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Dragon Renewed

[whitespace] Bruce Lee's 'Enter the Dragon' celebrates its 25th

By Richard von Busack

THE PANTHER SQUALL that was Bruce Lee echoes through theaters again with the 25th anniversary rerelease of Enter the Dragon. It's a film that's worth a new print; Enter the Dragon is, above all, a very good-looking movie. Gilbert Hubbs' widescreen photography introduced the West to many handsome Hong Kong locations. Director Robert Clouse's hall-of-mirrors finale--one of those many moments in the movies during which you practically see the inscription "Orson Welles was here"--is matched with the chilling, silvery chimes of Lalo Schifrin's smooth soundtrack.

Even if Enter the Dragon boasted a thousand clichés (and every one was beautifully parodied in The Kentucky Fried Movie), even if Lee was, at best, a terrible actor, as clumsy in speech and expression as he was graceful in body--the film presented all of the simpler pleasures of an action movie. And these pleasures weren't simple to get in 1973. Enter the Dragon was the movie that spurred the kung-fu craze, and it's easy to see why it was a hit. The Bond pictures were bottoming out; Roger Moore, never more puerile, was starring in Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun. American cinema, enmeshed in the social complexities of the mid-'70s, wasn't producing uncomplicated adventure heroes.

Here, Lee plays a martial artist named Lee who is asked by the government to investigate the villainous Han (Kien Shih), the uncrowned king of his own private island. Every three years, Han invites martial artists to a battle royal. This year's participants include Williams (a debuting Jim Kelly, he of the sky-high Afro and the bronze pectorals) and "Roper" (John Saxon), a soldier of fortune. Lee enters the tournament with some personal baggage--Han's viciousness has disgraced the Shao-lin temple to which Lee belongs. Moreover, Han's goons tried to rape Lee's sister, who chose the classical Lucretia's way out to escape the dishonor.

No doubt, Han is one of the many masks of 007's enemy Blofeld; Han even has Blofeld's white Persian cat (which he playfully pretends to guillotine). If only Enter the Dragon had a fraction of the wit of the Bond films. The dead seriousness of Enter the Dragon left it ripe for parody. Ultimately Jackie Chan--a far more exciting screen personality than Lee--lampooned Lee's scowling, howling and neck-crunching style. Nevertheless, the two Hong Kong martial artists best known in the West share a quality that distinguishes them from the chorus line of kickboxers in American movies. Asked to define his style by a minor character in Enter the Dragon, Lee explains, "It's the art of fighting without fighting." Lee may be depressingly serious, but braggadocio isn't part of his persona. Even Lee, formidable martial artist that he was, had a core of humility, a quality that's been too rare on the screen in action films since his early death.

Enter the Dragon (1973; R; 99 min.), directed by Robert Clouse, written by Michael Allin, photographed by Gila Hubbs and starring Bruce Lee and John Saxon.

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From the April 23-29, 1998 issue of Metro.

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