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Bruce Lee lives! Carolina Theatre presents Enter The Dragon on Thursday

by Mark Burger

For martial-arts mavens, few films are as revered as Enter the Dragon, which marked Bruce Lee’s biggest hit… and his final film. His mysterious death mere days before the film’s premiere in July 1973 lent the film an added mystique that also translated into big box-office around the world.

In terms of cost-to-profit ratio — Enter the Dragon reportedly cost around $1 million — it may well be the most financially successful film in the history of its studio, Warner Bros. According to Wikipedia, by 1999 the film’s earnings were estimated at $200 million.

The film was reissued theatrically numerous times in the 1970s and into the early 1980s, continuing to rack up big boxoffice grosses and an entirely new generation of fans. With the advent of home video, Enter the Dragon was — and still is — one of Warner Home Video’s top-selling titles… be it on VHS, DVD or Blu-ray.

Remarkably, this marks the 40th anniversary of the film’s release, and the Mixed Tape Film Series will commemorate the film’s legacy with a special screening this Thursday at the Carolina Theatre, 310 S. Greene St., Greensboro. Ironically, Enter the Dragon was the last mainstream film to open at the Carolina Theatre when it was a first-run movie theater.

Taking a page from Ian Fleming (and Dr. No, in particular), the film stars Lee as Lee (imagine that!), a martial-arts master recruited by a government agency to infiltrate an island tournament held by the mysterious Han (Master Bong Soo Han), whom the agency suspects is behind a multimillion-dollar drug ring.

Aided and abetted by Roper (John Saxon) and Williams (Jim Kelly), a pair of expatriate Americans, Lee discovers the insidious truth on Han’s island — which immediately puts him in harm’s way. The story culminates in a blistering martialarts free-for-all and the inevitable one-onone battle between Lee and Han in the latter’s underground lair — a sequence seemingly inspired by Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai (1948) given the hall of mirrors that Lee must navigate in order to vanquish his foe.

With Lalo Schifrin’s legendary music score accentuating the action, the film also stars Ahna Capri, Bob Wall, Shih Kien, Angela Mao Ying, Bolo Yueng and, if you look closely enough, you’ll spot early screen appearances by Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung as two of Han’s minions… although, not surprisingly, they don’t last long. The film is also the best-remembered of director Robert Clouse, who went on to direct the patchwork Game of Death (1978), Lee’s incomplete final project, which utilized (none too convincingly) a double for Lee in many scenes.

Enter the Dragon wasn’t only a hit with audience, but also with critics. “The picture is expertly made and well-meshed,” wrote Howard Thompson in the New York Times. “It moves like lightning and brims with color. On an adventure level, the performances are quite good. The one by Mr.

Lee, not only the picture’s supermaster killer but a fine actor as well, is downright fascinating. Mr. Lee, who also staged the combats, died very recently. Here he could not be more alive.”

“The only real disappointment about Enter the Dragon is that it’s Bruce Lee’s last movie,” added Jay Cocks of Time.

In the summer of 2010, I had the good fortune to speak with John Saxon at the Western Film Fair in Winston-Salem, and he discussed the film at great length — even admitting that his initial reaction was to turn the film down(!). Initially he didn’t see much depth or dimension to Roper, so the film’s producers (Fred Weintraub and Paul Heller) encouraged him to develop the character to his satisfaction. Needless to say, he did. Saxon also recalled with a laugh that, upon finishing the film, his agent — who wanted him to make the movie all along — basically said: “See? There you go. Probably no one will even see it!” Needless to say, he was somewhat mistaken….

Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $6 (general admission) and $5 (senior citizens, students, military personnel). Enter the Dragon is rated R… for reasons that should be obvious! For tickets or more information, call 336.333.2605 or visit the Carolina Theatre’s official website: carolinatheatre.org.

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