Enter the Dragon

Enter the Dragon is a 1973 martial arts film directed by Robert Clouse. The film stars Bruce Lee, John Saxon and Jim Kelly. It would be Lee's final completed film appearance before his death on 20 July 1973 at age 32. An American and Hong Kong co-production, it premiered in Los Angeles on 19 August 1973, one month after Lee's death. The film went on to gross an estimated US$350 million worldwide (equivalent to more than $1 billion adjusted for inflation), against a budget of $850,000. Having earned over 400 times its budget, it is one of the most profitable films of all time.

Enter the Dragon
Enter the dragon.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese龍爭虎鬥
Simplified Chinese龙争虎斗
Directed byRobert Clouse
Produced byFred Weintraub
Paul Heller
Raymond Chow
Written byMichael Allin
StarringBruce Lee
John Saxon
Ahna Capri
Bob Wall
Shih Kien
Jim Kelly
Music byLalo Schifrin
CinematographyGilbert Hubbs
Edited byKurt Hirschler
George Watters
Peter Cheung
Distributed byGolden Harvest (Hong Kong)
Warner Bros. (USA/International)
Release date
  • 19 August 1973 (1973-08-19) (USA)
Running time
99 minutes[1]
CountryHong Kong
United States
Box officeUS$350 million[2]

Enter the Dragon is widely regarded as one of the greatest martial arts films of all time.[3] In 2004, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4][5][6] Among the first films to combine martial arts action with the emerging blaxploitation genre, its success led to a series of similar productions combining both genres.[7] Its themes have also generated scholarly debate about how they reflect the changes taking place within post-colonial Asian societies following the end of World War II.[8] Enter the Dragon is also considered one of the most influential action films of all time, with its success contributing to mainstream worldwide interest in martial arts as well as inspiring numerous fictional works including action films, television shows, fighting games, comic books, manga and anime.


Lee, a highly proficient Shaolin martial artist and instructor from Hong Kong, is approached by Braithwaite, a British intelligence agent investigating the suspected crime lord Han. Lee is persuaded to attend a high-profile martial arts competition on Han's private island to gather evidence that will prove Han's involvement in drug trafficking and prostitution. Shortly before his departure, Lee also learns that the man responsible for his sister's death, O'Hara, is working as Han's bodyguard on the island. Also fighting in the competition are Roper, an indebted gambling addict, and fellow Vietnam war veteran Williams.

At the end of the first day, Han gives strict orders to the competitors not to leave their rooms. Lee makes contact with undercover operative Mei Ling and sneaks into Han's compound, looking for evidence. He is discovered by several guards but manages to escape. The next morning, Han orders his giant guard Bolo to kill the guards in public for failing their duties. After the execution, Lee faces O'Hara in the competition and ends up killing him. With the day's competition over, Han confronts Williams, who had also left his room the previous night to exercise. Han believes Williams to be the intruder and beats him to death when he refuses to cooperate. Han then reveals his drug operation to Roper, hoping that he will join his organisation. He also implicitly threatens to imprison Roper, along with all the other martial artists who joined Han's tournaments in the past, if Roper refuses. Despite being initially intrigued, Roper refuses after learning of Williams's fate.

Lee sneaks out again that night and manages to send a message to Braithwaite, but he is captured after a prolonged battle with the guards. The next morning, Han arranges for Roper to fight Lee, but Roper refuses. As a punishment, Roper has to fight Bolo instead, whom he manages to overpower and beat after a gruelling encounter. Enraged by the unexpected failure, Han commands his remaining men to kill Lee and Roper. Facing insurmountable odds, they are soon aided by the island's prisoners, who had been freed by Mei Ling. Han escapes and is pursued by Lee, who finally corners him in his museum. After a brutal fight, Han runs away into a hidden mirror room. The mirrors initially give Han an advantage, but Lee smashes all the room's mirrors to reveal Han's location, and eventually kills him. Lee returns outside to the main battle, which is now over. A bruised and bloodied Roper sits victorious while the military finally arrive to take control of the island.



