Never Take Your Eyes Of Your Opponent...Even When Bowing: Enter The Dragon (1973)

So as August roles around I find myself dreading the prospect of school, not because I hate being a graduate student, on the contrary I enjoy it very much.  Instead, it is more of a hesitation, because for the first time in quite awhile I am genuinely busy and finding productivity rather rewarding, notably with one certain publication and at least two highly probable ones in the works, school and study is starting to finally shape into something meaningful. I dread school, because I know my desire to achieve will lead to a series of existential crises rooted in a misguided assumption that everything I do will be short of perfection.  Nonetheless, I hope that this forward momentum I have gained in the past months moves with me through August and onward.  As such, I knew that a welcome way to afford some comfort and ease with the upcoming stresses of school would be to do yet another film marathon, deciding to fill in a cinematic blind spot, this time kung fu/martial arts films.  Hell, I even made a hashtag to chronicle the entire event on Twitter, which is afforded the absurd name of #kungfubacktoschool.  I decided upon this particular film, first because next to Bollywood it is easily my most unseen category and fixing this has long been a plan.  Secondly, I have some bizarre belief that if I watch enough of these zen heavy films, along with some of the more post-modern comedic takes on the genre I will come to possess a world view that will allow me to deal with the stresses of wild self-expectations in the upcoming school year.  I know it is wild, but there is a surprising amount of earnestness in this particular endeavor, not that I do not like my other marathons, this one just seems too perfect to pass up.  I will, however, be engaging in a few previously planned blog-a-thons throughout so when a review of Spellbound or The Blob sneaks in do not be off put.  I might even read a book or two on the genre just to make myself well-rounded on the topic.  At the very least I will come to better understand the world of bad dubbing and Wu-Tang Clan samples, and I figured there was no better place to start this marathon than with the granddaddy of all kung fu flicks, Enter the Dragon.

Enter the Dragon, is a set of stories within one larger narrative, although it is clear that the narratives focal point is placed on Lee (Bruce Lee) an experienced and zen-infused Shaolin fighter whose skills lead to his being hired by what appears to be the British government to enter a fighting tournament in an unspecified Pacific island, where he is to take down the infamous Mr. Han (Kien Shih) a mob boss and martial arts expert who is assumedly engaged in some large scale sex trafficking.  Yet, the tournament attracts far more than Lee, indeed drawing the attentions of urban kung fu expert Williams (Jim Kelly) who appears to be entering the tournament to remove himself from the racially heated climate of America, where he as a black man could be attacked purely on those grounds alone.  Along for the voyage to the island is Roper (John Saxon) a compulsive gambler who sees victory in this tournament as a way to pay of his ever growing debts.  Needless to say, their arrival is met with less than ideal results as it becomes clear that the tournament created by Mr. Han is far from orthodox, instead featuring a series of his henchmen, including the bulky and impenetrable Bolo (Bolo Yeung) and the maniacal O'Hara (Robert Wall).  Lee, Roper and Williams, however, all prove quite adept as fighters displaying considerably different styles, while quickly destroying their opponents in their various bouts, all the while Lee endeavors to find out what Mr. Han is doing on the island, while also avenging the loss of his sister Su Lin (Angela Mao) in the process.  This espionage leads to paranoia on the part of Mr. Han who initially suspects Williams to be the operative, thus having him killed, using his dead corpse as an attempt to convince Roper to join his army.  Roper refuses and instead begins aiding Lee in the process of taking down Mr. Han's army, which includes Bolo and thousands of trained fighters.  Eventually, Lee chases Mr. Han into the underworld of his island, where the two duel it out, Han changing his weapons throughout due to missing a hand, which he replaces with various claws.   Ending in a wild fight in a hall of mirrors, Lee remembers a piece of sage advice from his sensei that affords him a technique to kill Mr. Han, thus returning to help Roper quell the last of the lackeys.  Both completely their desired requests, Lee's vengeance affirmed and Roper's escaping of debt almost certain.

Enter the Dragon, in most of its structure is a far from subtle film, particularly when it wants to consider issues of oppression and power in the way of economic privilege.  Indeed, Mr. Han is a person of insane wealth, having far more in common with a Bond villain than with his fellow martial artists.  This decadence is noted by Williams when he suggest the absurdity of an island dojo, when he can see people in the harbors of China barely scraping by, again obvious but certainly an enjoyable theoretical framework for such genre film.  However, it is in Mr. Han's being similar to a Bond villain that I cannot help but think of this movie as being heavily invested in issues of body politics, primarily how and who occupies the space of the film.  Sure one cannot help but acknowledge the physique of everyone involved, from Bruce Lee's insanely taut slenderness, to Williams' wild abdomen it is a film that rejoices perfection, at least in the physical sense, because it is clear that only a portion of this relates to moral validity.  Considering that figures like Bolo are bursting out of their bodies so jacked that it appears inconceivable, reflects not just their villainess nature, but their mental fragility as well.  The narrative seems inclined to suggest that Bolo is physically threatening, but far from mentally competent.  Similarly, the female bodies that occupy the film are dealt with intriguingly, not void of problems, but far more aware of the politics surrounding the feminine than many texts from the same era.  It is worth considering why Su Lin commits harakiri at the end of her scene, considering that she has fought valiantly and is not to be ashamed.  The reason it appears for her death is to avoid the shame of sexual being sexually defiled, by Ohara.  This takes on issues of intersectionality to varying degrees, but fails to attack them in regards to the larger narrative.  Finally, one must consider the figure of Mr. Han whose amputated hand serves as a metaphor for his otherness and is suggested as a reason for his insanity, but it is this missing body part that seems to drive him to his wildest actions, never really explaining why he is a villain who consumes, other than very vague suggestions that such actions fill a void in his lacking.  Sure this takes on phallic symbolism and sure it helps to make him have a cool weapon for the final fight scene, but it also allows viewers to create a villain by noting his deformity, one that he seems perfectly willing to exact upon others. If one then adds the final mirror sequence to the analysis, it becomes a full on moment of body, self-identity and the manner in which fracturing that can help transcend a moment, or avoid, to extend the metaphor, a depression or loss of self-worth. Again, it is not dealt with deeply, but Enter the Dragon does look at various forms of disability, each earning their own space, although they all bow to the perfect bodied figure in the end.  Problematic sure, but it is far more engaging a text than most and daring in its depictions for the era.

Key Scene:  The mirror room fight is a classic moment and has to be one of the greatest shot and choreographed fights in all of cinema.

This bluray is a must own, although there appear to be multiple versions.  I would say go for the cheapest option, but that is often a bad method of approach.  Also, somebody buy me this movie's soundtrack.

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