Tournament of Death, Tour de Force: ‘Enter the Dragon: 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray’

In August of this year, Shout! Factory will release an eleven disc DVD/ Blu-Ray boxed set called Bruce Lee: The Legacy Collection which includes all of the Kung Fu Master’s films except his most famous (at least in the United States), Enter the Dragon. While an undeniable treat for fans, the question of why this sin of omission could be committed must be asked.

Warner Bros’ Enter the Dragon 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray release is the answer. In fact, this excellent re-release could stand as a boxed set in and of itself. While not, as the packaging misleadingly implies, “New to Blu-Ray” (Warner Home Video released a quality 1080p version in 2010), the 40th Anniversary Edition is most assuredly the most complete and collectable to date. The package is handsome in its hard cardboard and foil embossed cover while the envelope inside (separate from the disc) is a grab bag of collectables. An iron-on patch, postcard-style production art pieces, a motion lenticular of Bruce Lee’s moves and a reproduction of the “Deputized Ally of The Dragon” cards handed out at the film’s premiere are all included. Before the disc itself is explored, the extras are already a Bruce Lee geek’s dream come true.

The film itself may feel familiar if for no other reason than it has been imitated and parodied so many times over the years since its initial 1973 release. The Mortal Kombat films (and video games) were directly inspired by Enter the Dragon. The 2007 comedy Balls of Fury spoofed the film, while the otherwise hilarious 1977 sketch comedy film The Kentucky Fried Movie is broken up by a near scene-for-scene remake called “A Fistful of Yen”.

In the wake of Lee’s death and the Leesploitation that followed, Game of Death II (1981) included scenes (and deleted scenes) from this film and was billed as an official remake to 1978’s Game of Death (also featuring only archival footage of its “star”) and imitation actor “Bruce Le” later appeared in the hilarious unofficial sequel Re-Enter the Dragon (1979). In fact, while Warner’s production of this film rode the wave of popularity of martial arts films, Enter the Dragon is so essentially martial arts that virtually every film of its kind to follow it owes it a debt.

Bruce Lee portrays “Mr. Lee”, a skilled Shaolin martial artist sent by a government agency to infiltrate the mysterious island of Mr. Han (Kien Shih), to compete in Han’s tournament and to leave the island in one piece to bring back evidence of Han’s “investing in corruption”. By Han’s very nature as an ex-Shaolin turned criminal warlord, Lee’s mission is most assuredly personal, if not vengeful. Needless to say, as in even the very best King Fu movies, mayhem ensues, especially once hundreds of fighting champions storm the island in an out-of-control melee that Lee walks through with complete cold discipline.

To say the least, the film is a must-see, especially for fans of the genre, or action in general. This is no mere case of a big Hollywood studio making big bucks from a burgeoning and specialized genre as Lee himself substantially rewrote the original script, putting himself and his Chinese heritage in every page, and even directed the pre-credits sequence on his own.

That said, the film is not yet perfect and for all its excellence, it does come off as rather dated. African American Karate star Jim Kelly is fantastic in the role of Williams, but often his use in the film borderlines on Blaxploitation when both his performance and his skills are worth so much more than such a pigeonholing. Lalo Schifrin’s orchestral jazz score, while usually stunning occasionally borders on the over-the-top and unintentionally comedic as do the then-groundbreaking fight sound effects that accompany each hit, almost like the animated “biff”, “bam”, “boom” from the 1966 Batman show. Some of the English-speaking actors who dubbed many of the Asian stars sound almost like cartoon characters, often reducing serious scenes to the semi-comical.

The best news about this Blu-Ray release is that the film transfer is absolutely beautiful. Extras may make the package, but the film itself is the attraction. The feature still looks like film, but completely clean, richly colorful and worthy of the full High Definition treatment. This deluxe treatment not only makes the fight scenes even more intense (John Saxon’s battle with Bolo Yeung is intimidating when given the bystander’s view), but impressive aspects of director Robert Clouse’s techniques are also shown off, especially in the deceptive mirror-room scene in which the camera is never actually seen.

Of course the real showcase here is the obvious star here, Bruce Lee, whose performance as an actor and a fighter are the most enhanced by the perfect sound and video transfer. While Kelly was a famous martial artist and a surprisingly good actor and Saxon was a famous actor and a surprisingly good martial artist, Lee proves to be a master of both fields. He shows excellent timing and wonderful silent acting, even as his expressively vocal fighting style steals the show with its volume and controlled violence. Lee gives a terrific performance here and cemented his status as an icon with his poised control, even as all hell breaks loose all around him. In some scenes Lee is an absolute superhero with his gravity defying moves and sinewy muscles.

Aside from the beautiful sound and video of this edition, the extras on the disc are as much of a trove as the physical souvenirs in the box, however, like the souvenirs themselves, virtually all of the Blu-Ray extras are repeated artifacts, having appeared on prior Blu-Ray and DVD releases. While the producer/ writer commentary, old Bruce and Linda Lee interviews and the classic documentaries and behind-the-scenes looks are great for new buyers, fans who already own Enter the Dragon may or may not want to spend the $50 retail and re-watch what they have. Then again, with the physical extras and new additions like documentaries No Way as Way and Wing Chun: The Art that introduced Kung Fu to Bruce Lee, not to mention the bonus feature The Curse of the Dragon, there may still be enough to entice repeat buyers to the package.

RATING 8 / 10


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