Due to the success with his earlier films, Warner Bros began helping Bruce Lee with the film in 1972. They brought in producers Fred Weintraub and Paul Heller.[14] The film was produced on a tight production budget of $850,000.[2]


The screenplay title was originally named Blood and Steel. The story features Asian, White and Black heroic protagonists because the producers wanted a film that would appeal to the widest possible international audiences.[15] The scene in which Lee states that his style is "Fighting Without Fighting" is based upon a famous anecdote involving the 16th century samurai Tsukahara Bokuden.[16][17]


John Saxon was a black belt in Judo and Shotokan Karate,[18] who studied under grandmaster Hidetaka Nishiyama for three years.[19] In negotiations, his agent told the film's producers that if they wanted him they would have to change the story so that the character of Williams would be killed, not Roper. They agreed and the script was changed.[20]

Rockne Tarkington was originally cast in the role of Williams. However, he unexpectedly dropped out days before the production was about to begin in Hong Kong. Producer Fred Weintraub knew that karate world champion, Jim Kelly had a training dojo in Crenshaw, Los Angeles so he hastily arranged a meeting. Weintraub was immediately impressed, and Kelly was cast in the film.[21] The success of Kelly's appearance launched his career as a star: after Enter the Dragon, he signed a three-film deal with Warner Bros[22] and went on to make several martial arts-themed blaxploitation films in the 1970s.[23]

Jackie Chan appears as a guard during the underground lair battle scene and gets his neck snapped by Lee. He also performed several stunts for the film, including the scene where Lee's character quickly climbs a rooftop at night. However, Yuen Wah was Lee's main stunt double for the film.[24]

Sammo Hung appears in a brief fight scene against Lee at the start of the film.

An urban legend surrounding the making of Enter The Dragon claims that actor Bob Wall did not like Bruce Lee and that their fight scenes were not choreographed. However, Wall has denied this, stating he and Lee were actually good friends.[25]


The film was shot on location in Hong Kong. All scenes were filmed without sound: dialogue and sound effects were added or dubbed in during post-production. Bruce Lee, after he had been goaded or challenged, fought several real fights with the film's extras and some set intruders during filming.[26] The scenes of Han's Island were filmed at a residence known as Palm Villa near the coastal town of Stanley.[27]


Argentinian musician Lalo Schifrin composed the film's musical score. While Schifrin was widely known at the time for his jazz scores, he also incorporated funk and traditional film score elements into the film's soundtrack.[28] He composed the score by sampling sounds from China, Korea, and Japan. The soundtrack has sold over 500,000 copies, earning a gold record.[7]



Enter the Dragon was heavily advertised in the United States before its release. The budget for advertising was over US$1 million. It was unlike any promotional campaign that had been seen before, and was extremely comprehensive. To advertise the film, the studio offered free Karate classes, produced thousands of illustrated flip books, comic books, posters, photographs, and organised dozens of news releases, interviews, and public appearances for the stars. Esquire, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Newsweek all wrote stories on the film.[29]

Box officeEdit

Enter the Dragon was one of the most successful films of 1973.[29] Upon release in Hong Kong, the film grossed HK$3,307,536,[30] which was huge business for the time, but less than Lee's previous 1972 films Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon.

In North America, upon its limited release in August 1973, the film entered the box office charts at number 17. Upon its wide North American release in September, it topped the charts for two weeks. Over the next four weeks, it remained in the top ten while competing with other kung fu films, including Lady Kung Fu, The Shanghai Killers and Deadly China Doll which held the top spot for one week each.[31] In October, Enter the Dragon regained the top spot in its eighth week.[31] It went on to gross US$25 million from its initial North American release, making it the year's fourth highest-grossing film in the market.[32] It was repeatedly re-released throughout the 1970s, with each re-release entering the top five in the box office charts.[33] By 1982, the film had grossed a total of $100 million in the United States.[34][35]

In Europe, the film initially monopolized several London West End cinemas for five weeks, before becoming a sellout success across Britain and the rest of Europe.[36] In Spain, it was the seventh top-grossing film of 1973,[37] selling 2,462,489 tickets.[38] In France, it was one of the top five highest-grossing films of 1974 (above two other Lee films, Way of the Dragon at number 8 and Fist of Fury at number 12), with 4,444,582 ticket sales.[39] In Germany, it was one of the top ten highest-grossing films of 1974, with 1.7 million ticket sales.[40] In Greece, the film earned $1 million in its first year of release.[41]

In Japan, it was the second highest-grossing film of 1974, with distribution rental earnings of ¥1.642 billion.[42] In South Korea, the film sold 229,681 tickets in the capital city of Seoul.[43] In India, the movie was released in 1975 and opened to full houses; in one Bombay theater, New Excelsior, it had a packed 32-week run.[44] The film was also a success in Iran, where there was a theater which played it daily up until the 1979 Iranian Revolution.[33]

