Friday, February 11, 2011

Why Enter The Dragon is Bruce Lee's worst movie

Enter The Dragon is the movie in which Bruce Lee plays James Bond with Kungfu instead of gadgets!! Dear Bruce, if you're reading this from up there somewhere, please forgive me because you're not gonna like it!

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It begins with a bunch of Shaolin monks sitting around in multi colored robes watching Bruce Lee fight Sammo Hung. I don't know why Shaolin monks were dressed in primary colors instead of the regular yellow-orange clothings, but what really made my imagination go wild was that Bruce Lee and Sammo Hung were dressed in some expensive looking  black leather lingerie and gloves! It's not everyday that you get to see Sammo Hung doing backflips dressed in black leather undies though, so I guess the novelty was kinda worth it.

Now Bruce has grandmaster level Kungfu skills and he offers lessons himself. I just wasn't sure just what the hell was he teaching the kid though when Bruce started talking about fingers pointing moons and heavenly glories or something. But the kid seemed to figure it all out right away, I guess it must've been some Shaolin Kungfu thing...

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It sounded all Taoish and sh-t so it's all good, but where I think the "confusing-Taoish-sounding-Kungfu-training" trick failed was with Bruce Lee's feedback to the kid's sparring techniques - "What was that? An exhibition? We need emotional content." - This seems to be a popular trend in movies where someone says something that reflects scriptwriter's thinking. This is useful as it gives us an insight into what the scriptwriter wants us to see, it explains the viewers what's gonna happen. Here though, it probably reflects Bruce's idea of an effective movie or an effective action sequence, or may be Bruce read the script and sent it with a note saying "What is this? An exhibition? We need emotional content", but it has nothing to do with the scene in question in a meaningful way.

The "emotional content" thing makes sense though, because ultimately, it's an Asian martial arts flick and we want the viewers to root for the characters, or else you end up with one of those "My school better than your school" type of plots where the viewers end up skipping to the fights and watch four classic Kungfu movies in fifteen minutes. Bruce Lee was obviously scared of that happening and he decided to introduce, not one not two, but three backstories explaining why he needs to leave his cozy Shaolin temple, dress up in expensive suits and play James Bond fight ex-Shaolin crimelords in some far away island fortress.


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Still, the movie somehow didn't make an attempt to explain how a Shaolin monk is able to speak flawless english, knows about drug overdoses and behaves more like a geek from modern Chinatown in NYC rather than a badass monk training for years in Shaolin temple. May be Shaolin masters finally upgraded their curriculum or something, I'm not sure. But wouldn't it be significantly better if Bruce was portrayed as a somewhat ignorant Shaolin monk (with some basic English skills) going out for a secret mission in an unfamiliar environment & culture? His other more successful movies have benefited significantly with this portrayal. Even big hits like big boss had a similar theme going on. Wouldn't it have been more fun to see how Bruce reacts to situations he is not familiar with, interacts with people from new cultures, improvises his Shaolin techniques to fight/win in radically new circumstances? May be, may be not, we'll never know. What I do know is that then it'd have added that "emotional content" in a more realistic way while effectively moving the focus away from "let's see a few guys fight" thing. 

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The movie does add some extra flavor to the "whole asian guys doing Kungfu" thing by adding two Americans to the mix, played by John Saxon and Jim Kelly. And these guys manage to show the true American entrepreneur spirit by betting on their own fixed fights. And it's actually a very brave thing to fake fights in a Mortal Kombat style fight-to-death martial arts tournament on a secluded island owned by some Asian crime overlord right under the noses of hundreds of Kungfu masters! It's even more brave to be completely honest about faking those fights - John Saxon gets easily beat up multiple times, then he nods his head to Jim Kelly and immediately wins the next bout with a single decisive blow. I mean, is everyone else blind? Even more so the guy with thick eyeglasses who is actually losing money 3-1 here! May be he missed his regular optometrist visit or something, I'm not sure.

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Robert/Bob Wall plays a major bada-s who can break bricks and stuff with his Kungfu and Bruce Lee is particularly pis-ed at him because he apparently messed with Bruce's sister once.  But poor Bob probably doesn't even know that girl was Bruce's sister and Bruce is so angry at him over something! I felt that was a little unfair to him.

