sudden victory always seems violent. A true joy to watch. But now the carnival creator has begun quietly crafting in a lesson. One about the pleasures of physical discipline. About the sensuality of mastery through training. Wow! Acquired techniques, tried and true, all bound up with pleasure. But there is more. The camaraderie of colleagues, fearlessness facing the mob. All in one package.
Bang! As our attention is glued left, the great fighter delivers a subtle knock-out from the right. The movie’s power is not in story, or style. And that is also the wrong place to look when evaluating this movie. Concentrate there and you will miss all the heavenly glory. The power is in the effect produced by exposure to Bruce Lee’s character. We began with a scene where Lee accepts defeat. A man moving effortlessly between frenzy and calm, like water. Most importantly, it is the way though which it is shown that inspires! A philosophy of life conveyed through massaging your feelings, not preaching. Superiority of character suddenly seems easily available to anyone who merely comes to training each day for physical pleasure or for the joy in movement! All this and being able to endure defeat, too, like it is nothing. This is the knock out punch that wins the holy grail: moving an audience to action.
Because the filmmakers succeed in this, “Enter the Dragon” is a great movie.
“Main Theme” by Lalo Schifrin