Warner Bros. // 1973 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // June 20th, 2013
Their deadly mission: the crack the forbidden island of Han!
To commemorate its 40th anniversary, the Bruce Lee classic gets a Blu-ray upgrade with a new transfer, remastered audio and a collection of new bonus material.
Gifted Shaolin martial artist Lee (Bruce Lee, Game of Death) is invited to travel to a mysterious island by shadowy figure Han (Shih Kien, Drunken Master) and compete in a massive martial arts competition. British intelligence enlists Lee to go undercover to discover the truth about Han. On the island, Lee meets fellow competitors Roper (John Saxon, A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Williams (Jim Kelly, Black Belt Jones), both men trying to escape a past and use the tournament for financial gain. As Lee gets deeper into the tournament, he discovers more about Han's criminal dealings and the stakes are raised -- eventually becoming deadly.
Forty years after its release, Enter the Dragon is still Bruce Lee's masterpiece. Had he not died suddenly and tragically six days before it hit theaters, it stands to reason that the movie would have made Lee more than just a kung fu star and would have made him a superstar. It was just a matter of putting him in a more accessible movie and letting an audience outside of the genre see what he could do.
As the first real martial arts movie made by a major Hollywood studio (in this case Warner Bros.), Enter the Dragon benefits from a big budget (comparatively speaking; the film was still made for under $1 million) and A-list production values. It established so many recognizable conventions of the kung fu genre, from the mysterious island to the deadly martial arts competition to the super villain pulling the strings (it has rightly been compared to a James Bond film) that when you see something that parodies kung fu movies -- from Kentucky Fried Movie to Balls of Fury -- this is the movie being parodied. Though it lacks the purity and intensity of some lesser-known kung fu movies -- and I'm hardly the expert that many others are -- Enter the Dragon is in many ways the definitive martial arts movie.
A big part of the movie's success is that it knows how to use Bruce Lee. He's not the whole show. He could be, but because the film holds back a little, his moments are even more rewarding. Lee was never a great actor, but he was a revelation to watch perform martial arts and had genuine star power. Enter the Dragon knows how to downplay his weaknesses and play up his strengths. It also backs him up with a terrific supporting cast, including the incomparable John Saxon and Jim Kelly in his breakout role. Shih Kien is a great, Dr. No-like villain, and Bolo Yeung makes for a great henchman (for no other reason, Enter the Dragon deserves recognition for giving such a showcase to the man who would eventually become Jean-Claude Van Damme's greatest nemesis). Even Jackie Chan shows up as a random guard, making this the movie where Jackie Chan fights Bruce Lee. The locations are exotic, the photography is gorgeous. Everything works.
The real reason we continue to watch Enter the Dragon year after year is the fight choreography, which is brilliant. The mirror sequence alone makes the movie worth watching; there is a reason it has become iconic. Kelly is great fun to watch. Bruce Lee is the best. Even John Saxon figures out how to make his fight scenes work by playing them more for laughs -- like everyone in the movie, his "style" is based in character as much as in ability. In many martial arts movies -- or action movies in general -- the fights and the characters have little to do with one another. Here, the fights are in service of the character, and that dynamic makes a huge difference. Enter the Dragon is a true action classic.
Warner Bros.' 40th anniversary collector's edition of the movie packages the Blu-ray inside a standard keepcase, which is then housed within a larger cardboard case containing all of the other physical goodies that come along with the set: a booklet of photographs, an iron-on patch, promotional postcards, a motion card and a few other collectible items that are cutesy at best and unnecessary at worst. The movie is the main attraction here, and Warner Bros. has done right by it. Though it was released on Blu-ray once before in 2007, the 2.40-framed film is given a full 1080p restoration and looks better than ever. Despite its age, there is no visible print damage and no digital flaws. Colors are vibrant, blacks are stable and everything has a great, film-like look. The audio track is a big step up, too, as Enter the Dragon now has a true lossless soundtrack and a solid 5.1 surround mix. The DTS-HD track makes everything sound its best, from the score to the dialogue to the endless punches, kicks and fight scenes. It really is terrific.
The majority of the extra features on the disc have been carried over from the special edition DVDs released in 1998 and 2004. The audio commentary from producer Paul Heller and screenwriter Michael Allin (on the phone) is carried over, and it's just as dry and tough to get through as ever. A number of past featurettes are here, as well, including a 30-minute making of piece, an interview with Bruce Lee's widow Linda, an archival piece from 1973, a short collection of home movies featuring Lee, a 20-minute package made up of Bruce Lee interviews, movie clips and photos and a collection of trailers and TV spots. The best bonus feature to be carried over to the new Blu-ray is the feature-length documentary Curse of the Dragon, which looks at the untimely deaths of Lee and his son Brandon (during production of The Crow). It's a powerful reminder of just how talented both men were and how tragic their early deaths still are.
Rather than just port over all the old bonus features and expect fans to upgrade, Warner Bros. wisely saw fit to include some new supplemental content, too. Three new featurettes have made their way onto the disc, all presented in 1080p HD: "Now Way as Way," a nearly 30-minute piece the mixes more Lee documentary footage with reflections on the star, his legacy and the importance of Enter the Dragon by the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard and George Takei. It's something of a mixed bag, because there is so much Lee retrospective footage on the disc that it ends up being somewhat repetitive. Also included is "Wing Chun," which collects a number of martial artists praising Lee's talent and influence on the martial arts world, and "Return to Han's Island," which offers a tour of the locations used in the shooting of Enter the Dragon. None of the new bonus features are required viewing, but it's nice to see Warner Bros. offering something extra for those looking to upgrade their old Blu-rays of the film.
Forget that it's a martial arts classic -- any movie starring Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly AND John Saxon needs to be owned on the best possible format. Warner Bros. has given a great movie the treatment to match.
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1973
MPAA Rating: Rated R