In yet another case of scriptwriter converting his own personal thoughts into movie dialogues, Jim Kelly says something like "u come right out of the comic book".....this is supposed to be a joke on Kien Shih (the crimelord who arranged this whole mess) but as it turns out, Jim Kelly was just making fun of both himself and the script of the movie when he said that. I mean what was the Jim Kelly's plan? Beat 4-5 guys and then fly out of the island? This is very inconsistent as he is initially shown to be pretty damn smart, betting on fights and what not. Probably he used all the smartness on betting, or something. That particular scene does show just how dangerous Kien Shih really is when he easily takes down Jim Kelly despite his handicap (apparently he is an amputee and has to use claw like appendages instead).

But you know, who cares about Jim Kelly, I mean, Bruce Lee is supposed to be the "dragon" in Enter the Dragon, right? Bruce Lee is supposed to be the guy from Shaolin who used his ninja skills and an Asian software developer's brain to win against all odds. But then he goes berserk inside the villain's secret lair! But I suppose it's understandable that he is stuck there and has to defend himself, and this also gives us an opportunity to see him fight God knows how many armed guards.  But
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again what's Bruce Lee's plan? Keep fighting till everyone is dead? At one point a bunch of prisoners grab a bad guy and Bruce seems to get excited to see that they still have some fight left in them. And then instead of freeing them and getting some more support that way, he just runs away and gets caught himself! How about freeing the prisoners before displaying his nun-chuck skills? What is this, an exhibition (can't practice what you preach huh!)?

But hey, if that's what it takes to stage a good fight, then so be it, it's a Kungfu movie after all. Bruce Lee is just so good that he drops every single one of those hundreds of guards in single decisive blows. This was a fun trick initially in the tournament to show just how good he really is. But now, I think, it became an overkill, but then you know, I never encountered a grandmaster from Shaolin temple so I can't know for sure.
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But nothing short of a Hulk-Tony Jaa hybrid can take this Bruce Lee down! I liked the similar surrounded-by-an-army type of fight that Tony Jaa did in the Protector/Ong-Bak movie much better though. Tony Jaa actually displayed Muai Thai moves that might plausibly disable opponents within seconds in a real combat (like manipulating joints etc). Or may be it was just too late in the night and the guards were disgruntled because of low wages or something, so they decided to not put up a fight, I mean I wouldn't fight a Shaolin grandmaster for just 30cents/night, no one will! After a while though Bruce runs into some corner and is immediately trapped! The whole thing plays out as if Kien Shih has been observing the whole thing all this time and perhaps never intended to kill Bruce (or else he could just set the room on fire or something easy), which makes the whole fight scene even more pointless!

And then John Saxon bites Bolo Yeung in the calf! I don't know if this was supposed to be a sarcasm on the American way of doing things or something but the fact that John Saxon actively volunteered  to fight and then won by cheating didn't really work for me. Not one bit. I have to assume that it was Bruce Lee's way of saying - "See, this is how these Americans fight - dirty. This is what they did to me too back when I was younger."  Or may be Bolo missed the "Defensive techniques against biters 101" class in his Kungfu school. Poor guy!

Another thing that I feel could make it all more interesting is an intimidating but yet relatable villain. I mean I'm totally for wolverine claws that Kien Shih is into, but ultimately he's basically a cripple/amputee with a zero personality! I'll come back to the lack of personality thing in a bit, but first let's talk about the claws - Claws don't work like knives and swords because there is no wrist movement. Unless one has claws like Sabretooth (from Xmen), they can be countered with pretty much any medium ranged weapon. These Hanman claws seemed more like a necessity for the poor cripple! Speaking of which, Kien Shih looks more like a constipated businessman than a world class fighter and crime overlord, which is sort of true as the guy technically is running a business after all, so the movie sort of got that right! Still, I wonder how it would have looked like
, a rebel Shaolin master (which he is anyway), some mix of traditional and western, rather than jumping around in a conservative suit. As expected though, he is no match for the invincible Bruce Lee and has to flee into some crazy mirror room where Bruce gets so confused that his ears stop working and he gets slashed a few times. I'm still not sure about the original purpose of that room though. Did Kien Shih got that room constructed for the emergency when Shaolin temple decides to send their best fighter to help the prodigal son see the error of his ways? How about a room with a shotgun for this type of emergency? It was such a shame to see him die in an unprepared fight with some punka-s monk, after coming all this way to this secluded unclaimed island, building a completely self-sufficient fortress and setting up a complicated international business around locally manufactured drugs and imported women while recruiting international fighters via Kungfu tournaments as his new henchmen. Yes, such a shame!

