Enter the Dragon

Enter the Dragon is a 1973 martial arts action film produced by and starring Bruce Lee.[1] The film, which co-stars John Saxon and Jim Kelly, was directed by Robert Clouse. It would be Bruce Lee's final completed film appearance before his death on 20 July 1973 at age 32. A joint American and Hong Kong production, it premiered in Los Angeles on 19 August 1973, one month after Lee's death and went on to gross US$90 million worldwide,[2] equivalent to US$508 million adjusted for inflation.

Enter the Dragon
Theatrical release poster
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese龍爭虎鬥
Simplified Chinese龙争虎斗
Directed byRobert Clouse
Produced byBruce Lee[1]
Fred Weintraub
Paul Heller
Raymond Chow
Written byMichael Allin
StarringBruce Lee
John Saxon
Ahna Capri
Bob Wall
Shih Kien
Jim Kelly
Music byLalo Schifrin
CinematographyGilbert Hubbs
Edited byKurt Hirschler
George Watters
Distributed byGolden Harvest (Hong Kong)
Warner Bros. (international)
Release date
  • 19 August 1973 (1973-08-19) (USA)
Running time
102 minutes
CountryHong Kong
United States
Box officeUS$90 million[2]

Enter the Dragon is considered to be one of the greatest martial arts films of all time.[3] In 2004, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4] Among the first films to combine martial arts action with the emerging Blaxploitation genre, its success led to a series of similar productions combining both genres.[5] Its themes have also generated scholarly debate about how they reflect the changes taking place within post-colonial Asian societies following the end of World War II.[6]


Lee, a highly proficient Shaolin martial artist and instructor from Hong Kong, is approached by Braithwaite, a British intelligence agent investigating the suspected crime lord Han. Lee is persuaded to attend a high-profile martial arts competition on Han's private island in order to gather evidence that will prove Han's involvement in drug trafficking and prostitution. Shortly before his departure, Lee also learns that his sister's killer, O'Hara, is working as Han's bodyguard on the island. Also fighting in the competition are Roper, an indebted gambling addict, and fellow Vietnam war veteran Williams.

At the end of the first day, Han gives strict orders to the competitors not to leave their rooms. Lee makes contact with undercover operative Mei Ling and sneaks into Han's compound, looking for evidence. He is discovered by several guards but manages to escape. The next morning, Han orders his giant guard Bolo to kill the guards in public for failing their duties. After the execution, Lee faces O'Hara in the competition and ends up killing him. With the day's competition over, Han confronts Williams, who had also left his room the previous night to exercise. Han believes Williams to be the intruder and beats him to death when he refuses to cooperate. Han then reveals his drug operation to Roper, hoping that he will join his organization. He also implicitly threatens to imprison Roper, along with all the other martial artists who joined Han's tournaments in the past, if Roper refuses. Despite being initially intrigued, Roper refuses after learning of Williams' fate.

Lee sneaks out again that night and manages to send a message to Braithwaite, but he is captured after a prolonged battle with the guards. The next morning, Han arranges for Roper to fight Lee, but Roper refuses. As a punishment, Roper has to fight Bolo instead, whom he manages to overpower and beat after a grueling encounter. Enraged by the unexpected failure, Han commands his remaining men to kill Lee and Roper. Facing insurmountable odds, they are soon aided by the island's prisoners, who had been freed by Mei Ling. Han escapes and is pursued by Lee, who finally corners him in his museum. After a brutal fight, Han runs away into a hidden mirror room. The mirrors give Han an advantage, but Lee breaks all the room's mirrors to reveal Han's location, and eventually kills him. Lee returns outside to the main battle, which is now over. A bruised and bloodied Roper sits victorious while the military finally arrive to take control of the island.



Due to the success with his earlier films, Warner Bros began helping Bruce Lee with the film in 1972. They brought in producers Fred Weintraub and Paul Heller.[12]


The screenplay title was originally named Blood and Steel. The story features Asian, White and Black heroic protagonists because the producers wanted a film that would appeal to the widest possible international audiences.[13] The scene in which Lee states that his style is "Fighting Without Fighting" is based upon a famous anecdote involving the 16th century samurai Tsukahara Bokuden.[14][15]


John Saxon is a black belt in Judo and Shotokan Karate,[16] who studied under grandmaster Hidetaka Nishiyama for three years.[17] In negotiations, his agent told the film's producers that if they wanted him they would have to change the story so that the character of Williams would be killed, not Roper. They agreed and the script was changed.[18]

Rockne Tarkington was originally cast in the role of Williams. However, he unexpectedly dropped out days before the production was about to begin in Hong Kong. Producer Fred Weintraub knew that karate world champion, Jim Kelly had a training dojo in Crenshaw, Los Angeles so he hastily arranged a meeting. Weintraub was immediately impressed, and Kelly was cast in the film.[19] The success of Kelly's appearance launched his career as a star: after Enter the Dragon, he signed a three-film deal with Warner Bros[20] and went on to make several martial arts-themed blaxploitation films in the 1970s.[21]

Jackie Chan appears as a guard during the underground lair battle scene and gets his neck snapped by Lee. He also performed several stunts for the film, including the scene where Lee's character quickly climbs a rooftop at night. However, Yuen Wah was Lee's main stunt double for the film.[22]

Sammo Hung appears in a brief fight scene against Lee at the start of the film.

