The thing that makes the death of Bruce Lee an even larger tragedy is that he virtually set back the kung-fu/karate genre from gaining mainstream recognition by a couple of decades. Set back may not even be the proper word for it, as he would have become a larger than life action star whose dreams were bigger than most anyone had anticipated.
In the case of Enter the Dragon, the film was designed to be Lee’s crossover attempt into American films, and it’s one worthy of his abilities. Bruce (or in this case, Lee) lives at a temple and is invited to a private island for a martial arts tournament where a man named Han (Kien Shih, Once Upon a Time in China) runs the tournament and possibly some illegal operations. His henchman is Oharra (Chuck Norris protÃ©gÃ© Robert Wall, Game of Death), who might have been responsible for the death of his sister. Some of the more colorful characters in the tournament are Roper (John Saxon, From Dusk Till Dawn) and Williams (Jim Kelly, Black Belt Jones), friends from America that are also looking to gain the top prize. Lee isn’t there to win the tournament, but to try to expose Han’s dealings.
The film was marred by various incidents before and after its release, as a dead woman was found on set, and Lee suffered an injury in the Oharra fight. And none of this covers Lee’s untimely death shortly after the film’s premiere. Now, is the film not without the usual things that makes kung-fu films so memorable, the fake sound effects, the killing of people with bare hands and feet, the dazzling martial arts stunts? They’re all here in droves.
What’s nice about Enter the Dragon is that the film’s formula has been used for other countless kung fu films since then, but the problem is that no one has been able to replicate Lee’s charisma since then. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but one can’t help but wonder what could have been if he’d been around to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
Hooray, another film where Warner Brothers stretches the original aspect ratio to 2.4:1 anamorphic widescreen for the sake of HD presentation, yay! But like on Blazing Saddles there’s some noticeable depth when watching the film (such as in the early scenes at the Shaolin temple). Lee’s scratches from Han in the end fight are more noticeably painted on as opposed to other scenes, and Lee virtually glistens with sweat. Does it make me sound gay? Hope not. While it’s not as three-dimension as more recent films have been, it looks nice for the most part.
Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 for Enter the Dragon. There’s no new revelation to be had by watching the film and listening to this, other than some of the foleyed sound effects have a little more low end fidelity put into them, which makes the bone-breaking a little more detailed and the kicks a little heavier.
Everything from the two-disc special edition comes straight over to this disc, starting with a commentary from producer Paul Heller and writer Michael Allin. There is some interesting trivia on the track, but by and large this track can be skipped. After that are three documentaries that focus on the man and the film. “Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey” appears to be the most recent one, and focuses on the legacy Lee left in terms of his martial arts ability and on the Hong Kong film genre. His philosophies on Jeet Kun Do and martial arts are discussed at length, along with his thoughts and beliefs in gong fu.
At an hour and 40 minutes, the jewel of this piece is the restored footage of Game of Death. The scorn of the initial version is discussed and let’s face it, it’s more than a little bit exploitative, more than Plan 9 From Outer Space. The incomplete version (it’s about a half hour) covers the final three battles of Lee and the enemies in the temple. And even the symbolism in Game of Death is mulled over as well, as a good deal of what’s incorporated in the film (the yellow track suit, the bamboo whip) represents Lee’s philosophy on martial arts styles. It’s a very interesting piece. The more nostalgic piece is “Curse of the Dragon”. Produced in 1994 and narrated by George Takei, the piece has far more recollections (and family footage) than the first piece, which is obviously a more analytical look at Lee’s life. Famous students like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Steve McQueen and James Coburn all share their thoughts on their teacher, and family and historians provide another aspect to Bruce’s life. Did I say that this piece had more footage than the other? How about film footage of the 1 inch punch or the two finger pushup? Or some workout footage with Coburn? Apparently Bruce had to deal with quite a few martial arts gunfighters later in life after stardom was achieved, and he dealt with them accordingly. And the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death are talked about too. The last 10 minutes of the piece focus on son Brandon’s death while filming The Crow. This is a very exhaustive piece and at just under 90 minutes is well worth the time.
“Blood and Steel: the Making of Enter the Dragon” is a half hour look at the production. Heller, Coburn and others recall the man, and Jerry Weintraub talks about getting the film made. Separate interview footage with Lee and his widow Linda follow, Bruce talks about celebrity, martial arts and waxes philosophic, while Linda focuses on the relationship the two shared. The original EPK is included for kitsch value, along with a couple minutes of an old workout with Bruce. Four trailers and 8 TV spots complete the package.
Aside from the obvious, you couldn’t really ask for anything more when it comes to supplemental material, as there’s a wealth of information there. As for the film itself, it’s never looked better, and its sound is a noticeable improvement as well, so for the HD DVD owners out there, don’t hesitate dropping some coin for the upgrade.