In a nutshell, Enter the Dragon is one of those cases where the whole is smaller than the sum of its parts - Negative Synergy, if you will. Bruce did it by the book, added different scenes and back stories, story arcs and characters that make perfect sense in their own ways; it's just that they don't work together as a whole. I'd say it's a common rookie mistake and Bruce would've avoided it in the sequels, but sadly we'll never know...

That being said, I do have a simple idea that'd fix all these problems by making a simple change - by adding more complexity to the villain...I'll be covering it in the next article.

Continued - What small change would make Enter The Dragon Bruce Lee's best movie ever?

38 comments:

  1. I can't tell if you're actually an idiot, or if most of your points are a parody of what someone who actually disliked the movie might say. Nearly every major point (the ones in bold) either display a lack of understanding of the film, or they show that you're desperately reaching for an excuses to support your opinion.

    You didn't like the movie, fine that's cool, but at least come up with some good reasons...or just say from the outset that you have no good reasons. This is just sad.

    Cheers, mate.

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    1. This guy is an idiot! He has no stripes to back up his opinions. And yes, he basically makes no sense. What drugs was he on when he published this?

      I scanned through most of the replies. Saxon bites Bolo because Bruce taught his students to do such a move, and yes it is a move when desperate.

      The entire body can be used as a weapon. Even Pele said using your toe to kick a soccer ball if acceptable if it benefits the goal toward winning. Use any part of the foot.

      In martial arts, using any part of one's body is fair game in order to beat the opponent. Even "teeth".

      I appreciate the time the author took to publish this, but I don't appreciate his small mind. Any again, yes he is an idiot!

      Eddie from Sacramento, CA, USA

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  2. I can tell that you're an idiot.

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  3. In order to support your claim that Enter The Dragon is his worst movie, you need to compare it to his other movies and explain how they are better. You don't even mention his other movies. Furthermore, none of your points are valid enough to make this review even worth reading.

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  4. You must be a complete idiot.
    Obviously, you have not read about who and what Bruce Lee was all about, and you did not understand the plot of the movie.
    Millions of people believe that Enter the dragon, is the best martial arts movie ever made. This is the movie that all other martial arts movies are judged by.
    All these millions of people cannot be wrong, and one moron YOU simply cannot be right.
    I read your review and it was a total waste of my time.
    For sure you must be a Chuck Norris relative, if not Ghuck Norris himself, in order to write these nonsense.

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  5. I think enter the dragon sucks as well. The movie makes very little sense, the fights are quite lacking, the characters are ridiculous unlike bruces earlier movies where everyone was portrayed in a realistic sense.

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  6. Turrible movie just turrible.

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  7. He he! I liked this pithy breakdown a lot; you sound like a cool guy to watch movies with!

    Love "Enter the Dragon", love your snarky observations too. Please continue :-)

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  8. Enter the Dragon literally changed millions of peoples lives, it's martial arts genius and will never be equalled.

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  9. Correction: Enter The Dragon is Bruce Lee's BEST MOVIE!!!!!!

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  10. Enter the Dragon isnt like video games.
    Video games are like Enter the Dragon.

    iconic

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  11. yes it was his best , u can just how would he have topped it, and i know how, enter the dragon part 2, back to america with john saxon and steve mcqueen maybe william smith and james coburne , to infiltrate hans drug ring in the usa, prob would have been maid in 1975, it could have spanned a lot of sucqils, just think about it, . des daly

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  12. sorry des daly i just want to add i am on facebook if anybody wants to chat about this, i live in waterford in ireland,

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  13. Sorry, most of this article, if not ALL of it made absolutely no sense to me. None. None.

