Could Bruce Lee take on Mechagodzilla? This is what I used to wonder during childhood Saturday afternoon movie marathons, while switching back and forth between Kung-fu movies on one channel and Godzilla movies on another. Sadly, that battle was never waged, as Lee died of cerebral edema at the age of 32 while doing post-production work for his final film, Robert Clouse’s Enter the Dragon.
Four decades after the martial artist’s untimely death in 1973, BAMcinématek is presenting the 40th anniversary restoration of Lee’s last film, alongside five other wing-chun classics. The screenings will run from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5., and are timed to play alongside the Aug. 30 release of The Grandmaster, directed by Wong Kar-wai (Chunking Express, In the Mood for Love), a biopic based on the life of Ip Man, Lee’s legendary teacher.
Enter the Dragon was released six days after Lee died. It was the first Chinese martial arts film produced by a major Hollywood studio and would make Lee an international star posthumously. The film’s success led to many “Bruceploitation” films, starring actors with names like Bruce Li, Brute Lee, Lee Bruce and other strange variations on the original. Jackie Chan seemed poised to be the new Bruce Lee, with films like New Fist of Fury, until he broke out on his own with comedic parts in films like Drunken Master alongside the hilarious Yuen Siu-tien (a.k.a Ol’ Dirty).
Whether you’ve seen Enter The Dragon a thousand times or none, watching it on the big screen while you can is an absolute must. It put martial arts films on the map as a serious genre and set the standard for future filmmakers.
The plot goes something like this: Lee has been invited to a tournament on an island where he’s going to use his invitation as a cover up to expose a drug operation being run by Han, an ex-Shaolin student who has disgraced the Shaolin name. In the interim Lee learns that Han’s bodyguard caused the death of his sister. Lee will have his revenge. Also, check out a young Jackie Chan take a beating at the hands of Lee (Chan is also one of Lee’s stunt doubles in the film).
Enter the Dragon has had enduring pop culture influence for artists ranging from Quentin Tarantino to the hip-hop group, Wu-Tang Clan. Kung-fu stars Gordon Liu (The Master Killer) and Sonny Chiba (The Streetfighter) show up in Kill Bill. Wu-Tang Clan adopted stage names derived from classic kung-fu movies, like Ghostface Killa and Ol’Dirty Bastard, and the Rza’s movie, Man With the Iron Fist, includes a nod at Enter the Dragon with a hall of mirrors fight during its grand finale.
BAM’s mini-marathon includes The Way of the Dragon, starring, directed and written by Bruce Lee, featuring an extraordinary battle between Lee and Chuck Norris in the Colosseum; Enter the Fat Dragon, a Bruceploitation film starring and directed by Sammo Hung with Hung doing his best Bruce impersonation; Prodigal Son, a non-Bruceploitation Sammo Hung flick; Invincible Shaolin, a Shaw Brothers film that starred the same actors who portrayed the Five Deadly Venoms; and Ip Man, a film about the wing-chun master who famously taught Bruce Lee.