If ever there were a movie that deserved to be dubbed THE Kung Fu film of all time, Enter the Dragon would be it. Produced for a paltry $850,000, this landmark picture essentially introduced the West to the martial arts genre and established its star, Bruce Lee, as a cultural icon by pulling in over $200,000,000 worldwide and becoming one of the most profitable movies in the history of cinema.
It’s a tragedy that Lee never lived to revel in the big-time fame this role accorded him. (He died of brain swelling caused by an allergic reaction to aspirin just days before the film’s premiere.) And yet, Lee’s career was lustrous to some degree beforehand (Click here for a Bruce Lee photo gallery). The son of a Cantonese Opera star, the performer’s first foray into the biz was in 1966 via the TV series The Green Hornet (as the titular character’s loyal sidekick Kato). Though the show lasted only one season, Lee went on to reprise that role in several episodes of Batman.
In 1969 he officially broke into film by playing a henchman in the Raymond Chandler adaptation Marlowe, starring James Garner. Dissatisfied with bit roles, however, Lee returned to Hong Kong, where he high-kicked his career as a leading man. In 1971 he starred in The Big Boss, and followed that success with two more box office smashes the following year in Fists of Fury and Way of the Dragon. For the latter film Lee commanded complete control as writer, director, fight choreographer, and star.
But Enter the Dragon in 1972 was Lee’s first movie to be produced jointly with Warner Brothers which in essence is what it took to bring him to the masses. The tale of a Shaolin warrior who goes to an island to compete in a martial arts competition has been either blatantly copied or respectfully mimicked everywhere from the Sega Genesis game Mortal Kombat to Pulp Fiction to the recent comedy Balls of Fury.
The film’s title itself is an homage to Lee: Originally the movie was named Blood and Steel, but it was changed to include “The Dragon” in honor of his previous film. Now, according to Warner Brothers, “The Dragon” will return in a noir remake entitled Awaken the Dragon. Too bad there can be only one Bruce Lee.
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