Reviewed by Cliff Homewood
Enter the Dragon has its 50th Anniversary cinema re-release, if you haven’t seen it, you should. Witness Bruce Lee in all his glory in his only English language movie. Released a month after his death, it made him an icon.
In the 1970s kids wanted to be Bruce Lee, all intensity combined with peak physicality, he seemed to pull off impossible looking feats. This amazing movie’s the perfect showcase. At the time the Chinese were cast in subservient roles and called the Sick Man of Asia (a term alas re-used after COVID). Lee wanted to break Chinese stereotyping and show strength. He entered Hollywood showing prowess, jump kicking and smashing a ceiling light during an audition. He had a one-inch punch which could send an assailant flying and could do a one finger push-up. For film he slowed his movement down for the camera to capture. There wasn’t an inch of fat on his body, contributing to his death as your brain needs fat and was supposedly killed by an aspirin. This is the legend of Bruce Lee. Enter the Dragon shows his ability, those are not special effects. The film was obviously a Bond inspired franchise starter, what a franchise it would have been. A global smash, with the perfect setting of a martial arts tournament, with action choreographed by Lee. Bruce Lee and Jim Kelly had great charisma. Bruce’s feral yell leaves you speechless. There’s nothing quite like it. Pure animal magnetism. Accompanied by a great soundtrack Enter the Dragon contains some of the best fight sequences on film and is surprisingly moving and riveting.
His legacy was tarnished by Tarantino with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Bruce’s daughter Shannon Lee called the portrayal despicable. If you want to learn more about Bruce Lee, the 50-part The Legend of Bruce Lee on Netflix is recommended. Executively produced by Shannon and starring Danny Chan Kwok-Kwan, the uncanny lookalike from Shaolin Soccer. Who would win in a fight between Bruce Lee and Mohammed Ali is an eternal question. Bruce Lee was a Mohammed Ali fan and said, “Look at my hand. That’s a little Chinese hand. He’d kill me.”
Enter the Dragon’s UK release in 1974 bought with it an awareness of nunchuks. In 1975 James Ferman became head of the BBFC (British Board of Film Certification) and feared they inspired copycat violence. In 1979 he exorcised nunchuk scenes from Enter the Dragon even though the film had already been out 5 years. He also banned the Bowie knife from Rambo. Pictured above are two posters: one with nunchuks and one with a stick!
Kevin Eastman thought what’s the silliest animal you could cross with Bruce Lee? A turtle, the slowest animal. Co-creator Peter Laird suggested a group. Thus in 1985 the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were born. They were comic fans and knew to keep creative control of the rights, which they maintain to this day.
In 1990 the hot cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hit the UK. But by this point Ferman didn’t like the use of the word ninja, feeling they evoked violence. They were renamed Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Donatello was allowed to keep his staff (one of the film’s running jokes is whilst they get cool weapons, he gets a stick). By season 3 the US series started avoiding problematic action scenes aware of UK censorship. When the live action movie came out the word ninja was allowed but nunchuks and shuriken were still taboo, although more dangerous weapons were allowed. So in the sequel they used sausages instead, the scenes were still banned. Other films also suffered, a very Brady sequel ended up going cut straight to video and Dragnet had a scene cut because of an Enter the Dragon poster on the wall.
This was getting silly. BBFC staff agreed. Ferman did not. When he died in 2002 we were finally allowed to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles properly for the first time.
Reviews state that Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the best Turtles film, I was incredulous, having enjoyed the 1990 original. They were right. It looked like a Spider-verse rip off, it is not. It has a good consistent art style with impressively gnarly characters. Very evocative.
Although starting somewhat sceptical, I soon realised it’s excellently written. As their story reveals itself you understand and relate. The fact I question how Donatello wears glasses when they hide from the outside world shows you how believable the rest of the worldbuilding is. I can believe a special ooze evolves turtles but not glasses without an optician! You care as you experience their overbearing Dad, Splinter (Jackie Chan, an extra in Enter the Dragon). Humans don’t like rats, let alone a standing talking one, so Splinter believes humans should be avoided. Early on there is a scene where they are watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, their loneliness comes through and is quite touching. The film’s reminiscent of The X-Men, mutants just want to be accepted.
There is a definite 70’s homage to the film. The villain of the film is Superfly, a 70s blaxploitation style character played by Ice Cube. The story becomes more emotionally complex when they meet him and his gang. The choice not to use Shredder as the main villain turned out a wise one. The cast is excellent, actual teenagers play the Turtles for the first time.
The final third, whilst a tad farfetched, has an emotional finale. You feel life unrolling with them. A couple of elements could have been improved to make it perfect. But it’s a darn fine movie as it is with one mid credits scene.
After Barbenheimer may I suggest Enter the Turtle? Bruce Lee who introduced the world to Chinese martial arts and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem its latest iteration. Both worth your time and combined not much longer than Oppenheimer.