The years seem to be flying by in the blink of an eye. I still vividly remember Warner Home Video celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the Bruce Lee classic "Enter The Dragon," and here we are now, with a brand new 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray Edition of the film. Arriving in a cool package, the release promises new bonus materials, so I was eager to dive in.
"Enter The Dragon" would have undoubtedly marked the stellar rise of the "Dragon" in Western hemispheres, if fate had not intervened and tragically changed the course of events, killing martial arts superstar Bruce Lee at an early age. Nevertheless, today 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 accessible for audiences around the world. He has succeeded in his venture, but clearly the price he paid was too high for most.
On a remote island off the coast of Hong Kong, Han (Kien Shih) runs an isolated martial arts school, training only the most elite and promising of scholars. On the side, the former Shaolin student is also running a profitable drug ring, preparing opium to be shipped to the mainland.
The police are fully aware of his dealings but their hands are tied. They need evidence, so they use an annual martial arts contest that Han hosts on his private island as an opportunity to smuggle in one of their own agents, Lee (Bruce Lee), and put an end to Han's criminal efforts.
But Lee wants to punish the mighty Han not only for his drug operations that kills countless people, but also for breaking the Shaolin's code of honor and for killing his sister.
Incognito, he travels to the remote island where an incredible number of martial artists meet to test and prove their skills. Soon, Lee undertakes nightly field trips into the guarded fortress in search for the drug operation's evidence, but his explorations 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 his identity is discovered.
"Enter The Dragon" is truly a film masterpiece, combining Asian influences with Hollywood filmmaking. This Blu-Ray release once again features the extended cut of the movie with three 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 40 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 whoever 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. Every move he makes is precise, unpredictable, and so to the point that it makes him a lethal human weapon.
Once again, Warner Home Video is dishing out a superb high definition transfer of this movie, that is free of grain. Most importantly, however, I found that especially the colors are more lively and vibrant than ever before, and that the level of definition on this transfer is simply beautiful to behold. Look out for Lee's dark blue overall while he is sneaking around the fortress at night to see what I mean, or the wonderful backdrops of the harbor of Hong Kong as, one by one, the contestants make their way to the ship. Then, of course, there is Han's palace and the celebration with its incredibly rich costumes and splendid 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.
You will find a DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track on this release, that gives the audio good room to breathe. Still, one has to keep in mind that this 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 despite the audio engineers' best efforts. 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.
One of the highlights of the 30th Anniversary DVD Edition of the film was producer Paul Heller's commentary track, and it is great to see it make a return here on this release.
A large number of featurettes are included on this release, all of the culled from the 30th Anniversary Edition of the film, including the feature-length documentary "Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey" 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.
But also look for "Blood And Steel: The Making Of Enter The Dragon," a featurette with plenty of 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.
George Takei narrates producer Fred Weintraub's examination of the Lee legacy in a featurette called "Bruce Lee: The Curse Of The Dragon."
Naturally, "Bruce Lee: In His Own Words," and "Wing Chun: The Art That Introduced Kung Fu To Bruce Lee" and are also included on this release once again, along with the original 1973 promotional featurette "Location: Hong Kong"
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.
In addition to all of these bonus materials, Warner is also including a whole bunch of never-before-released production photos in the form of postcard-sized prints, as well as a small photo booklet, giving you a look at photographer Dave Friedman's upcoming book "Enter The Dragon: A Photographer's Journey," in which Friedman recounts his time on the set of the movie.
An iron-on embroidered dragon patch is also included on the packaging, rounding out this nice release.
"Enter The Dragon" 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 begs for repeated watching, and this high definition transfer adds even another layer of detail, allowing you to virtually re-experience the film from scratch.
"Enter The Dragon" is a brilliant film that arrives here as an outstanding Blu-Ray release. It is movie magic coming to life, and you simply cannot afford to miss this disc. It 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!