ENTER THE DRAGON - Blu-ray review

If I would ever recommend a release solely on the merit of its special features, Enter the Dragon would be it.

DeanWink

The name Bruce Lee is synonymous with Martial Arts cinema and the man, who died at a very young thirty two years old has achieved a mythical status since his untimely death. "Enter the Dragon" was the first large American film for the charismatic actor who first saw prominent popularity as Kato in the "Green Hornet" and "Batman" television shows after making numerous Hong Kong martial arts films. Lee died during the post-production stages of "Enter the Dragon" and two films would be made posthumously starring Bruce Lee. However, "Enter the Dragon" is the film that defined Bruce Lee and with his death from a cerebral edema; "Enter the Dragon" serves as a tragic reminder of what may have been if Bruce Lee had not died.

The film itself mixes Eastern martial arts with Western sensibilities and fashions from the 1970s. With afro-adorned Jim Kelly playing to numerous stereotypes and John Saxon taking on a role as a suave white American martial artists, "Enter the Dragon" serves not only as a reminder to the incredible talents of Bruce Lee, but provides a window at the stereotypes of Seventies Caucasians and African-Americans. Until "Enter the Dragon" was released into theaters, Hong Kong Kung-Fu movies featured only Asian actors and was a driving factor in delivering Hong Kong cinema to the United States. The film paved the way for eventual Hong Kong stars Jackie Chan (who has a brief cameo in "Enter the Dragon"), Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat to became bankable stars in Hollywood.

"Enter the Dragon" finds Bruce Lee starring as Lee, a master of martial arts who is sent on a mission to eliminate a fellow student of his masters and avenge the death of his sister. His mission brings him to a heavily secure and guarded island where the villain, Han (Shih Kien) sponsors and holds a Kung Fu tournament to see who is the best martial artist in the world. The tournament is a cover-up and recruiting tool for Han and the exotic island is his base of operations for a massive and highly profitable opium smuggling ring. Lee is to take part in the tournament and discover the secrets to Han and his island and report his findings to British police. Other combatants in the tournament include Williams (Jim Kelly) and Roper (John Saxon). Han is protected by the large and powerful bodyguard Bolo (Bolo Yeung).

Bruce Lee had a tremendous influence and heavy hand in the creation of "Enter the Dragon." He was responsible for choreographing and staging the film's wonderful fight sequences. Numerous disciplines of martial arts are on display in "Enter the Dragon." Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Judo and others are championed by the actors. Though it is a product of the Western World, Lee's influence guaranteed that "Enter the Dragon" could stand proudly and honorably among his earlier films and the most classic of Hong Kong productions. "Enter the Dragon" is a defining entry in the martial arts genre and the famous mirror combat between Lee and Han may very well be the most memorable of all Martial Arts moments.

This is a beautifully shot and highly entertaining film. It is not perfect and there are certainly a few moments of silliness and poor dialogue to be discovered. Having watched "Kentucky Fried Movie" a few times, it is hard to not laugh at some of the more comical moments in the film. The scene where Bruce Lee easily sneaks past a guard and hides behind a thin banister and railing, the dialogue of Han discussing the drunken vagabonds behind bars and the snake in the control room bit seem all the more ridiculous having seen them parodied. Regardless, the film is entertaining enough to ignore its often weak plot and the fight scenes of "Enter the Dragon" are absolutely incredible. When stacked up against today's action films, such as "The Marine," "Enter the Dragon" is still a blessing. It is just a shame that its film's star was never able to see the impact the film would have.

Video:
"Enter the Dragon" arrives on Blu-ray many months after the film saw its high definition debut on the competing HD-DVD. The film is now released on a BD-50 disc that is capable of storing the highly detailed and colorful visuals with the bonus materials that were included on the HD-DVD release. Warner does not believe in releasing half-baked products and their decision to wait until the dual layer discs were readily available appears to have been the correct call. Being a product of the early 1970's, "Enter the Dragon" does not benefit from having the best source materials available, but the film is visually strong enough to impress through most of its running length.

The film's 2.35:1 visuals are done justice with a very good VC-1/1090p transfer. There are a few moments where artifacts related to the source print are visible. A speck of dirt here. A scratch there. They are noticeable, but not heavy in occurrence. Detail level ranges from being average to better than average. There are a few scenes when "Enter the Dragon" definitely looks the part of being high definition. When the level of detail is above average, it looks amazing. While detail is not as strong as some other high definition releases, where "Enter the Dragon" really shines is its color reproductions. The red and yellow hues are plentiful and wonderfully done. The lush green exteriors of the island paradise are strong as well. Black levels are strong as well and nicely accentuate the bright and vivid colors. "Enter the Dragon" is not the most visually impressive film, but it's high definition transfer is a definite improvement over the standard definition DVD.

