RE-ENTER THE DRAGON
It’s been 40 years since Bruce Lee’s seminal martial arts movie Enter The Dragon, the first martial arts movie made by Hollywood, became a smash international hit and changed action movies forever. It was also, sadly, Lee’s swan song as he died prematurely before the film was released. Now a souped-up Blu-ray box is available from Warner Home Video with loads of extras, including one documentary by Bruce’s daughter Shannon Lee, who spoke to The Aquarian about the film and her late father’s legacy.
You were very young when Enter The Dragon was being filmed, but how much of an impact do you think it had on films and on people wanting to learn martial arts back then?
First of all, martial arts films weren’t that widely translated to the Western world prior to Enter The Dragon, but they were also these much more mythical, flying through the air films that were very unbelievable. My father wanted to make action as authentic as possible and very powerful. He was really the one doing it. There weren’t stunt doubles. It really came from him. When you saw him on screen, you were amazingly spellbound by his movements and his sounds. I think it really excited people and was something very unique that they had never seen before. He came across as so powerful, and it made people want to do that. There are so many people I know that have just been inspired by those visuals, to study and beyond that to get into filmmaking or all sorts of different things. I count him as somewhat responsible for the fact that there are martial arts schools everywhere because it was Enter The Dragon that really brought martial arts and martial arts action films to the fore globally.
Your father’s earlier Hong Kong films were bloodier than Enter The Dragon. They accepted harsher violence on screen over there more than we did in America at the time.
For sure. I would say in general in Hong Kong, martial arts films were a little bit more violent and a little bit more bloody. That was accepted there. I know that when my father made Enter The Dragon, he was very cognizant of the fact to try as much as possible to make a film that would appeal to Western audiences as well as Eastern audiences. Interestingly, Enter The Dragon is the least favorite film in Hong Kong and in the East. It didn’t translate quite as well. People loved Way Of The Dragon, which my father wrote, directed, produced, choreographed, and starred in—it was just more to their tastes generally. It’s not to say that Enter The Dragon wasn’t popular because it most certainly was, but from a purely Chinese standpoint it was not quite as beloved as the other films.
You were very young when they shot this film, so I don’t know how many recollections you have of it. You were about four years old at the time.
We used to go to the set and visit when they were filming, and we would run around and stuff. Enter The Dragon was a little bit more of a serious undertaking, so we weren’t running around that set quite as much as on Game Of Death. My recollections are very fleeting images. Enter The Dragon was a very important film for my father. It was what he really wanted. He had been trying to break into Hollywood with not as much success as he would’ve liked, so when this opportunity came around he very much wanted it to be great and worked very, very hard and fought very, very hard to make that movie be what it is today.
BACK TO OZ
The land of Oz has beguiled readers and moviegoers for over a century, and the recent Oz The Great And Powerful proves that they just can’t get enough of Frank L. Baum’s fantasy land. The film grossed nearly $500 million worldwide. Granted this is a spin-off that’s all-new material as we learn about the origins of The Wizard Of Oz himself. He’s a second-rate magician (James Franco) who when whisked to the Oz during a tornado is considered to be the prophesied savior of a land where three witches (good and bad) vie for power. There were digital effects when the Judy Garland movie was made; this one is bursting with them, which at times overshadow the story itself. The movie certainly looks spectacular and works well as escapist entertainment, and the future Wizard’s unusual friends, including a walking, talking china doll, stand out, even if the story is a bit thin. Your acceptance of the film may also depend upon how much of a purist you are. It has its moments.
BRAIN OVER BRAWN
Dwayne Johnson has fashioned a strong movie career beyond his wrestling days as The Rock, although it is understandable that some people might not take him seriously, especially if they’re not wrestling fans. Yet through a variety of action flicks and family-friendly fare, he has proven that he is a genuine movie star. But his most intriguing projects are the less flashy, less overtly action-oriented pieces like Snitch. Here he plays divorced father and construction company owner John Matthews, whose teenage son is wrongfully incarcerated for possession of a drug shipment meant for a slimy classmate. Going undercover for the feds to infiltrate a drug lord’s operation, John literally risks his life to absolve his son. His physical size doesn’t matter in this underworld; he’s in way over his depth and likely to be ferreted out while his son sustains abuse in the joint. Director/co-writer Ric Roman Waugh gets a bit Hollywood by the end of the movie with a big car chase, but it’s generally a gritty, uneasy affair that allows Johnson the chance to stretch himself, while co-stars like Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead), Melina Kanakaredes, Susan Sarandon and Benjamin Bratt add credible performances. Stay in school and don’t do drugs, kids.
CORNUCOPIA OF FEAR
Anthologies are nothing new in the horror movie world, but a collection that features 26 short films, each inspired by a letter in the alphabet, is a novel concept. It also lends itself to being viewed in short bursts since the individual pieces are not directly linked beyond the overall concept. The ABCs Of Death features a wide range of talent from across the globe; some of the entries click, many others miss, but it’s interesting overall to see how people approached their concepts. The title of each short appears at the end rather than the start of each sequence. Some of the winners include “A is for Apocalypse,” “H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion,” and “N is for Nuptials” (be careful what your talking parrot overhears); then there are clinkers like “F is for Fart” and “M is for Miscarriage.” The most original is the darkly erotic montage of “O is for Orgasm,” which explores the French term for the world, “le petit mort” (aka “the little death”). Horror hounds will certainly appreciate the range of ideas (some are a little too sick for their own good), but the quality control is a little lacking, even if the producers gave the filmmakers total control (which might be why). A sequel is on the way. Not sure how well that will play, but maybe we’ll get a stronger batch next time. This one makes for a decent rental.
I found the original Japanese Ringu series (which inspired the two American Ring movies) to be intriguing as it explored the concept of media as virus. The legend of the sinister Sadako and her deadly videotape were akin to those emails you had to pass around lest bad luck befall you, except in this case it wasn’t a good idea to share it. In Sadako 3D, the first new series entry in a decade, the spirit of Sadako is resurrected by a man whose rituals and video recorded suicide are helping the deadly girl reach out to curious onlookers through the internet. He has a deadly plan at work, although we never find out why. But the murdered schoolgirl is searching for someone, and the bodies start piling up. Soon a young schoolteacher with mysterious psychic powers saves a student from Sadako’s clutches, and a showdown is in the offing. But what starts as a promising return to the series climaxes in a wasted opportunity for something more than a series of familiar shocks. A strong clash of the supernatural ladies would have been cool. I don’t have a 3D tv but still somewhat enjoyed the 2D rendition, but in the end, it’s another 3D cash grab to revitalize an idea that could have been left alone. Completists and Sadako fans may disagree.