Mr. Han Man

No other kung-fu film so expertly spreads its demographic breadth like Enter the Dragon. For Asian Americans, there’s racism felt by Bruce Lee aboard a boat, sending the antagonist out to see in a show of non-fighting smarts against that of an idiot with a superiority complex. Jim Kelly fends off police harassment, then pointing out how wealth inequality keeps people in permanent poverty. For John Saxon, his addiction to gambling stems from Vietnam, where troops were caught in sweeping heroin and opium den, the dependence on a vice inescapable.

The trio capture the swath of American post-Vietnam grievances. In traveling to an isolated, Asian island owned by Han (Kien Shih), those problems take on a personality and a face; Han sends opium to the mainland, profiting on the victims embroiled in civil rights, impoverished living, and social disdain. Enter the Dragon weaves those into an iconic, infinitely influential martial arts film, dabbling in childish camp as much as leering adult content.

Enter the Dragon is Bruce Lee’s greatest film

On Han’s island, the surface appears perfect, heavenly, and pleasurable. It’s a place flush with temptation, most visitors oblivious to what’s under the gaudiness as they drown in booze and women. Lee, Kelly, and Saxon whittle away Han’s propaganda spin, the multi-cultural team competing for pride as much as an escape.

Enter the Dragon is Bruce Lee’s greatest film. Had he lived, it’s likely a superior project was near, but fate didn’t allow it. As such, Lee’s grandiose underground brawl against numerous thugs (one Jackie Chan in a micro-stunt cameo) and the visually arresting climax versus Han in a hall of mirrors solidify this genre masterpiece. Enter the Dragon boils until that point, choosing to calmly approach the international drug runner before letting Lee spill over in an unmatched fury.

Lee’s touch gave co-stars lasting impact too, Jim Kelly a year away from blaxsploitation/kung-fu crossover Black Belt Jones (and others). Bolo Yeung’s imposing figure brought him into Van Damme’s squad. Saxon continues taking bit parts to this day. Even tiny roles like that of Robert Wall allowed the Enter the Dragon team to find continuing work. Diversity matters, bringing fans from every suburban, urban, and rural areas to see these men perform. And, each fights a challenger in both physical and personal forms.

Video

Sourced from a 2K scan, Criterion brings a decent presentation to their Blu-ray set. The source print shows minor damage, a few vertical scratches primarily, and is otherwise intact. Hefty grain asks much of the encode, but holds up without egregious compression.

Color is the only concern, set to vivid and causing primaries to burst with saturation. Over saturation, even. Bright reds and blues go too far, extending their welcome to a point of bleeding. Flesh tones carry a glow. Other elements, like the various greenery around the island, look controlled and natural.

Reasonable detail fights through, including facial texture (where possible) and sets refined enough to make paint strokes visible on certain elements (look at the underground control room before Lee tosses in the snake). This doesn’t match Criterion’s other, higher-resolution Bruce Lee set masters in fidelity, if still impressing. Pleasing contrast and dense black levels help establish dimension too.

Audio

PCM stereo provides boldness to the score, the big drums hitting the lows enough to catch the subwoofer cleanly. Highs wobble only slightly, audibly pushing age without compromising the analog appeal.

Smooth dialog loses nothing. Each line is well preserved, even amid action.

Extras

Matthew Polly opens bonuses with a nine-minute video essay. Blood and Steel made the rounds on Warner’s own Enter the Dragon discs previously, but it’s worth a watch for 30-minutes as it chronicles the making of. In His Own Words collects various interviews with Lee into a 20-minute short (and it’s another Warner carryover). Lee’s widow Linda Lee Caldwell speaks about her husband for 16-minutes. A short interview with actor Tung Wai runs a few minutes. Promos come up last.

On the last bonus disc in the box set, the special edition version (running three minutes longer) is given a separate presentation.

Enter the Dragon
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

Bruce Lee’s lasting kung-fu epic, Enter the Dragon, holds up today as a call to diversity and appealing to everyone.

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