Probably two most famous Bruce Lee pictures were, sadly, his last. One of them made him an international superstar, the other almost buried his legacy (like, literally). This martial arts combo will make you idolize the guy, root for him, feel sorry for him and spit your blunt out in disgust – in that particular order. Get ready for the most complex Bruce Lee cinematic experience imaginable and blaze it up! You’ll get the best & worst of long-gone martial arts icon in our first 4/20 double feature.
“Man, you come right out of a comic book.” – Williams
Enter the Dragon (1973) directed by Robert Clouse is a seminal martial arts picture. It made the genre possible and marketable as far as international recognition concerned. Until Dragon happened, this kind of movies were mainly bread-n-butter of Asian cinema, with American or European audiences (mainly) not giving a fuck. Post-Dragon, whole wide world knew Bruce Lee, cherished him, wanted to be like him, acted like him (crazy-ass fighting sounds/shrieks included!) – partly because of Bruce’s sudden death less than a month before theatrical release in the United States. It’s not surprising that film companies are copying Dragon‘s formula in various degrees endlessly to this very day. That’s how HUGE and influential Dragon was, is and (probably) still be.
Aside from legacy of the movie, this is one hell of an entertainment. Bruce is at his prime here and this movie is perfect show-off for his fighting skills and Jeet Kune Do trademarks also seen in his previous pictures made in Hong Kong for Golden Harvest: The Big Boss, Fist of Fury and The Way of the Dragon (yeah, that’s the one where Bruce fucks with Chuck Norris in their iconic Roman Colosseum fight). Doped up with higher production values than your average HK action flick, Dragon ultimately became the first Asian-American co-produced film. Large chunk of 850,000 dollars budget went from pockets of Warner Bros. which also made possible for some up-coming US stars to shine. Like two other leads in the movie: John Saxon & Jim Kelly.
Storyline is simple, just to land some much-needed basics for an action extravaganza. Bruce is sent as a spy into a tournament, hosted by a rogue-monk-turned-drug lord, where suddenly all hell broke loose. That’s it. Of course we got some obligatory flashbacks for all three main characters before-hand (Bruce’s featuring HK female action star Angela Mao being attacked by local hoodlums & big-ass Yankee as a reason for later revenge), but aside from that, this is pure tournament shit. With some cool perks as food-n-fuck parties thrown there for characters (and viewers) to enjoy. Honorable mention to dragon-lady Ahna Capri and her great pair of tits!
Accompanied with Oriental-influenced score by none other than Lalo Schifrin of Bullitt and Dirty Harry fame, all that Bruce-Saxon-Kelly ass-kickin’ and scenery chewin’ (featuring much respected fighters from back in the day such as Sammo Hung and Bolo Yeung) ultimately led to legendary “destroy the image and you will break the enemy” mirror hall grand finale, where Bruce kicks the shit out of main antagonist, Mr. Han. Clocking in 1h 42min, this actioner with drops of Eastern philosophy here and there, is over. Right on time, before it could eventually slip into something rather inferior.
Verdict: Some label it “the greatest martial arts picture of all-time”, other the most over-rated. I call it straight-up tournament classic and definitely a must-see.
“You lose, Carl Miller!” – Billy Lo
Game of Death (1978) directed by Robert Clouse (and partly Bruce himself) is as controversial project as one can be. Some fans call it cinematic travesty or tasteless exploitation of Lee’s legacy, which it definitely is. Let it be said right here and right now: this is the WORST picture Bruce Lee (n)ever made. Originally, it was supposed to be Lee’s martial arts masterpiece titled The Game of Death. Filming began under his direction in 1972 but was quickly suspended after few weeks of principal photography becase Hollywood called in with an offer to do Enter the Dragon. Lee’s premature death from cerebral edema in July ’73 prevented him from finishing the picture according to his plans and rest is (fucked-up/cash-grab) history.
When Dragon‘s director Clouse got his hands on original footage, he decided for an entirely new plot involving a new character, Billy Lo, struggling against a racketeering syndicate after gaining international success as a martial arts movie star. When Billy refuses to be intimidated by syndicate henchman Steiner (Hugh O’Brian) and his gangs of thugs, syndicate owner Dr. Land (Dean Jagger) orders his assassination to serve as an example to others. New storyline was much needed, because almost everything Lee originally filmed was action. No problem with Clouse being creative story-wise BUT… the sick and utterly exploitative way he did that is almost like an invitation to being gang-raped post-mortem (Clouse died in ’97) by Bruce Lee afficionados.
This morally bankrupt cut-paste-n-pillage job involves everything you can think of from leftover footage, impersonators with fake beards, stand-ins wearing ridiculous facial card-board cut outs to (drums, please) actual funeral footage including shots of Lee’s corpse. Yes, HIS CORPSE FOR FUCK’S SAKE! Although being splashed around approx. twelve minutes of original material that involves some of the best Bruce showmanship, it is ultimately as horrible as it sounds. Put together with abysmal lack of good taste and some wooden American actors on display (Colleen Camp defrauding her own camp-o-meter by not showing some skin, Peckinpah-regular Gig Young drunkenly sleepwalking through this mess and subsequently killing himself that very same year), it hasn’t much to offer. Even music by James Bond-regular composer John Barry sounds like a poor attempt at Roger Moore-era cues and themes.
Saving points of this laughably bad Brucesploitation proto-type are scenes with real master. Showing many layers of his visually striking Jeet Kune Do, particularly in epic David and Goliath type of fight with NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is Bruce at his absolute best. Dressed in yellow-and-black tracksuit (borrowed by Tarantino for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill), Bruce is going ape-shit in one of his best fight scenes, if not the best. For this unforgettable piece of action alone, this movie is worth checking out. Well, maybe that or go straight for Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey instead.
Verdict: Actually, this is the closest thing to an Ed Wood martial arts film. Having said that, I’m willing to bet my herb-filled nunchaks that some sick twisted minds can enjoy any sort of exploitative amusement that is yet to be discovered right here.