"Enter the Dragon"

Bruce Lee's finest hour, modeled on a comic strip, features dialogue dubbed by Charlie Chan's No. 1 son.

Published September 13, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"Enter the Dragon"
Directed by Robert Clouse
Starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly
Warner Home Video; widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Audio commentary, documentaries, interview with Linda Lee Cadwell, trailers

Bruce Lee was the Fred Astaire of chop-socky, and "Enter the Dragon" represents his finest work. Released just weeks after Lee's untimely death in 1973 (the result of a cerebral edema, not, as some have insisted, foul play), "Enter the Dragon" is part martial-arts extravaganza, part James Bond-style caper and part shrine to the man who introduced high-speed Hong Kong action techniques to the West, virtually reinventing the way Hollywood would subsequently treat its own such offerings (albeit with far less of a sense of fun). Cheated of the starring role in TV's "Kung Fu," Lee keenly wanted "Enter the Dragon" to make him a movie star of the first order. It did. Fans can only speculate on what might have followed.

In the film, Lee is recruited by a British intelligence officer in Hong Kong to infiltrate an elite martial-arts tournament on the private island of a shadowy figure named Han (Shih Kien). The tournament also has attracted a rakish gambler played by John Saxon (an actor who also claimed to have a black belt in karate) and the easily provoked Jim Kelly (a karate champion who also claimed to have acting skills). Lee quickly discovers that the event is merely a cover for Han's lucrative dealings in white slavery and heroin production. Punches and kicks ensue, including a spectacular finale in which Lee and Han go mano a mano in a hall of mirrors.

Along with a digital recording of Lalo Schifrin's way-cool soundtrack -- arguably right up there with Isaac Hayes' "Shaft" -- the DVD version is dripping with nifty extras. Lee's widow, Linda Lee Cadwell, offers an introduction to the movie plus an extended interview. The disc also includes a documentary narrated by Lee, a making-of featurette, theatrical trailers, TV appearances, production notes, a primer on martial arts and even an introduction to Jackie Chan, "Heir to the Throne." Paul Heller, co-producer of "Enter the Dragon," provides commentary on the film, which he reveals was originally titled "Blood and Steel." The colorful look of the movie was modeled on the "Terry and the Pirates" comic strip, Heller says, and villain Kien's Chinese accent was so thick all his dialogue had to be dubbed by none other than Keye Luke, Charlie Chan's No. 1 son and Master Po in "Kung Fu."

"I never met anyone who wanted to be a star more than Bruce Lee," Heller observes. "It was his purpose in life." Mission accomplished, you could say.

By David Lazarus

David Lazarus covers business and technology for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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