Bruce Lee has cast a titanic shadow on our cultural landscape for more than 40 years. He’s still one of the most recognizable pop-culture icons of all time. Even
Bruce Lee has cast a titanic shadow on our cultural landscape for more than 40 years. He’s still one of the most recognizable pop-culture icons of all time. Even isolated elements of his persona are recognizable: his voice, his posture, his costumes. But that staying power is all the more impressive when you start doing the math on his timeline: Enter the Dragon was only his fourth movie as an real action hero, his first movie in English, his last and best hope at becoming a huge international star, and the final movie he would complete (he died before its release, and The Game of Death was cobbled together from existing footage). Except for The Green Hornet, which was a flop in the US, everything you know and recognize about Bruce Lee happened between 1971 and 1973. And we’re still talking about it.
There’s not a scene in Enter the Dragon that hasn’t been copied a thousand times. On paper it’s a mish-mash of shallow plot and cartoonish characters: Lee plays Lee (why complicate things), a martial arts genius recruited by British intelligence to infiltrate a secretive martial arts tournament on a private island and take down Han, the transparently evil mastermind behind it (also the man responsible for Lee’s sister’s murder). He quickly makes friends with a degenerate gambler played by character actor John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Mitchell) and a slick, charismatic vet with an all-time Afro named Williams (future blaxplotation star Jim Kelly). It’s structured as an Our-Man-Flint-level James Bond knock-off — but who cares? Every frame of every fight deserves to be printed on a poster and hung on the walls of your childhood bedroom. You’re not here for tight plotting and naturalistic character work, you’re here for the transcendent physicality and magnetic screen presence of Bruce Lee. In other words: don’t think, feel.
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