An urban legend surrounding the making of Enter The Dragon claims that actor Bob Wall did not like Bruce Lee and that their fight scenes were not choreographed. However, Wall has denied this stating he and Lee were actually good friends.[23]


The film was shot on location in Hong Kong. All scenes were filmed without sound: dialogue and sound effects were added or dubbed in during post-production. Bruce Lee, after he had been goaded or challenged, fought several real fights with the film's extras and some set intruders during filming.[24] The scenes of Han's Island were filmed at a residence known as Palm Villa near the coastal town of Stanley.[25]


Argentinian musician Lalo Schifrin composed the film's musical score. While Schifrin was widely known at the time for his jazz scores, he also incorporated funk and traditional film score elements into the film's soundtrack.[26] He composed the score by sampling sounds from China, Korea, and Japan. The soundtrack has sold over 500,000 copies, earning a gold record.[5]


Box office

Enter the Dragon was heavily advertised in the United States before its release. The budget for advertising was over $1,000,000. It was unlike any promotional campaign that had been seen before, and was extremely comprehensive. In order to advertise the film, the studio offered free Karate classes, produced thousands of illustrated flip books, comic books, posters, photographs, and organized dozens of news releases, interviews, and public appearances for the stars. Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Newsweek all wrote stories on the film.[27]

The filmed earned a profit of US$25 million in the United States,[27] against a tight budget of $850,000.[28] It was one of the most successful films of 1973.[27] In Hong Kong, the film grossed HK$3,307,536[29]—huge business for the time, but substantially less than Lee's Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon.

In Japan, the film grossed ¥1.642 billion.[30] In India, the movie was released in 1975 and opened to full houses, including a packed 32-week run in Bombay.[31] In France, it was one of the top five highest-grossing films of 1974 (above two other Lee films, Way of the Dragon at #8 and Fist of Fury at #12), with 4,444,582 box office admissions.[32] In Germany, it was one of the top ten highest-grossing films of 1974, with 1.7 million box office admissions.[33]

Worldwide, the film grossed US$90 million,[2] including US$65 million in international markets outside of the United States.[1] The film's worldwide gross is equivalent to US$508 million when adjusted for inflation.

Critical reception

The film was well received by critics and is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1973.[34][35][36][37] Critics have referred to Enter the Dragon as "a low-rent James Bond thriller",[38][39] a "remake of Dr. No" with elements of Fu Manchu.[40] J.C. Maçek III of PopMatters wrote, "Of course the real showcase here is the obvious star here, Bruce Lee, whose performance as an actor and a fighter are the most enhanced by the perfect sound and video transfer. While Kelly was a famous martial artist and a surprisingly good actor and Saxon was a famous actor and a surprisingly good martial artist, Lee proves to be a master of both fields."[41]

Many acclaimed newspapers and magazines reviewed the film. Variety described it as "rich in the atmosphere", the music score as "a strong asset" and the photography as "interesting".[42] Additionally, The New York Times gave the film a rave review. The review stated "The picture is expertly made and well-meshed; it moves like lightning and brims with color. It is also the most savagely murderous and numbing hand-hacker (not a gun in it) you will ever see anywhere."[43]

The film currently holds a 94% approval rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, with 47 reviews counted and an average rating of 7.8/10.[44] In 2004, the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.[45]

The film also ranks No. 474 on Empire magazine's 2008 list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[46]

Censorship and home video

Enter the Dragon has remained one of the most popular martial arts films since its premiere and has been released numerous times worldwide on every home video format. For almost three decades, many theatrical and home video versions were censored for violence, especially in the West. Since 2001, the film has been released uncut in the UK and most other territories.[47][48]

Most DVDs and Blu-rays come with a wide range of extra features in the form of documentaries, interviews, etc. In 2013, a second, remastered HD transfer appeared on Blu-ray, billed as the "40th Anniversary Edition".[49][50]


The film has been parodied and referenced in places such as the 1976 film The Pink Panther Strikes Again, the satirical publication The Onion,[51] the Japanese game-show Takeshi's Castle, and the 1977 John Landis comedy anthology film Kentucky Fried Movie (in its lengthy "A Fistful of Yen" sequence, basically a comedic, note for note remake of Dragon) and also in the film Balls of Fury. It was also parodied on television in That '70s Show during the episode "Jackie Moves On" with regular character Fez taking on the Bruce Lee role. Several clips from the film are comically used during the theatre scene in The Last Dragon.

The little-known 1985 Nintendo arcade game Arm Wrestling contains voice leftovers from the film, as well as their original counterparts.

The Dragon Ball manga and anime franchise was inspired by Enter the Dragon, which Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama was a fan of.[52][53] The title Dragon Ball was also inspired by Enter the Dragon,[52] and the piercing eyes of Goku's Super Saiyan transformation was based on Bruce Lee's paralyzing glare.[54]

The popular 1980s martial arts video game Double Dragon features two enemies named Roper and Williams, a reference to the two characters Roper and Williams from Enter the Dragon. The sequel includes opponents named Bolo and Oharra. The popular video game Mortal Kombat borrows multiple plot elements from Enter the Dragon.

In August 2007, the now defunct Warner Independent Pictures announced that television producer Kurt Sutter would be remaking the film as a noir-style thriller entitled Awaken the Dragon with Korean singer-actor Rain starring.[55][56][57] It was announced in September 2014 that Spike Lee would work on the remake. In March 2015, Brett Ratner revealed that he wanted to make the remake.[58][59] In July 2018, David Leitch is in early talks to direct the remake.[60]

Lee's martial arts films were broadly lampooned in the recurring Almost Live! sketch Mind Your Manners with Billy Quan.


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