Enter the Dragon

dir. Clouse
Opens Fri April 9
Clinton Street Theater

The irony of Bruce Lee is that his films are always awesome because he's in them--and they always suffer for the same reason. It's not that he does anything wrong; Lee is, and will likely always remain, the king of kung fu films. It's just that ... he's Bruce Lee. Lee's reputation has its downside; it precedes him so fully that it's difficult to see him as anything but a simultaneous embodiment and parody of all things kung fu.

1973's Enter the Dragon has a similar reputation, and is cursed with the same flaws. As the most famous kung fu movie ever, starring the most famous kung fu star ever, Dragon is unavoidably over-hyped--yet even with that going against it, it's still one hell of a movie.

Lee breaks from his usual role of "young kung fu student out for revenge" to play Lee, a young kung fu student out for revenge. When Lee's master informs him of a martial arts tournament being held on (where else?) an island fortress, Lee discovers that the tournament's mastermind is Han (Kien Shih), a disgraced student of the Shaolin school... and the man responsible for Lee's sister's death! (As the rules of kung fu films dictate that anyone who's either disgraced Shaolin or harmed a family member must be killed, you can imagine how doubly pissed Lee is.) Throw in Jim "Dragon" Kelley and John Saxon, and the rest is pretty self-explanatory: Lee kicks some serious ass, whooping and screeching all the way.

There's so much right with Enter the Dragon--a great cast, Lee's vaguely sinister charm, some insane fight scenes (choreographed by Lee), and just the right amount of cheesy direction from Robert Clouse--that it's easy to overlook the film's uneven pacing, the fact that Saxon clearly can't fight worth shit, and a weird sense of speciousness (likely present because Dragon was the first American-produced martial arts epic). Dragon is one of those rare films where its weaknesses are also its strengths, and that--again with the irony--makes it such an undeniably strong and entertaining film.