Martial arts movie history was made in 1973 when Robert Clouse's Enter The Dragon, the first martial arts film produced in America, made Bruce Lee a household named throughout the world and at least partially started the martial arts craze of the seventies.
Bruce Lee plays Lee, a member of the Shaolin Temple and master of the martial arts who is to attend a tournament being held by a mysterious man named Han who lives on a remote island. Han is a former Shaolin Monk who left the temple and went out on his own. He now has a massive army of martial artists at his disposal who live on the island with him.
Han is supposedly involved in an illegal opium trade and also appears to be dabbling in white slavery. Lee is sent there so that he can and try to find get some substantial evidence against Han, needed to bring him to justice. When Lee finds out that Han is responsible for an attempted abduction on his sister from three years ago (which resulted in her suicide), that clinches the deal for him and he's off.
Along the way, Lee teams up with a man named Roper (b-movie favorite John Saxon of Black Christmas and Cannibal Apocalypse) who has a financial problem with a few gangsters who intend to get their money from him by whatever means necessary. Roper has hopes of winning the tournament to get the prize money and take care of his problem. A third man, Williams (played with maximum cool by the Black Samurai himself, Jim Kelly) is also on the scene with hopes of taking home the prize.
From the beginning scene with Lee practicing to the grand finale in Han's house of mirrors, Enter The Dragon is an ultra-slick blending of the kind of stylish action movies that the American film industry was pumping out in the seventies with a very Asian sensibility to it. The fight scenes are tighter than a knot and performed with both grace and brutality. Lee is the consummate hero with the noblest of intentions and the skills to get the job done, while Roper and Williams provide some interesting contrasts with 'human' characters who are prone to making some mistakes of their own along the way.
With a blink and you'll miss it cameo from a young Jackie Chan, and an equally small cameo from a young Sammo Hung, it's interesting to see this, Lee's most famous film, as a starting ground in a sense for those who would take up his mantle in the martial arts film world. There are a few goof ups (you can see Lee working his mojo choreographing one of the final fights if you look carefully, and there's a cobra that rattles like a rattlesnake) but for the most part, Enter The Dragon is an extremely well made, polished, slick, and highly entertaining film that wears its age proudly on its sleeve. It's a high point in the genre that has rarely been outdone and that most fight films, even now, more than thirty years later, can't hold a candle to.
The anamorphic 2.35.1 widescreen transfer looks great. Yes, there is a fine coat of grain over it and there is some very mild print damage that appears in the form of the odd speckle or dirt here and there, there's a wonderfully high level of detail present throughout. There aren't any compression artifacts worth mentioning and edge enhancement is very nearly non-existent. Black levels are rich and deep and don't pixelate or break up and there is only a tiny hint of shimmering here and there. Overall, the colors look wonderful, flesh tones are dead on, and the picture quality is very high and extremely easy on the eyes. The original DVD of Enter The Dragon looked great as it stands, this edition looks cleaner and more colorful. They've also put the old 1973 WB logo back in at the beginning of the film as opposed to the more modern one that the previous release had. A minor detail, but it helps retain the 70s flavor of the film.
There are two audio tracks on the disc – first up is an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix in English. Rear speakers are used nicely and add a nice level of atmosphere to the film as they relay sound effects and music with precision and clarity. Dialogue is crisp and clean without any noticeable hiss or distortion while the bass response is deep and rich. There's also a French Dolby Digital Mono track that sounds clean and clear. Removable subtitles are available in either English of French.
This disc is jam packed to the brim with tasty extra features that are sure to please every Bruce Lee/martial arts film fan. Just like some of their other recent special editions, WB has wisely spread them out over two discs in order to maintain optimum audio and video quality.
First up is a commentary track from producer Paul Heller. If this track sounds familiar, that'd be because it is the same track that was on the older special edition release. It is an interesting track, even if Heller spends most of it speaking in a very monotone, sleepy sounding voice. There's a great deal of information contained within though, if you can get past the pacing and tone he takes throughout.
Up next - Blood And Steel - The Making Of Enter The Dragon, a thirty minute featurette produced especially for this new 30th Anniversary set. James Coburn, Paul Heller, Fred Weintraub and more folks involved in Bruce Lee's life and in getting this film made are given the chance to reflect on the film after all this time. As a whole, it's an interesting look back at Bruce Lee's background and upbringing and how it resulted in his move to filmmaking and the problems that he encountered along the way, especially while making Enter The Dragon. John Saxon and Gil Hubbs are also on hand to reminisce about the movie, but sadly, the reclusive Jim Kelly (now a tennis instructor, apparently) is nowhere to be found.
Bruce Lee In His Own Words is a nineteen minute black and white featurette that is essentially a montage of vintage Bruce Lee footage that is narrated by sound bites of Lee explaining his philosophy of life and of the martial arts. Put together by John Little, this segment also features some nice early footage of Bruce and Brandon Lee playing together shortly before Bruce's death in 1973.
A Linda Lee Cadwell Interview Gallery can also be found on the first disc, and it's essentially ten interview segments (with a Play All function) from Bruce's widow. Combined, these segments total roughly sixteen minutes as Linda discusses her relationship with her late husband, how they met, and how he continues to influence her and the world.
The last featurette on Disc 1 is Lair Of The Dragon which contains two segments – the first is The Original 1973 Making Of Featurette that contains seven minutes of vintage footage shot on the set during the making of the film. The second is the Backyard Workout With Bruce Lee which features one minute and fifty-two seconds black and white footage of Bruce doing some training with a partner in his backyard.
First up on disc two is Curse Of The Dragon, an eighty-seven minute feature length look at the history of Bruce Lee and the mystery surround his death, and the death of his son, Brandon Lee. Narrated by George Takai, this piece focuses on the controversy surrounding his work in the martial arts world both in front of and behind the camera, as well as his teaching and training work, which is still taught today. James Coburn, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Linda Lee Cadwell and many others are interviewed about their thoughts on his work and what may have caused his untimely and unusual passing shortly before Enter The Dragon made its successful box office debut.
The second of the main extras on the second disc is Bruce Lee – A Warrior's Journey which, at one hundred minutes, is a feature length look at Bruce's career and not so much on his personal life. The first hour or so gives us a history of his acting career, both in the United States and in Hong Kong – on television and on film. A large part of the focus of this film looks at the preproduction work done by Lee on what would be his final (and unfinished) feature, Game Of Death. Conceptual art, story ideas, vintage footage and newer interviews all make up a nice overview of Lee's last work. Once we get past the first hour, we make it to the actual footage that Lee shot for Game Of Death before he died, reconstructed as per Lee's original notes as he would have wanted it. There's about thirty-three minutes of fairly raw footage here, the dialogue in English and the narration in Chinese (with English subtitles). It follows Lee's character from the third pagoda right up to his famous battle with Kareem. It's presented here in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Rounding out the supplements for this release are four theatrical trailers: Mysterious Island at three minutes and thirty-four seconds, Champion Of Champions at one minute and eleven seconds, Island Fortress at two minutes and fifty-three seconds and Deadly 3 which runs two minutes and fifty-three seconds. There are also seven TV spots included as well: Roper, Williams And Lee, Deadly 3, The Island Of Han, Review Spot, Champion Of Champions, The Fury Is Back, and The Crown Prince Of Combat.
Warner Bros. has done an exceptional job on this release, combining exceptionally good audio and video quality with a veritable treasure trove of extra features that compliment the main attraction perfectly. This new 2-disc special edition release of Enter The Dragon comes highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.