Enter The Dragon

Enter The Dragon (1973)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Ahna Capri, Bob Wall
Extras: Documentary, Featurettes, Interviews, Home Movies, Trailers and TV Spots

After celebrating the movie's 30th Anniversary a few years ago, Warner Home Video has released Bruce Lee's masterpiece "Enter The Dragon" on HD-DVD as well now, making sure the film is always present in the public's mind. To ensure the title is attractive and exciting, of course, Warner made sure to most of the cool extras that made the previous Special Editions so noteworthy.

"Enter The Dragon" would have undoubtedly marked the stellar rise of the "Dragon" in Western hemispheres if fate had not tragically changed the course of events and killed Bruce Lee at an early age. Nevertheless, he is still known and remembered as the world's supreme martial artist and a dedicated actor, whose goal was to make the beauty and elegance of the Asian culture more tangible and understandable for audiences around the world. He has succeeded in his venture, but the price was too high for some.

On a remote island off the coast of Hong Kong, Han runs an isolated martial arts school, training only the most elite scholars. The former Shaolin student is also running a profitable drug ring, preparing opium to be shipped to the coast. The police know about him, but they need evidence. An annual martial arts contest, hosted on the island, is the ideal time for them to smuggle in one of their own agents (Bruce Lee) and put an end to Han's criminal efforts. Lee wants to punish the mighty Han both for the drug ring and for breaking the Shaolin's code of honor. He travels to the remote island where an incredible number of martial artists meet to test and prove their skills. Soon, Lee starts nightly field trips into the guarded fortress in search for the drugs' evidence. His efforts do not remain unnoticed. Han makes an example of the guards who carelessly let someone sneak into the secret halls, making it unmistakably clear what will happen to the intruder once the intruder's identity is discovered.

"Enter The Dragon" is a film masterpiece, combining Asian influences with Hollywood filmmaking. This HD-DVD version features the extended cut of the movie that includes 3 minutes of additional footage that were cut from the movie's original U.S. theatrical release. It shows the traditional background of the Shaolin and the responsibilities they teach a true martial artist, superimposing it over a racy secret agent story with acclaimed Hollywood actor John Saxon and judo world champion Jim Kelly. Shot on location in Hong Kong, the film perfectly captures the flavor of the oriental setting with an elaborate production design and gorgeous cinematography. The costumes and images are as colorful as the culture and tradition of Asia and with the film's photography they come to life right there on your TV set.

The best way to describe "Enter The Dragon" to someone who hasn't watched the movie before is that it is a James Bond-like action film, with the main star's athletic body acting in place of the secret agent's omnipotent gizmos. Much of the film is reminiscent of Bond's signature, which has supposedly helped to make the film more attractive to Western audiences. This appropriation of Bond's signature even goes as far as the film's antagonist carrying around a white fluffy cat and surrounding himself with beautiful, lethal women. This resemblance sets the film apart even more, however, because it is a constant reminder that, unlike 007, Bruce Lee is capable of executing all the actions we see on screen. He does not need technical wizards to save his hide. His spiritual balance and his incredible martial arts skills are what keep him victorious. This credibility is what levers all of Lee's work into realms untouched by Western filmmakers. Only Jackie Chan, who has taken on Bruce's heritage and helps make Asian action movies palpable to Western audiences, could be compared with the honesty, skill, determination, and charm that the charismatic Bruce Lee brought to the screen. Not by coincidence, Jackie can also be seen in "Enter The Dragon". He worked as a stuntman in the film in a number of the breath-taking fight sequences. Seek to 1:21:22 on the disc and take a closer look at the guy bear-hugging Bruce. It is none other than Jackie Chan, who, only seconds later, gets his neck snapped by the master himself.
Much has been said about Bruce Lee and his legacy, and the fact that he is still as much of an icon as he was 30 years ago speaks volumes. If you have never seen one of Bruce's movies, start with "Enter The Dragon". It is exemplary for his motivations and the way he tried to educate the world about the grace and power of martial arts. Before we even see him fight for the first time, it becomes clear that he is a man of wits and brains. Fully aware that violence does not solve anything, his instinctual approach is to avoid confrontation… but woe to you if you dare tackle the "Dragon". Bruce Lee was born in the year of the dragon, according to the Chinese calendar, and his full Chinese name translated to English was – "Little Dragon Lee", which resulted in his nickname "Dragon." It also explains the film's somewhat cryptic title "Enter The Dragon," which needs to be read down the lines of "Here comes the Dragon," as the film was supposed to raise Bruce Lee's awareness in Western countries. Unlike Western cultures, who look upon dragons as fierce fire-breathing creatures devouring people for the fun of it and hoarding treasures, Asian cultures worship the dragon as an extremely wise and mighty creature. Despite its size and its sheer strength, the dragon is extremely graceful and uses its age-old knowledge to solve problems for the good of the many, relying on its untamable powers only as a last resort. Like his namesake, Lee is gentle and friendly, exhibiting no hostility in his mannerisms. However, when unleashed, he turns into the most agile energy bundle that has ever graced the silver screen. His perfect body reveals itself to be all muscles while remaining completely wiry and well proportioned. His lithe form makes every WWF wrestler look like an obese clown. His every moves are precise, unpredictable, and to the point, making him a lethal human weapon.