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  14. Yeah guy, you missed the boat big time on this. ETD (theory wise) was totally conceived by Bruce lee, especially the fighting sequences and philosophy. Your reference to the John Saxon’s character biting Bolo epitomizes your lack of knowledge of fighting for survival. There is no such thing as fighting fair in a death match. True, the script was borderline juvenile, but Bruce’s fight sequences more than make up for it. To say that ETD is your least favorite of Bruce’s brief collection is one thing. Saying it’s his worst (considering his personal input), is just silly. If you had read any of Bruce Lee’s books on philosophy and life, you would have gotten considerably more out of the movie. For the rest of us, it’s just a classic kick-ass movie.

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  15. Yeah guy, you missed the boat big time on this. ETD (theory wise) was totally conceived by Bruce lee, especially the fighting sequences and philosophy. Your reference to the John Saxon’s character biting Bolo epitomizes your lack of knowledge of fighting for survival. There is no such thing as fighting fair in a death match. True, the script was borderline juvenile, but Bruce’s fight sequences more than make up for it. To say that ETD is your least favorite of Bruce’s brief collection is one thing. Saying it’s his worst (considering his personal input), is just silly. If you had read any of Bruce Lee’s books on philosophy and life, you would have gotten considerably more out of the movie. For the rest of us, it’s just a classic kick-ass movie.

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  16. Wait a sec! Whoa people! Cut the guy slack.

    First, movies are a personal thing. There are those that think 2001 A Space Odyssey is overrated, and others who believe it is a masterpiece.

    Secondly, he is correct in many ways. If you look at the production value of Enter the Dragon it wasn't exactly to Hollywood standards. The voices - even the English speaking actors - were mostly post-dubbed, and there are extras in the background of the pinnacle fight scene laughing and rather spoiling the scene. Something that would have warranted a retake on a 100% American set, or on modern day Hong Kong movie sets.

    Bruce Lee, the film's star, barely has dialogue, and you have to wait 1/3rd of the film before he has another fight (after the one with Samo Hung).

    The fight choreography is so-so compared to his other films. I don't blame the fight choreographer, Bruce Lee, for this but blame the incompatibility of the overly structured Hollywood filming techniques and Hong Kong action cinema which requires other techniques alien to Hollywood (HK action uses more wide shots, undercranking the film, dumping excessive "master shots" and quick edits). Hollywood's filming takes much more set up which then eats away at the budget so you're left with a horrible fight scene like watching Jet Li and Mel Gibson splash around in water under low lights in Lethal Weapon 4.

    Fists of Fury (The Chinese Connection) had a darker storyline and better narrative, and Return of the Dragon (Way of the Dragon) had the awesome masterpiece fight between Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.

    So in this respect, I agree that Enter the Dragon is not Bruce Lee's best film from an audience perspective no more than "Rumble in the Bronx" is Jackie Chan's best film (which it is not). They just happen to have had more U.S. box office appeal than their other films.

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  17. ...to follow up on my "Wait a sec! Whoa people! Cut the guy slack." slack above let me add that any criticism on something iconic always brings out the fight in fanboys.

    Now here's the thing. Despite my criticism of ETD, I am a Bruce Lee fanboy since the 70's and 80's when I was growing up. I saw ETD in Chinese language theater reading the English subtitles when I was 10 years old! I religiously wore Bruce Lee T-shirts, had Bruce Lee posters all over my room, and read biography, "The Legend of Bruce Lee", and "Bruce Lee - The Man Only I Knew" until the covers were coming off.

    I have had a life-long pursuit of martial arts because of my Bruce Lee worship. So I'm not here to tear my demigod down.

    ETD will always be in the martial arts movie hall of fame because it was the first groundbreaking movie that made it in Hollywood. It also stars a legend and you can't kill a legend.

    But, really, can you tell me that ETD has better production value and eye-popping fight scenes than something like Jackie Chan's Police Story, or Jet Li in Fist of Legend, or Hero?

    I was actually studing Wing Chun with a Chinese friend in the 90's when the topic of Bruce Lee movies came up and I scoffed at his admiration for Jackie Chan. I said, "Jackie Chan? Big Brawl was awful!" Then he asked me when the last time I saw a Jackie Chan movie and I replied, "One of those Snake in Eagle's Shadow movies on Sunday Ninja Theater". He replied, "You MUST watch Drunken Master II".

    Therefore I urge all of you condemning those who criticize ETD to do the same and tell me how great ETD is compared to the more recent martial arts movies.

