The piece below was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
Just in time for the film’s 50th anniversary and Warner’s 100th, Enter the Dragon roundhouse kicks onto 4k UHD in a new edition that focuses on presentation rather than extras, which is fine. Easily one of the most culturally significant films in the sub-genre of martial arts, the film was meant to be Lee’s Hollywood theatrical debut. After first making a name for himself in television on the Green Hornet as Kato, Lee went back east after rather infamously, losing the lead in Kung-Fu to David Carradine. Because when you think about Kung-Fu, you think of David Carradine, right? Back in Hong Kong the Jeet Kune Do master built up his bonafides as a leading man, and after a string of successes, American studios started calling him back west.
The funny part is even though Enter the Dragon was crafted for Lee specifically, the studio asked for 3 diverse leads, something they referred to as “international cast” just in case American audiences at the time couldn’t accept an Asian man leading a film. Based on the Bond films, Enter the Dragon was a showcase for Bruce who also directed and choreographed all the fight sequences in the film, which still hold their own today. Lee was 32 years old while he finished working on the film that was fast tracked by Warner to capitalize on the rising star who would die tragically months before its release which ultimately landed him in the pop-cultural zeitgeist as an icon of all things cool and badass, even to this day.
For those that have never seen Enter the Dragon, its plot is something that has become a template in the action genre and was even cribbed for a little arcade game called Mortal Kombat. A hero is invited to a martial arts tournament on a secluded island compound and tasked with taking down the villain running it. Here Lee plays, well Lee, who is after a renegade Shaolin monk Han (Shih Kien), who has brought dishonor to the Temple by trafficking in drugs and white slavery on a remote island where he also holds a martial arts tournament that also allows him to recruit new talent. If that wasn’t enough motivation, shortly after Lee is contacted by a government organization to take on the mission, he also discovers Han’s number 2 was personally responsible for the death of his sister.
It’s easy to see why Lee was on his way up, here he just effortlessly radiates cool whenever he’s on screen, and that says a lot when having to play off Jim Kelly and John Saxon as his fellow tournament participants. Kelly is just immaculate here in a role that will be imitated and parodied for years to come, next to Saxon who somehow manages to hold his own against the pair while still turning in a charismatic anti-hero. Lee is truly astounding here in fight scenes that changed how we viewed fight choreography in Kung-Fu films. There’s a rawness to his style that favored realism over safety, and watching his fights now, they haven’t lost any of their punch.
The transfer here appears to be the same as the one on the Criterion set, which isn’t a bad thing, but with the added clarity of 4K and bump in color from the HDR. This is really noticeable in the reds in the film, which are now more striking than ever. The image is bright, with some of the earlier scenes exhibiting a higher contrast than later in the film, which could be a symptom of shooting outdoors on location, as opposed to on a closed studio set.The other big difference is along with the 4k is a new Dolby Atmos mix, paired with the preexisting Dolby Digital Track and a commentary. This is definitely a more contemporary feeling mix that really highlights Lalo Schifrin’s funk infused score by pushing that base line to the sub, and filling out the room with the highs and mids. It’s most definitely a more aggressive soundmix, but it’s a fight film and that is definitely something that will give folks watching this at home more bang for their buck.
The single UHD contains both the original theatrical cut, as well as the newly edited special edition that reincorporated some of the more philosophical moments in the film that were cut shortly before release. While these moments don’t add anything substantial plot-wise, it does infuse Lee’s hunt for Han with a spirituality that adds a new dimension of complexity to the lone righteous warrior. As far as extras the film comes with the commentary I previously mentioned with Paul Heller and Michael Allin, along with an Introduction by Linda Lee Cadwell. This tracks since Criterion probably still has all the rights to the extras that have been on the previous versions and if you’re a Bruce Lee fan, you really should own that set.
Like Warner’s other 100 titles – Enter the Dragon feels simply timeless, watching it today. Lee is iconic here and it’s easy to see why even today he’s instantly recognizable to people who have probably never even seen one of his films. The rousing adventure is bittersweet in that it tragically reinforces the toll his death had on a world that was finally ready for his brand of action, and sadly had to deal with the birth of Brucesploitation, a entire genre of knock offs instead. Needless to say he will be forever missed and Warner’s exquisitely simple release only cements that legacy for the next generation of fans.