Warner have gone to quite some length to makes the 30th Anniversary Edition something special and it is great to see all their effort carried over in to this HD-DVD version. Given its age and technical limitations, "Enter The Dragon" is not the stunner like, say" Pitch Black," in visual terms but the transfer is remarkable nonetheless. Free of grain I found that especially the colors are more lively and vibrant than ever before. The way this high definition transfer reproduces subtleties, fine nuances, is what makes it so beautiful. Look for Lee's dark blue overall when he's sneaking around the fortress at night to see what I mean, or the wonderful backdrops of the harbor of Hong Kong as the contestants make it to the ship one by one. Then, of course, there is Han's palace and the celebration with its incredibly rich costumes and sets. In all of this, colors are incredibly bold, yet never over-saturated. Free of grain, noise or color bleeding, it is a feast for the eyes. The image has solid black levels also, reproducing the cinematography just as it was intended with impenetrable pools of black and radiant pools of light to counter them.
The disc presents the movie in it is original 2.40:1 aspect ratio and looks rather stunning, especially as it manages to flawlessly reproduce the film-like look that is organic and warm.

The film's audio has been equally well treated, coming as a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital Plus track that gives the audio a bit more room to breathe. Still it is a remix without too much going on in the surrounds and the original elements are audibly limited, resulting in a pleasing presentation that cannot belie its age, though. Dialogues are well-integrated and always understandable and Lalo Shifrin's score is beautifully supporting the film's imagery, as he is creating an amalgam of 70s west coast music and traditional Asian tunes.

Unfortunately the commentary track by producer Paul Heller that was part of the DVD version is not included on this release, which is a bit of a bummer, especially since I was a pretty good commentary. The missing commentary track is, no doubt, the result of storage limitation as there's only so much you can hold even on a dual-layer HD-DVD disc, harsh as it may sound.

A number of featurettes are included, however, such as "Blood And Steel: The Making Of Enter The Dragon." With new interviews of cast and crew members, it manages to paint a nice picture how the film came together and how the production went through its tribulations on location in Hong Kong. "Bruce Lee: In His Own Words," "Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey" and "Bruce Lee: The Curse Of The Dragon" are all included on this release once again, just as on the previous DVD release as well as the original 1973 promotional featurette "Location: Hong Kong With Enter The Dragon."

"Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey" is a feature-length biography by John Little, which is full of insights and details about Bruce's life. It even goes as far as covering his last movie "The Game Of Death" in such detail that it tries to reconstruct how Bruce had intended to cut the movie. It is a wonderful love letter to Bruce Lee and adds so much to the release.

George Takei narrates producer Fred Weintraub's examination of the Lee legacy in a featurette called "Bruce Lee: The Curse Of The Dragon."

Home Video footage provided by Lee's wife Linda is also found on this disc, showing not only Bruce the family man and father but, of course, also footage of Brandon Lee, who died every bit as mysteriously as his father at an early age. It becomes even more saddening in a separate interview section where Bruce Lee's wife Linda Cadwell talks about Bruce, their love and family, and touches on some very moving events in her life with Bruce Lee and their son Brandon.

The release is rounded out with a rather complete selection of trailers and TV spots that were used to promote the film in 1973.

The whole film brings back memories of Hollywood's glorious heyday, when focus was put on a film's content and its unique presentation, both visually and aurally, and when every movie seemed to have a mesmerizing spark that made it an almost singular, memorable experience. Sadly, many movies these days do not have this special quality about themselves, making films like "Enter The Dragon" even more notable. The film drags you in from its first establishing shot to the last end credit – which credits are surprisingly short – and you will never notice that almost two hours have passed while you watched this film. There are so many things to detect in the detailed scenery that the film definitely asks for repeated watching, and now that the high definition transfer adds even another layer of detail, you will have the chance to virtually re-experience the film from scratch. It is a brilliant film that comes on an outstanding HD-DVD release. Movie magic coming to life, and you simply cannot afford to miss this spectacular film. This disc will make sure that Bruce Lee's spark will glow for years to come and that we will never forget his extraordinary talents and skills. Long live the Dragon!