    Even Star Wars Episode IV now looks anemic compared to The Matrix, or Avatar. Fanboys have to face facts that the apple starts to lose its shine.

    However, ETD, and Star Wars, paved the way for better and bigger films and that what makes them timeless.

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  18. Ok. So the movie wasn't perfect. However, how do you account for the fact that it remains the standard for martial arts movies after almost 40 years? Idiot.

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  19. Let's face it, all of Bruce Lee's movies were terrible, and ETD was not much better but it was his best. It had to be since it was the one that needed the most money to make so it had to make some money, otherwise Lee's future movies would be hard to bankroll. Then when you compare Lee's other movies with some of those Drive-in movies that came on Saturday afternoon....well..let's just the plots were about the same, and so was the fighting. I mean really people, we know Bruce could fight, but it was so obvious he missed hitting the bad guys that it was laughable. I used to be a fan when I was a kid back then, but that's because everyone was. Now I just laugh at how bad they really were! Now if you watch one movie, which I believe was better than ALL of Lee's movies, the movie was called "The China Town kid" with the main character who to me, was a tremendous martial arts fighter, especially the fight scene at the end in the pool hall, was classic! But unfortunately, like Lee, he died very young. If you were to see all of his movies, and then compare it to Bruce Lee's, you'd have to be blind or just a Bruce Lee butt kisser, to say that Lee's movies were still better because they weren't! And BTW, speaking of Chuck Norris, it was he that kept the martial arts movies going throughout the 80's and into the 90's and you can't deny that. Also, he too, realized that the terrible fight scenes in martial arts movies that clearly showed missed kicks and punches, well..he did away with that in his movies! He made his fight scenes more realistic by coming at least one inch from the enemies face which is much more believable that any of those martial arts films of the past, except for maybe the "ChinaTown kid!"

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  20. The editor of this article is definitely a fucken idiot!!!!!!!!Lynch that mutha fucka and cut off his balls if he has any!!!!!!

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  21. 1ST OF ALL I HAVE TO START OFF SAYING YOU OBVIOUSLY KNOW NOTHING ABOUT BRUCE LEE!!! I STRONGLY DISAGREE that this was Bruce Lee's worst movie. On the contray, it was his Best!!! Its obvious u know Nothing about Bruce Lee, his fighting methods or his philosiphy. Bruce Lee was way ahead of his time. He knew fighting techniques in the 1960's & early 70's that people are trying to figure out to this day! As for John Saxon biting Bolo's leg, Bruce was making a point to show people if trapped by a bigger stronger opponet with no way out, you must use any means nessary to escape. That includes Bitting your opponet to get free & save your life. You need to do some research before you talk about something or someone you know NOTHING ABOUT!!!! FYI BRUCE LEE WAS ONE OF THE BADDEST MUTHER FUCKERS TO HAVE EVER WALKED THE EARTH!!!!!

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  22. this article was written by someone who only looks at the finger

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  23. Gotta love all these people acting like they have intimate knowledge of what a bloke who died 40 years ago did or didn't intend, on a film production they had no involvement with.

    There's no denying its cultural significance, but as film, well it's not very good. It's a B-movie, pure and simple. It was Lee's American gateway movie and had he lived I highly doubt that anyone would be calling it a masterpiece. It would have been a stepping stone to better things.

    As for the standard by which all others are judged, hardly. There are numerous martial arts sub-genres. The average Jackie Chan film has about ten times the action of this film, and even the most pedestrian wuxia films have better production values and choreography.

    Getting your panties in a bunch over what clearly appears to be a tongue in cheek article really isn't worth it. Even if you disagree with him it has no bearing on your opinion, so calling him a 'moron', 'idiot' or wishing bodily harm on him makes you look like scum.

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  24. Wow! Talk about ignorant, and missing the mark! But its ok. If you missed it, then of course the movie is going to appear lame and awful because either its Directors and writer failed to get their message across as story tellers, as is their job as director/ and writers to do, or you failed to be knowledgeable or even somewhat astute enough to get it??? And judging from millions of other fans of the film having gotten all the small nuances that you failed to get, I'd say the problem is you my man.