Against a tight budget of $850,000,[2] the film grossed US$100 million upon its initial 1973 worldwide release,[45][46][47] making it one of the world's highest-grossing films of all time up until then.[46] The film went on to have multiple re-releases around the world over the next several decades, significantly increasing its worldwide gross.[2] The film went on to gross over $150 million by 1987,[48][49] and more than $200 million by 1994.[36] It was reportedly still among the top 50 all-time highest-grossing films in 1990.[50] By 1998, it had grossed more than $300 million worldwide.[51] By the 2010s, it had grossed an estimated worldwide total of $350 million (equivalent to approximately $1.2 billion adjusted for inflation), having earned about 410 times its original budget.[2] The film's cost-to-profit ratio makes it one of the most commercially successful and profitable films of all time.[36][52]

Critical receptionEdit

Upon release, the film initially received mixed reviews from several critics,[31] including a favorable review from Variety magazine.[53] The film eventually went on to be well-received by most critics, and it is widely regarded as one of the best films of 1973.[54][55][56] Critics have referred to Enter the Dragon as "a low-rent James Bond thriller",[57][58] a "remake of Dr. No" with elements of Fu Manchu.[59] J.C. Maçek III of PopMatters wrote, "Of course the real showcase here is the obvious star here, Bruce Lee, whose performance as an actor and a fighter are the most enhanced by the perfect sound and video transfer. While Kelly was a famous martial artist and a surprisingly good actor and Saxon was a famous actor and a surprisingly good martial artist, Lee proves to be a master of both fields."[60]

Many acclaimed newspapers and magazines reviewed the film. Variety described it as "rich in the atmosphere", the music score as "a strong asset" and the photography as "interesting".[61] Additionally, The New York Times gave the film a rave review. The review stated "The picture is expertly made and well-meshed; it moves like lightning and brims with color. It is also the most savagely murderous and numbing hand-hacker (not a gun in it) you will ever see anywhere."[62]

The film currently holds a 94% approval rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes based on 49 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Badass to the max, Enter the Dragon is the ultimate kung-fu movie and fitting (if untimely) Bruce Lee swan song."[63] In 2004, the film was deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.[64]

Enter the Dragon was selected as the best martial arts film of all time, in a 2013 poll of The Guardian and The Observer critics.[3] The film also ranks No. 474 on Empire magazine's 2008 list of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time.[65]

Home mediaEdit

Enter the Dragon has remained one of the most popular martial arts films since its premiere and has been released numerous times worldwide on multiple home video formats. For almost three decades, many theatrical and home video versions were censored for violence, especially in the West. In the UK alone, at least four different versions have been released. Since 2001, the film has been released uncut in the UK and most other territories.[66][67][68] Most DVDs and Blu-rays come with a wide range of extra features in the form of documentaries, interviews, etc. In 2013, a second, remastered HD transfer appeared on Blu-ray, billed as the "40th Anniversary Edition".[69][70] In 2020, new 2K digital restorations of the theatrical cut and special edition were included as part of the "Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits" box set by The Criterion Collection, which featured all of Lee's films, as well as Game of Death II.[71]


Enter the Dragon has been cited as one of the most influential action films of all time. Sascha Matuszak of Vice called it the most influential kung fu film and said it "is referenced in all manner of media, the plot line and characters continue to influence storytellers today, and the impact was particularly felt in the revolutionizing way the film portrayed African-Americans, Asians and traditional martial arts."[72] Joel Stice of Uproxx called it "arguably the most influential Kung Fu movie of all time."[73] Kuan-Hsing Chen and Beng Huat Chua cited its fight scenes as influential as well as its "hybrid form and its mode of address" which pitches "an elemental story of good against evil in such a spectacle-saturated way".[74]

The film has been parodied and referenced in places such as the 1976 film The Pink Panther Strikes Again, the satirical publication The Onion,[75] the Japanese game-show Takeshi's Castle, and the 1977 John Landis comedy anthology film Kentucky Fried Movie (in its lengthy "A Fistful of Yen" sequence, basically a comedic, note for note remake of Dragon) and also in the film Balls of Fury. It was also parodied on television in That '70s Show during the episode "Jackie Moves On" with regular character Fez taking on the Bruce Lee role. Several clips from the film are comically used during the theatre scene in The Last Dragon.

The little-known 1985 Nintendo arcade game Arm Wrestling contains voice leftovers from the film, as well as their original counterparts.

The Dragon Ball manga and anime franchise was inspired by Enter the Dragon, which Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama was a fan of.[76][77] The title Dragon Ball was also inspired by Enter the Dragon,[76] and the piercing eyes of Goku's Super Saiyan transformation was based on Bruce Lee's paralysing glare.[78]

Enter the Dragon was the foundation for fighting games.[79][80] The Street Fighter video game franchise was inspired by Enter the Dragon, with the gameplay centered around an international fighting tournament, and each character having a unique combination of ethnicity, nationality and fighting style. Street Fighter went on to set the template for all fighting games that followed.[81] The popular 1980s martial arts beat 'em up video game Double Dragon features two enemies named Roper and Williams, a reference to the two characters Roper and Williams from Enter the Dragon. The sequel includes opponents named Bolo and Oharra. The popular fighting game Mortal Kombat borrows multiple plot elements from Enter the Dragon, as does its movie adaptation.

