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Enter the Dragon

Enter the Dragon, 1973

A talented martial artist named Lee (Bruce Lee) is scouted by a British intelligence agent named Braithwaite (Geoffrey Weeks) to go undercover in a fighting tournament held on the private island of a crime lord named Han (Kien Shih). There are many characters of note also in attendance, including the man responsible for Lee's sister's death, O'Hara (Robert Wall), a Black American martial artist named Williams (Jim Kelly), and a gambling addict named Roper (John Saxon).

This is one of those big name films that I somehow had just never gotten around to. And for the most part I would say that it lived up to the hype.

The most well-known aspect of the film, of course, is that it was Bruce Lee's final film before his death. The actor is in peak form, and he exudes charisma whether he's sparring in the ring or quietly taking in the action around him. He brings that completely believable athleticism that any great action film--especially a martial arts one--needs, and he plays well off of all of the other characters.

From a story point of view, the film is also engaging. Lee is tasked with infiltrating Han's operation and finding evidence to finally send him away. But there are multiple subplots at play involving both Williams and Roper and their own dealings with Han. It is a film with a lot of moving pieces, and yet the plot never feels overly complex or cluttered.

There are also, exactly as you would expect, plenty of great action sequences, including Lee finally getting to face his sister's tormentor in the ring and an iconic final showdown with the villain Han in a room full of mirrors. This was one of those sequences where I was immediately aware of other, later films that had just directly lifted imagery from this sequence (including my own beloved Hellraiser 2!).

Complaint-wise? Well, I thought it was kind of skeevy that two of the characters we are meant to like (Roper and Williams) don't even bat an eye at the idea of helping themselves to the sexual services of women who seem just as likely as not to be sex slaves. The film also trades in the trope of the evil foreign men who kidnap young white girls as sex slaves. It's not that white slavery never happens, but it pales in comparison to the number of non-white women who are regularly trafficked. I know this film is like 50 years old, but the trope is a tired one (still being trotted out in films like Taken). None of the female characters in the film are developed beyond a handful of lines, and they seem to be there mainly to serve as decoration. There are female characters in supporting roles (like the head mistress of the house, or an undercover female agent who helps Lee), but their development is pretty superficial.

I'm really glad I finally got around to this film. It was really delightful and many of the action set-pieces were memorable and exciting. This is the kind of film I could see coming back to as an old favorite.