- By Josh
If Jet Li or Jackie Chan owns the mantle for greatest Kung Fu movie star today, then Bruce Lee undoubtedly is the granddaddy of them all. Throughout the 1950s and 60s he built up the genre, and at the time of his tragic and still unexplained death in 1973, he had just completed work on his final film, which ultimately propelled him to worldwide fame posthumously.
Despite its martial arts emphasis, Enter the Dragon is shot almost entirely in English and several of the main characters as well as the director are American. It is the story of a disgraced Shaolin-Temple-disciple-turned-shady-businessman, Han (Shih Kien) who holds a gongfu tournament on his island near Hong Kong. Unbeknownst to his guests, the real goal is recruiting superior martial artists to expand his illicit operations abroad.
Among those that he attracts are the down-and-out gambler Mr. Roper (John Saxon), and his “from-the-ghetto” friend, Williams (Jim Kelly), who show up to cash in. Meanwhile the Hong Kong police send Lee (Bruce Lee) undercover to find out what Han’s evil scheme is. It is never clear exactly what the business is per se, but it most certainly is illegal, with murder and drugs both involved.
The film is filled with 1970s era style and stereotypes, which 35 years on are more amusing than offensive. Williams has some of the better lines in the movie, including a particularly prescient comment to the villainous and over-the-top Han, “Man, you’re out of a comic book.” But the real star is Lee whose fighting and mystical know-how make him into a quasi superhero.
It is difficult to know whether Enter the Dragon would have been as popular had Lee not died before the release, but it arguably spurred two dominant genres of the 1970s: Kung-Fu and blacksploitation. Its success and style shaped the direction of the film industry for years to come. Needless to say, this movie cemented Lee’s legacy as the immortal king of Chinese martial arts.