So I finally got around to seeing Enter the Dragon for the first time. And I've got to say, while I respect Bruce Lee as a Martial Artist and also respect the film for its cultural breakthrough, I felt it a bit overrated. For those that don't know, the movie is about three fighters who are handpicked by Han (Shih Kien) to visit a remote island for a special fighting tournament that is secretly a cover for an opium den. First is Lee (Bruce Lee), a Shaolin monk asked to check into the opium den and bring down Han. Second is Roper (John Saxon), a businessman who is in some debt trouble and owes a lot of money to some bad people. And third is Williams (Jim Kelly), your basic black 1970s stereotype.
Let me start there, really, with the characters. Han, the film's villain, is pretty much absurd. He talks like William Shatner and acts like a bad James Bond-villain rip-off (white cat and missing hand included). Hell, Williams even says at one point that he seems straight out of a comic book. And while we're on the subject of Williams, I realize that this was the 70s, but good Lord, could they have added any more black stereotypes into the one character? He was the very definition of ‘token black guy'. Lee and Roper, on the other hand, were actually pretty good characters.
As for how they acted, outside of Han's Shatner-esque abilities (which I'll get to a little more in a minute), Bruce Lee acted fine... when he wasn't fighting. In fact, I really liked his characterizations when he was just being normal. But when he fought, it was so over-the-top and exaggerated that it was ridiculous—though I do understand that a lot of it is part of what makes Bruce Lee a classic figure in martial arts films.
But that's not to say the action was bad. In fact, I thought most of the action was actually really good (when I wasn't laughing at what probably wasn't meant to be funny). Like I said before, I do respect Bruce Lee as a martial artist. He's pretty damn good (which is probably an understatement from other things I've read). There were just moments where you could tell it was fake, such as when it didn't exactly show the hits, or the camera cut just at the right moment so that you could see a foot coming into view from off screen to touch somebody's face (with a loud ‘smack' sound). Or sometimes there were moments when it was clear there wasn't any contact, but it was acted out like a hit anyway. However, the final fight at the end in the hall of mirrors was freakin brilliant, and probably one of my favorite fight scene moments now.
For the plot, I really couldn't help but think, the entire time I was watching, of Mortal Kombat. I know MK came later, but I the whole time I was thinking "wow, did they rip off this movie." I didn't find out until afterward that MK purposefully based itself heavily on Enter the Dragon. I mean, I could probably write an entire post on their similarities, but I won't.
But let's get to the bigger reasons as to why I feel the movie is overrated. Again, I realize the movie was made in the 70s, but it just looked awful. I've seen better visual work from 50s films. And then the sound mixing was doubly terrible. And there was a reason that I felt while watching that the entire movie sounded as if the whole thing was dubbed over... because it was. The movie was filmed silently, and everything (including dialogue and sound effects) were dubbed over in post-production. It was incredibly distracting, though. And this was part of the reason for the Shatner-esque acting. Shih Kien didn't know English, so he just mouthed the lines and somebody else voiced him.
Overall, while I do feel the movie is overrated, I still think it was entertaining enough and good. It just wasn't great, in my opinion. There was too much poor quality, cliché, and cheesiness. But it does make me want to check out other Bruce Lee films, so that's good.