Bruce Lee tragically passed away much too young, basically, right at the point his star was on the rise. The actor was just at a point of reaching full stardom with a wave of movies set to hit the screen at the time of his death. To this day, his legacy lives on and now you can see Bruce Lee’s most famous movie, Enter the Dragon, streaming on Netflix.
Enter the Dragon was released on August 19, 1973. It follows the story of Mr. Lee (Bruce Lee) as he goes undercover in a martial arts tournament. Lee is tasked with not only fighting in a to-the-death competition but also must uncover the illegal activities of the tournament’s host AND avenge his own sister’s death. There’s a lot on his Kung Fu plate here though, for all of the plot machinations, the film is mostly a chance for Bruce Lee to show off his martial arts prowess.
Bruce Lee is flown to a private island of a crime lord (Han) who is also hosting a fighting tournament with a cast of misfit characters competing for the top prize of, well, I’m not sure exactly what. It’s there that he is tasked with uncovering Han’s illegal operations, freeing some of the prisoners of the island, and dispensing of the man who killed his sister. The film has a number of awesome fight scenes with Lee’s martial arts expertise front and center. Check out one of the scenes from the competition:
Enter the Dragon is generally considered one of the best martial arts movies ever made. The action scenes and fight coordination are top-notch with Lee’s considerable abilities on full display. Sure, there’s a 70s cheesiness to the whole affair with Lee emoting a number of different times during fights. But in the end, for what it was trying to accomplish as a Bruce Lee martial arts resume-builder, it more than accomplishes what it set out to do.
Before Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee had been in a number of different films over the years, with starring roles on the screen in Hong Kong. But in the early 1970’s he started to make a Hollywood breakthrough in films The Big Boss and Fists of Fury. These movies were responsible for helping to not only usher in the idea of martial arts at the center of the action, but also with casting Asian Americans in leading roles. Lee was making a name for himself through not only his blackbelt skills but also his ability to command the screen.
But after filming Enter the Dragon, and just a month before its theatrical release, tragedy struck. After complaining of headaches and taking some pain medication to deal with the issue, Bruce Lee was found unresponsive in his bed. He was pronounced dead on July 20, 1973.
Enter the Dragon went on to be both a critical and box office success. Potentially viewed in a different light because of the circumstances of Bruce Lee’s too-soon death, critics have been full of praise over the years for how the film was not only able to lead the way in kung-fu movies, but also how Lee broke down a number of different Hollywood walls. It’s currently sitting at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes with many of the reviews actually written decades after its release.
It was also an unbelievable box office success. On just a budget of $850,000, Bruce Lee’s performance helped to lead the movie to over $350 million in box office sales marking it as one of the best movie return on investments of all-time.
And as a testament to where Bruce Lee’s career was headed, Enter the Dragon wasn’t the only film released after his death. Circle of Death was based on a script he’d written while an alternate version of Game of Death also hit screens a few years later. He also had a “lost” film, The Silver Flute made after a script he’d written was uncovered.
Bruce Lee’s death marks one of Hollywood’s great tragedies, a young and talented (and groundbreaking) actor taken well before his time. But his legacy does still live on to this day and we can still enjoy his best film streaming on the small screen.