STUDIES

Posted on October 15, 2020

By Matthew Skala

Enter The Dragon

As a child in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee was being bullied at school and sought martial arts training to protect himself. He learned the Wing Chun style of gung fu under the martial arts master Yip Man. And sums up his experience amongst his prolific writings:

Gung fu is a philosophy; it’s an integral part of the philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism, the ideals of giving with adversity, to bend slightly and then spring up stronger than before, to have patience in all things, to profit by one’s mistakes and lessons in life. These are the many-sided aspects of the art of gung fu; it teaches the way to live, as well as the way to protect oneself.

At 21 years old, Bruce majors in Philosophy at the University of Washington. He saturates himself in the writings of Lao-tzu, Confucius, Socrates, Plato, Descartes, and many others. And then self publishes his first book Chinese Gung Fu, the Philosophical Art of Self-Defense.

Enter The Dragon showcases the philosophy for the art of fighting without fighting and the need for honest self-expression.

Bruce Lee’s Chinese gung fu films stem from an explosion of swordplay films produced largely by the Shaw Brothers in post-WWII Hong Kong. They released up to fifty titles each year. One of their star directors Li Hanxiang started to combine Chinese opera styles and classical painting into his films, and the genre began to rise in artistic status. And with films like A Touch of Zen (Xia Nu, 1971), he began to infuse his films with philosophy winning awards for technique at the Cannes Film Festival. And the Shaw Brothers swordplay epics started seeing widespread commercial success. At this time, Bruce Lee starred in his first leading role in The Big Boss, which launched him into stardom.

Three films later in 1973 comes Enter the Dragon. And it’s the first Bruce Lee film to target an American audience. Much of the camera work followed the zoom boom trend of the 70s. Innovations in zoom lens technology started to make them easier to use and more affordable. And as zoom shots started to replace dolly and crane shots Cinematographers struggled with controversies over its artistic integrity. In Enter The Dragon it helped Director Robert Clouse emphasize interpersonal moments in the middle of fight scenes without getting in the way of the action, using additional cameras, or taking the time to reshoot the scene on a tighter lens.

The film was shot in anamorphic on an Arriflex 35 IIC camera with Panavision C-series and Angenieux Lenses. And the film stock was Kodak 100T 5254. It takes a lot of light to expose such a film stock properly. And when shooting in Hong Kong with Chinese crew and equipment Cinematographer Gil Hobbs didn’t have access to all the light control tools that were common in Hollywood. This might explain why the high key lighting approach feels more utilitarian than expressive.

What touches me the most in this film is Bruce Lee’s determination to express himself. In a new book written by Bruce’s daughter Shannon LeeBe Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Leeshe accounts for how Bruce campaigned to change the title and how he rewrote the script to include the philosophical scenes and tune up any cultural discrepancies. While his push for changing the title from Blood and Steel to Enter The Dragon succeeded his rewrite of the script did not. As a result, he refused to show up on set until the producers agreed to his rewrites. The producers fed the press a cover story that he was too nervous to start filming. Meanwhile for two weeks Bruce held his ground. And finally, the producers gave in and re-issued the locked script with his rewrites. However, the cover story has held on for decades.

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Credits and Specs

Directed by Robert Clouse
Produced by Raymond ChowPaul M. HellerFred Weintraub
Written by Michael Allin
Starring Bruce Lee,John Saxon,Jim Kelly
Music By Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography by Gil Hubbs
Edited by Kurt HirschlerGeorge Watters
Production Company: Warner Bros
Release Date: 1973
Running Time: 1hr 42min
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Camera: Arriflex 35 IIC, Panavision C-Series and Angenieux Lenses
Negative Format: 35mm Kodak 100T 5254
Printed Film Format: 35mm
Cinematographic Process: Panavision (anamorphic)
Country: Hong Kong, USA
Language: English, Cantonese
Reported Budget: 850,000

 

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