No matter how many times Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee’s final film (released July 26, 1973, just six days after the actor’s untimely death), is reissued, it seems there will always be an audience for it. So much legend surrounds this very first Hollywood-produced martial arts film, double-dip releases are justifiable so long as improvements are being made. Thankfully that’s the case with the 40th anniversary edition (the film’s second appearance on Blu-ray), which boasts a new transfer and, for the first time, a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix. A mixture of old and new supplements are included (more on that later), but the audio/visual specs are certainly the biggest selling point and reason enough for Bruce Lee fans to celebrate.
The film continues to hold up quite well, four decades later. Many young viewers discovering Enter the Dragon for the first time may snicker at the dated elements, especially if they haven’t been primed beforehand that this is quite different than today’s action films. Those of us who grew up watching it on TV or VHS are presumably accustomed to the bad dubbing (even though it’s an English-language production, the ADR is strikingly obvious), generally stiff acting, and arguably overly-simplistic plot. Knowing at least a touch of history is probably a good idea for anyone approaching Dragon sight unseen. Seeing his first three features, all produced in Hong Kong and released in quick succession throughout the two years preceding Dragon, is highly recommended for greater perspective.
Regardless of how today’s youth may receive the film, one thing I tend to doubt would ever be called into question is the natural, magnetic charisma of Bruce Lee. His on-screen presence remains every bit as powerful today as it was 40 years ago. The fight scenes, all choreographed by Lee himself, are still a marvel. The plot is easy to follow, with Lee (Bruce Lee’s character’s name, conveniently) being sent to a fight in a super-exclusive martial arts tournament led by the shady Han (Shih Kien). British Intelligence suspects Han is involved in a number of illegal practices (including drug trafficking). Lee is called upon to act as a spy, infiltrating the tournament in order to collect evidence that will make a case against Han. What’s in it for Lee? Han’s right-hand man, O’Hara (Robert Wall), led an attempted gang rape of Lee’s sister, Su Lin (Angela Mao). He can help out the British government and avenge his sister at the same time.
Enter the Dragon electrified audiences internationally, raking in millions at the box office. Factoring in reissues, TV broadcasts, and multiple reissues on every home video medium, it’s not hard to see why some refer to it as being among the most profitable movies of all time. Lee’s film career was still in its infancy when he died unexpectedly at age 32, leaving behind only a quartet of completed films. As such, each of these films (1971’s The Big Boss was first, followed by Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon in ’72) is an absolute treasure. Even if it was a bad movie, Enter the Dragon would hold a place of great historical significance for its influence on Hollywood. Luckily director Robert Klause and screenwriter Michael Allin (with uncredited rewriting by Lee) took the film seriously enough to ensure it rose far above B-movie schlock.
I didn’t see the 2007 Blu-ray edition of Enter the Dragon, so unfortunately I have no point of reference other than the old DVD. Again, it must be noted this version is a new transfer, not simply a repackage of the 2007 Blu-ray. Enter the Dragon certainly looks as good as I’ve ever seen it. It’s only going to look so good, considering its B-movie budget. Gilbert Hubbs’ cinematography looks acceptably good, but certain shots are undeniably soft (specifically the scene with John Saxon playing golf). Details tend to disappear in dark areas, becoming a solid wall of black. But anyone who grew up watching this on any previous format will be very pleasantly surprised.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix also betrays the low-budget nature of Dragon. Though most of the characters are speaking English, including Lee (the only of his starring roles in which he did so), all the dialogue was dubbed. The enhanced clarity of the lossless mix makes this fact stick out like an even sorer thumb than ever before. The dialogue is often abnormally pronounced. It is, however, an accurate presentation of the original sound design. Lalo Schifrin’s score sounds great and the fight-oriented sound effects leap forth in all their exaggerated glory.
There are a few new supplements exclusive to this 40th anniversary edition. “No Way as Way” is the lengthiest new feature at 27 minutes. It isn’t really about Dragon, seriously limiting its appeal. A number of interviewees (including Sugar Ray Leonard and George Takei) discuss the influence Bruce Lee had on their lives. “Return to Han’s Island” is a neat little piece that shows us what some of the original shooting locations look like 40 years later. Best of the new material is the 20-minute piece “Wing Chun: The Art that Introduced Kung Fu to Bruce Lee,” which offers a quick primer on the first style studied by Lee.
The numerous remaining features (including commentary by producer Paul Heller and the 87-minute documentary Curse of the Dragon) have been ported over from previous editions. The glaring omission is the 100-minute documentary Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey, present on both the previous Blu-ray and two-disc DVD. It’s a damn good piece and definitely a loss. A small collection of physical bonus items is tucked inside an envelope in the sturdy, extra-thick slip case that houses the Blu-ray case. You get an Enter the Dragon iron-on patch, a lenticular “action” photo card, and several postcards with production photos. It’s a neat touch that makes this anniversary edition stand out just a little more.
Photos: Warner Bros. (promo stills not representative of Blu-ray transfer)