    First off! If you've done your homework, you'd know that in Shaolin, particularly modern day Shaolin, there exist Monks and non-monks called laymen and just regular folks that consist of either students and even teachers of all arts, not just martial but also other disciplines. So the temple is open to all and they can freely come and go as they please! And a layman can be a monk in training who has not yet taken his vows nor shaved his head or get the mark on his head signifying he is a Monk and no longer a layperson.

    The other thing to, Buddhist from many regions of China practice Buddhism differently and even look and dress different depending on where they come from. Some even eat meat! Not all Buddhist are vegetarians!

    The Finger to the moon thing is definitely Taoist but could have easily been borrowed from "The book of FIve Rings" which Miyamoto Musashi, the greatest Japanese Swordsman of his time, wrote the definitive book on the art of fighting. Bruce was a Philosophy major after all, and its no secret that in AAAAALL of his movies he'd leave a little fortune cookie of knowledge for the viewer as well as a lot of his personal shared philosophies on his fighting methods, because he was always the teacher as well as the student of life's meaning and the arts, and it was his nature to teach as well as his mission to open peoples minds since prejudice and small mindedness was very prevalent and probably more apparent and open in his time than it is today. He is a child of the 60's after all, a product of his time. And if you know anything about that whole era, you'd see why a Bruce Lee was necessary and why he's so significant and why the movie reflects and embodies all of his teachings as well as addressing lots of preconceived ideas about asians and martial arts in general and so on, its not just gratuitous fighting! Its far more deeper than that man! ANd thats what you don't get obviously.

    Now the finger to the Moon thing as you refer to it along with the emotional content thingy, is quite simply another lesson about not thinking so much about you're going to do, just do...as the Movie Karate Kid paid homage to Enter The dragon when Myagi from says to Danialsan, There is no Karate can't, Only Karate do! Letting yourself go and let all of your training just take over naturally...plus your own natural instincts of survival to react naturally which most practitioners of the arts seem to forget. Trust in yourself and all your training, and just be free to react...no need to think. ANd he said it very eloquently and masterfully simple, its as natural and easy as pointing your finger to the moon. Thats poetic! Which you don't ever think nor concentrate on the whole action of pointing to the moon, you just do it! Unless you're a complete moron or regrettably lost all of your motor skills where as you would then do need to retrain by focusing on your finger and every action of movement...get it?!

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  25. hey, people must be sure of their points when commenting. directors and writters always knew how to instruct actors, in each written movie there are people who are involved in the movie and the movie expects who check if there is something not right before the movie get acted. so do you think you are clever than all peaple in the movie. i think there is a problem in that guy who commented with bruce lee. if you dont like bruce lee movies dont want us to be the same as you.

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  26. It would seem that everyone really understands and went to great lengths to study and know Bruce Lee's art and philosophy. Everyone seems to really know what the movie is really about; how the screenwriter wanted it to project; how much input Mr. Lee had on making the movie. Seems all the Bruce fans know that Mr. Lee wrote all the dialogue and did all the fight scenes. Seems everyone knows which of Mr. Lee's movies he actually wrote, directed and choreographed. Seems everyone actually read Mr. Lee's significant writings and truly understands what Mr. Lee was thinking and wanted to share. Seems everyone really knows how to defend what they think they know. Maybe Mr. Lee is looking at this and smiling, then breaks out with a "WHAAAATAAA!" or maybe Mr. Lee just looks on, shakes his head, makes no comment and walks on. After all, it is just a movie; as Mr. Lee said of his own art, "Please don't fuss over it."

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  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  28. The point of the bite scene was that the American was portrayed as a moralizer with scruples. Saxon's character won't put his head in a guillotine, but he'll risk both hands to save a cat. He bites Bolo because he knows that if he does not break the hold, he will be killed. But after the fight, his foot is shown in a position to kick Bolo's head - we expect him to do so - but he instead moves away.

    The point of the bite scene is to contrast Asian values. with Western values. Saxon is scrupulous when he can be, shameless when he has to be. Westerners value their lives more than their dignity and their sentimentality more than either.

    The point of the scene with Lee asking about the OD is again showcasing Asian values. He befuddles the interviewer by playing dumb, saying something smart, then playing dumb again. He makes the interviewer himself explain why he needs him, rather than advertising his own skill.

    Not only the OP but a lot of fans completely missed the themes of the movie. Sad..

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  29. wow your review is such a bullshit and fucked up!

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