A SECRET AGENT GOES TO A CRIME LORD’S ISLAND FORTRESS WITH OTHER FIGHTERS TO COMPETE IN A MARTIAL ARTS TOURNAMENT!
ENTER THE DRAGON is a 1973 martial arts/secret agent/action film directed by Robert Clouse, produced by Fred Weintraub, Paul Heller, and Raymond Chow, and written by Michael Allin. It stars Bruce Lee, John Saxon, and Jim Kelly. It is arguably the greatest martial arts movie of all time.
BRUCE LEE as LEE
JOHN SAXON as ROPER
JIM KELLY as WILLIAMS
SHIH KIEN as HAN
AHNA CAPRI as Tania
BOB WALL as O’HARA
YANG SZE as BOLO
PETER ARCHER as Parsons
BETTY CHUNG as Mei Ling
GEOFFREY WEEKS as Braithwaite
A British intelligence official named Braithwaite asks Lee – a martial arts instructor at the Shaolin Temple – for help in investigating a suspected crime lord named Han. He is hosting a martial arts tournament on his private island where he recruits manpower. Braithwaite asks Lee to attend the tournament and gather evidence against him. However, before his departure Lee learns that the man responsible for the death of his sister is O’Hara, Han’s bodyguard. This makes it personal. Also fighting in the competition is Roper an American with huge gambling debts and Williams an African-American veteran.
Han gives strict orders to the competitors not to leave their rooms at the end of the first day. Lee contacts undercover agent Mei Ling and then sneaks into Han’s compound. Meanwhile, Williams leaves his room to exercise outside and is spotted. Lee is discovered by the guards but makes his escape. The following morning Han has his giant henchman Bolo execute the guards for their failure. When the competition resumes Lee faces O’Hara – the man responsible for his sister’s death. He beats O’Hara and shames him. He then tries to kill Lee with broken bottles but Lee kills him instead. Han ends the competition early because of O’Hara’s treachery. Later, Han confronts Williams believing him to be the intruder. After a brutal fight Han beats Williams to death with his metal hand. Han meets with Roper and offers him a place in his organization. At first he seems a bit intrigued but then refuses the offer after he sees what happened to his friend Williams.
That night Lee sneaks into the communications room and sends a message to Braithwaite. After a massive battle he is captured. The following morning Han wants Roper to fight Lee but he refuses. To punish him he makes Roper fight Bolo. To Han’s surprise Roper beats the crap out of Bolo.
Meanwhile, Mei Ling frees the many prisoners Han has in his dungeon. Infuriated, Han orders his men to kill Lee and Roper. But the odds are soon evened when the prisoners attack the guards. Han escapes persuaded by Lee while Roper remains and fights the guards. After a particularly vicious fight, Han runs into a hidden room of mirrors. At first the mirrors give Han the advantage but then Lee begins smashing the mirrors. In the end Lee kills Han. Returning outside a battered Lee gives a thumbs up to an equally battered Roper – just as the military begin to arrive.
There were two new major film markets in the early 1970s – Asian martial arts movies and Blaxploitation films. It was decided to do a movie with an Asian, White, and Black protagonists to get the widest appeal to the international market.
It was originally titled BLOOD AND STEEL. Then later it became THE DEADLY THREE. MGM wanted to call it HAN’S ISLAND. Luckily ENTER THE DRAGON won.
Rockne Tarkington was originally set to play Williams but dropped out right before filming began. Jim Kelly owned a dojo in Los Angeles and producers met with him and the rest is history. He made a three picture deal with MGM and became one of the major stars of the 1970s.
The film was shot entirely in Hong Kong. The producers had trouble finding actresses to play prostitutes so they hired real prostitutes instead.
Bruce Lee wanted this movie to be a vehicle for expressing the beauty of his Chinese culture rather than just an action movie. Considering that this film became the subject of much scholarly debate even now he may have gotten what he wanted.
This is the first Chinese martial arts film produced by a major Hollywood studio.
Some of the fight scenes were so complicated they had to be shot over 20 times. One scene was filmed with close to three hundred extras from martial arts schools around Hong Kong. The crew filmed fight scenes for eight days straight. This took its toll on John Saxon. Perhaps this is why he never made another martial arts film.
The movie cost $850,000 to make and brought in over 90 million wordwide.
The film was given a super advertising compaign unlike anything seen before. The advertising budget was over one million dollars. For promotion the studio offered free karate classes, made thousands of illustrated flip books, there were comic books, posters, photographs and organized dozens of news releases, interviews, and public appearances by the stars. Magazines such as Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Newsweek all wrote stories about the movie.
The video game MORTAL KOMBAT was influenced by this movie. The video game DOUBLE DRAGON has two characters named Roper and Williams.
In 2004 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
Scholars debate even now about how ENTER THE DRAGON reflects the changes taking place in Asia following World War II.
I was a bit disappointed at how quickly Williams’ character was killed. I realize he is the sacrificial lamb of the movie but it would have been nice for him to stick around and die at the end during the climax.
I was disappointed that the producers didn’t take advantage of Bruce Lee’s acting chops. In his movie FIST OF FURY/CHINESE CONNECTION Bruce goes undercover and wears disguises that lead to great comedic moments and show off his acting. Here in ENTER THE DRAGON he is playing an undercover agent and there are no disguises. What a missed opportunity.
One of the things I like about this film is there is no shortage of bad guys. Recognizing that there are three heroes and there needs to be action right from the beginning we are given L.A. cops as bad guys for Jim Kelly to fight. We’re given gangsters for John Saxon to fight, we’re given Bob Wall and the flashback involving the hero’s sister. We’re even given a New Zealander named Parsons on the boat on the way to the island. And this is not counting the henchman played by Yang Sze and the master villain himself played by Shih Kien – plus scores of guards. There is no sortage of people for us to boo and hiss and the movie is better because of it.
Wow! The fights are amazing! This is after all a martial arts movie. You don’t expect to see people sitting around sipping tea. In one fight alone Bruce takes out over 50 guys. By the way one of them was a young Jackie Chan. Watch the movie and see Bruce has him by the hair.
Jackie Chan says he faked an injury just so he could get close to Brue Lee and it worked. Bruce was so apologetic that he stayed talking to Jackie and promised him he would be in every movie he made from then on. Unfortunately, Bruce died after this movie.
It is unfortunate that Bruce Lee died after making this film. Not only would he have gone on to become a major Hollywood star, not only would his films have gotten bigger and better, but there was talk of maybe making more secret agent movies with the Lee character that Bruce played here. Bruce Lee was a huge James Bond fan and that is one of the things he liked about making this movie. His only disappointment was he didn’t get to use a gun. I would like to have seen him in a car chase. Wouldn’t you have liked to have seen Bruce Lee in a car chase?
Do I recommend this movie? OH HELL YEAH!!! If you are an action fan this film is for you. Do you like Asian movies? You have to see this one. Do you like martial arts? It doesn’t get any better than here. Do you like Bruce Lee? Come on! Who doesn’t like Bruce Lee? For all that and more I insist you see this movie. I insist!
With no reservation I give this film Four and a Half Grey Geeks.
Well that is it for this time. This will wrap up y coverage of secret agent movies for this month. It has been a blast and I have to admit the secret agent genre is my favorite. I want to thank all of you for allowing me to share with you some of my favorite things. I love you for it. Until we meet again let me leave you with some advice – don’t tug on Superman’s cape, don’t insult Hugh Jackman, don’t ever pull the mask off the Lone Ranger, and please don’t mess with the Batman! Hasta la vista!