Enter The Dragon was a defining moment for martial arts films and for Bruce Lee (real name Lee Jun Fan).
The first martial arts film produced by a major Hollywood studio came from Warner Brothers and made a star of Lee in the Western world.
Before Enter The Dragon, Lee had appeared as Kato in the short-lived US TV series The Green Hornet but was already a household name in Hong Kong.
He wanted more, though, and he knew he would only get it in Hollywood (ironically he was born in San Francisco).
This was no art-house movie. It’s a classic thriller. Lee – a Shaolin Monk and Asian James Bond figure – infiltrates a small island – home to the bad guy Han (Kien Shih) and his illicit drugs and prostitution racket.
Han holds a martial arts tournament on the island every three years, providing Lee with the perfect opportunity to gather evidence against the drug lord on behalf of the British secret service.
Lee also has a personal interest – Han’s sidekick Oharra (Bob Wall) caused the death of Lee’s sister. Cornered by Oharra, she committed suicide to prevent herself from being raped.
Among the men accompanying Lee to the tournament are two Americans – white trash gambler Roper (John Saxon), and a black playboy named Williams (Jim Kelly). Both men are first-rate fighters.
The film concludes with the fight to end all fights between the main adversaries, Lee and Han. This sequence is made all the more astonishing by Han’s prosthetic hand, fitted with blades in place of fingers.
The showdown is a marvel of martial acrobatics and is unrivalled for its visual ingenuity, not least because it is staged in a house of mirrors.
The plot was thin, but the fight scenes showed Lee’s genius, turned him into a Hollywood icon and captured the imagination of popular culture for generations.
Everyone wanted to do it, a hundred martial arts rip-offs were popping up, every TV cop knew how to use his legs, and the disco movement had another fad to grasp on to.
Enter The Dragon has every 1970s and martial arts cliché you could hope for. From bad dubbing to the ultra cool cat performance of ultra afro’d Jim Kelly, to the funky wakka-wakka guitar music – and a swooshing and smacking sound effect accompanying every punch and every kick, even if nothing is actually hit.
Lee was the first Asian star to make it in Hollywood – but he never knew it. Three weeks before the premiere he was found dead in a Hong Kong apartment.
The conspiracy theories ran riot; some said he had been hit in the head too hard, or that he had been poisoned.
Then there was the ‘vibrating palm’ theory that certain Asian martial artists knew how to simply touch you and cause your internal organs to vibrate rapidly until you died.
The official verdict was that Lee had died of a brain oedema from a mysterious reaction to aspirin, and 100,000 people attended his funeral in Hong Kong. He was just 32.
If you see only one movie this year where a man with knives for fingers gets the crap kicked out of him in a hall of mirrors, let it be this one.
Jackie Chan can be clearly seen in a cameo appearance, getting his neck broken in the elaborate underground cave fight sequence.
Angela Mao Ying