Sound:
First and foremost, yes there are some poorly dubbed sequences in "Enter the Dragon." This is not due to a syncing problem with the discs digital audio. It is the nature of the beast. What would a Kung-Fu film be without poor dubbing? As far as the remaining elements of the Blu-ray release and its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack go – it could be better, but it could be worse. "Enter the Dragon" is again, a product of the 1970s. It sounds like something made in the Seventies and its musical score is a testament to that fact. Sound range and imaging comes across flat at times and much of the action takes place in the three front channels. Regardless, the soundtrack entertains and all of the vintage Seventies Kung-Fu sound effects come across loud and clear. The cracking of the whip sounding punches is sharp and clear. Bass usage is sparse. I can't recall any deep outburst from the .1 LFE channel. The soundtrack is dated and limited and features Seventies funk for music. Where it really shines is the wonderfully reproduced Kung-Fu sounds and horrible sounds of agony.

Extras:
All of the supplemental materials from the HD-DVD release have found their way to the Blu-ray release. I would assume this is the primary reason Warner delayed the films entry on the Blu-ray format, as it took quite a while to get the BD-50 dual layer discs into mass production. The value added content of "Enter the Dragon" pays homage to the man and the film, but also details the tragic stories of the Lee family. These are very good supplements that detail more information on Bruce Lee than they do the film, but "Enter the Dragon" is all about Bruce Lee to begin with. The Commentary by Producer Paul Heller is not listed on the rear packaging, but does indeed exist. Heller looks back at his experiences on making the film and what it took to bring Bruce Lee to Hollywood. Heller's commentary track is informative, but almost mundane at times and hard to keep focused on. Simply put – it gets dull.

There are a number of documentaries and featurettes included on the Blu-ray disc in the "Behind the Story" section. Blood and Steel: The Making of Enter the Dragon (30:12) is the primary feature that looks at the film itself. Ported from an earlier DVD release, this is a decent enough making of documentary that looks horribly dated in its visuals, but entertains none-the-less. The late James Coburn is featured in this feature. Next up is Bruce Lee: In His Own Words: (19:20), is an older recorded interview with Bruce Lee and shown with accompanying black and white archival footage. Bruce Lee was not just a Kung-Fu legend, but a warm and charismatic person and these archival moments are proof of that. The Linda Lee Caldwell Interview Gallery (16:05) is a collection of ten vignettes that may be played individually or as one coherent feature. Caldwell is Bruce Lee's widow and she provides a warm look at Bruce Lee and his martial arts and filmmaking. This was a very good addition to the set.

The "Lair of the Dragon" menu selections take a deeper look at Bruce Lee and his Gong Fu style, but also at the film itself. The Original 1973 Featurette (7:38) is described as a vintage EPK. I don't know who the narrator is, but it seemed he did every vintage EPK I've seen. This old vignette is worth a look for its sheer age and how differently EPKs were back in the day. It looks more at Kung Fun in cinema than it does the film. Backyard Workout With Bruce (1:52) is a very short black and white home video with Bruce Lee working on a few kicks and beating up a punching bag. He had a lot of power to those kicks and punches. The short Curse of the Dragon (87:27) is a film that looks at the tragic life of Bruce Lee and the tragic demise of his son Brandon Lee. Narrated by Mr. Sulu (George Takai), "Curse of the Dragon" is a flashy look at the man and the sad stories that befell upon the Lee name. Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey (99:56) is another film contained as bonus materials. This documentary is a complete look at Lee's skills and martial arts techniques. This is another very nice inclusion on the Blu-ray disc. Finally, there are four Theatrical Trailers, and seven TV Spots. I always enjoy vintage marketing materials.

Closing Thoughts:
Bruce Lee died way too early in life. He left a legacy that is still quite powerful today and was perhaps the single most influential martial artist when you look at Hong Kong films and bringing them to mainstream America. Bruce Lee was an amazing talent that and he was just getting started. "Enter the Dragon" is not a great film, but it is entertaining and it is the greatest reminder we have of the Hong Kong master. The Blu-ray release features a beautifully colored film that is generally very good. The sound quality is hindered by the source materials, but delivers the hokey sound effects nicely. Where this disc really shines is the massive amount of supplemental materials. There is roughly four hours of bonus materials, including two documentaries that are decent films themselves. The bonus materials perfectly detail the life of Bruce Lee and the talent he was. He has left a legacy and it is unfortunate it was not a long legacy. "Enter the Dragon" defines that legacy. If I would ever recommend a release solely on the merit of its special features, "Enter the Dragon" would be it.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
5
Extras
9
Film Value
8