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HD DVD Review: Enter the Dragon

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So much of Enter the Dragon is flawless, influential, or enormously entertaining that finding fault in this classic is nearly impossible. Bruce Lee shines, going undercover to expose a crime lord holding a fighting tournament. Every serious martial arts film to follow owes its existence to this 1973 masterpiece.

The hugely influential plot line, that of a fighting tournament set up around a crime syndicate, has been used innumerable times in video games, other movies, and the knock-offs that would follow. Unlike many of the latter, Dragon establishes its characters either through back story or confrontation. There’s always a purpose to the fighting.

Gorgeous cinematography highlights the opening scenes prior to the arrival on Han’s island. Lee stars alongside the charismatic Jim Kelly and John Saxon. Kien Shih takes on the role of Han, deliberately evil in every scene.

Action is loaded into the film’s finale, with small spurts appearing throughout. Some may see the piece as slow-paced until the remarkable payoff, amazingly produced for a sum under $600,000. The end fight between Lee and Han, occurring in front of thousands of mirrors, is a cinematic classic. The care taken to craft spectacular visuals lends a unique air to the proceedings.

Dragon hiccups in a few spots, notably the looped dialogue and repetitive sound effects. The movie was filmed silently then dubbed later in a studio. While it’s at times flawlessly done, at other times it feels sloppy enough to become a distraction. The generic sound of someone falling down is cued up any time someone lands on their back, cheapening the choreography.

Elsewhere, Dragon is a great piece of entertainment. The small doses of humor are properly handled, the fights are fun to watch, and Bruce Lee’s dedication to his craft shows on screen. It’s barely aged a day either. This is the reference for all martial arts films to follow.

A substantial update over the DVD version, this is a glowing disc in terms of video. Color is the immediate portion of the presentation that stands out, including rich reds without a single noticeable compression artifact. While a few scenes appear muddy, dirty, and riddled with grain (Roper’s introduction on a golf course is a lost cause), the rest looks as if it was released a year ago. Beads of sweat on Bruce Lee’s skin are noticeable from a distance, and clarity is remarkable for the age.

The ‘70s-era soundtrack is a nice update for the film, loading the sound field with music at every opportunity. The 5.1 mix doesn’t pack much of a punch, though there is some distinct rear speaker use. The hum of motors in the underground lair is a nice upgrade from the film’s original mono track. Brief moments of other positional audio are noted, if unspectacular. Dragon sticks to the center channel for the most part.

Extras carry over from a two-disc SD-DVD, and that remains one of the best special editions on the market in terms of extras. On HD DVD, this is a single disc presentation, cramming everything onto a single side.

A commentary track by the producer Paul Heller is the first notable, though a track recorded for the initial DVD in 1998 is missing. Next up is an all new 30-minute documentary called Blood and Steel: Making Enter the Dragon. This is a collection of interviews culled from various sources.

There is some brief behind-the-scenes footage and there are some great stories shared by the various people who were lucky to be on the set. Bruce Lee: In His Own Words is a 20-minute feature with a black and white interview along with various home videos. There are ten interview segments with Lee’s widow, Linda Lee Caldwell, and some home movie footage of his workout regimen.

The two documentaries are what set this disc apart from typical special editions. First is a 90-minute feature called Curse of the Dragon. It's completely in depth about Lee’s life, death, and legacy. There's some funeral footage and countless interviews with people who were close to him. You'll also get some thoughts from the various people who were behind the scenes during the filming of his movies.

A second lengthy feature is Bruce Lee: Warriors Journey. This one comes in at 100 minutes and is largely focused on Game of Death, a movie Lee died long before he could finish filming. There are extensive outtakes from the film, but also from his other movies as well. There's a great focus on his death and conspiracy theories also. Rounding out the disc are some various trailers and TV spots.

Enter the Dragon would be the end of Lee’s legacy. His death would tragically come a matter of weeks before the premiere. Game of Death would follow five years later, using spliced together footage Lee shot before starting on Dragon. The rest was handled by poorly hidden doubles, usually shrouded in darkness and without the skill level Lee possessed.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.