When looked at objectively, the sizable legend of Bruce Lee actually contains a suprisingly small amount of material with a handful of TV appearances and a mere 4 finished movies under his belt at the time of his untimely demise.
For a man regularly and rightly dubbed the most influential martial artist in history it’s a frustratingly small filmography to showcase such impressive physical prowess and one wonders what Lee could of accomplished if the time fate allocated him was a little longer. However, things didn’t go that way and the best we have is Enter The Dragon.
While chilling out at his Shaolin temple and giving deep, yet condescending instruction to students; martial arts master and all round lethal bastard Lee is approached by British intelligence in order to enter a fighting tournament held by the sinister Han. Han, who has become the Elon Musk of the drug and prostitution trade, holds this tradition every couple of years in order to scout for people to hire into his vicious line of work and it turns out that one of his employees was responsible for the death of Lee’s sister years prior.
Needless to say Lee agrees and heads off for Han’s compound ready to kick a motherfucker, martial-arts-shrieking as he does so, but on the boat there he meets Roper, a con artist with a dependable right hand and Williams, a Vietnam vet who’s punch is as stunning as his afro and the three become uneasy comrades.
During the tournament, Lee fights and murders his sister’s killer during the day and sneaks out to get intell on Han’s operations at night but this spy version at burning the candle at both ends means that Lee and his temporary compatriots are very much in the firing line…
Can Lee inflict brain damage on virtually every thug in Han’s employ with his lightning fast limbs in time to take on the wily old prick himself or does the vicious crime boss have a few tricks literally up his sleeve?
One Inch Punching it’s way into the public consciousness, alerting the entire planet as to how fucking awesome kung fu movies are, Enter The Dragon is, quite possibly, the crudest film ever to be included in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, because for all it’s iconic imagery of it’s ridiculously charismatic lead, the movie is very much a magnificently unapologetic down and dirty exploitation movie.
It’s such a fantastic juxtaposition, Bruce Lee as a rippling muscled, skull-cracking, kung-fu demi-god wading around such a grimy plot that delights in aiming for the lowest common denominator whenever it can for maximum exploitation points and hitting the bullseye nearly every time.
Be it the outlandish sights of a failed henchman being gathered up into the tree trunk arms of a burly psychopath like a giant baby and then having the life literally crushed out of him – or a character fatally losing the fight of his life while surrounded by topless, cackling, drugged-up women while being bathed in epilepsy inducing 70’s disco lighting – Enter The Dragon isn’t exactly subtle, or even particularly smart but the very presence of Lee at the hight of his powers elevates this rather low rent, trashy James Bond plot to near-mythic status.
Whether lashing some poor swine with a pair of numb chucks so hard his ancestors get a shattered jaw or squaring up to his claw-handed nemesis looking insanely iconic while covered in stylish gashes, Bruce Lee is less a mortal man made of flesh and blood and more of a being on the cusp of immortality (tragically, it would turn out).
His support in the movie is nicely capable as all they really have to do is burn up celluloid until Lee strides back in the room but still, props to the legendary John Saxon (who never met an exploitation script he didn’t like) as the kung fu con artist sporting fight scenes as unconvincing as the hair piece he presumably dug out of Sean Connery’s dustbin and speaking of inspiring hair do’s (the film is positively loaded with 70’s style pompadours), we can’t downplay the magnificent afro adorning the crown of Jim Kelly who, despite having the most intriguing back story in the film, is treated fairly abysmally by the story (being beaten to death with a steel hand and having your body hung up in chains as a grisly trophy is hardly a fitting end to a character that starts the film kicking the shit out of two racist police officers).
The bit parts are enjoyably recognizable too with high kicking legends such as Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and the legitimately terrifying Bolo Yung who crushes people’s spines while grinning insanely like a Chucky doll on PCP, filling out the huge cast of villainous goons that populate Han’s estate.
The action is – obviously – transcendent with Lee’s blistering speed and impact meaning that no one can barely lay a hand on him but it never feels out of balance the way that a Steven Segal movie feels with his smug, doughy dominance not holding a candle to Bruce’s sweaty intensity.
Enter The Dragon’s numerous scraps, be it Lee’s systematic and hugely satisfying dismantling of murderous henchman O’Hara to the legendary scene where he utilizes various weapons to put Han’s minion’s medical bills through the roof, cemented the young actor as one of the greatest action stars in cinema history and all scored to Lalo Schiffrin’s unfeasibly funky score and his death (cruelly, one month BEFORE the release of this movie) still remains, after all these years, a solid kick in the teeth.