In August 2007, the now defunct Warner Independent Pictures announced that television producer Kurt Sutter would be remaking the film as a noir-style thriller entitled Awaken the Dragon with Korean singer-actor Rain starring.[82][83][84] It was announced in September 2014 that Spike Lee would work on the remake. In March 2015, Brett Ratner revealed that he wanted to make the remake.[85][86] In July 2018, David Leitch is in early talks to direct the remake.[87]

Lee's martial arts films were broadly lampooned in the recurring Almost Live! sketch Mind Your Manners with Billy Quan.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Enter the Dragon". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved 17 July 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Polly, Matthew (2019). Bruce Lee: A Life. Simon and Schuster. p. 478. ISBN 978-1-5011-8763-6. Enter the Dragon struck a responsive chord across the globe. Made for a minuscule $850,000, it would gross $90 million worldwide in 1973 and go on to earn an estimated $350 million over the next forty-five years.
  3. ^ a b "Top 10 martial arts movies". The Guardian. 6 December 2013. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
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  5. ^ "Librarian of Congress Adds 25 Films to National Film Registry". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 28 April 2020.
  6. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing | Film Registry | National Film Preservation Board | Programs at the Library of Congress | Library of Congress". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 15 June 2020.
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  8. ^ Kato, M. T. (1 January 2005). "Burning Asia: Bruce Lee's Kinetic Narrative of Decolonization". Modern Chinese Literature and Culture. 17 (1): 62–99. JSTOR 41490933.
  9. ^ Ryfle, Steve (10 January 2010). "DVD set is devoted to '70s martial arts star Jim Kelly". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 15 July 2018. Retrieved 28 January 2011.
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  13. ^ "A King of Kung Fu Films Savors Work and Honors". The New York Times. 2 July 2010. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
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  15. ^ Locke, Brian (2009). Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen from World War II to the Present: The Orientalist Buddy Film. Springer. p. 71. ISBN 9780230101678.
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  32. ^ Eliot, Marc (2011). Steve McQueen: A Biography. Aurum Press. p. 237, 242. ISBN 978-1-84513-744-1. Papillon earned nearly $55 million in its initial domestic release, making it the third-highest-grossing film of the year. (...) Robert Clouse's Enter the Dragon, starring the late Bruce Lee, came in fourth, with $25 million.
  33. ^ a b Polly, Matthew (2019). Bruce Lee: A Life. Simon and Schuster. p. 479. ISBN 978-1-5011-8763-6.
  34. ^ Lent, John A. (1990). The Asian Film Industry. Helm. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-7470-2000-4. The Lee film, Enter the Dragon, was made with Warner; it grossed US $100 million in the United States alone (Sun 1982: 40).
  35. ^ Mennel, Barbara (2008). Cities and Cinema. Routledge. p. 87. ISBN 978-1-134-21984-1. Golden Harvest took on Bruce Lee and began co-producing with Hollywood companies, leading to its kung-fu action films, including the Bruce Lee vehicle Enter the Dragon (dir. Robert Clouse, 1973), which “grossed US $100 million in the United States alone” (Lent 100; also Sun 1982:40).
  36. ^ a b c Thomas, Bruce (1994). Bruce Lee, Fighting Spirit: A Biography. Berkeley, California: Frog Books. p. 247. ISBN 9781883319250. A month after Bruce's death, Enter the Dragon was released. During its first seven weeks in the United States it grossed $3 million. In London it monopolized three West End cinemas for five weeks before becoming a sellout throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. The film went on to gross over $200 million, the ratio of cost to profit making it perhaps the most commercially successful film ever made.
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  45. ^ Gross, Edward (1990). Bruce Lee: Fists of Fury. Pioneer Books. p. 137. In 1973, his third (sic) Enter the Dragon, grossed $100 million world-wide and firmly established young Lee as an international star whose films were almost guaranteed to be successful.
  46. ^ a b Waugh, Darin, ed. (1978). "British Newspaper Clippings – Showtalk: The King Lives". Bruce Lee Eve: The Robert Blakeman Bruce Lee Memorabilia Collection Logbook, and Associates of Bruce Lee Eve Newsletters. Kiazen Publications. ISBN 978-1-4583-1893-0. Lee first found success in The Big Boss and followed that with Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon which grossed an outstanding 100,000,000 dollars and firmly established itself as one of the world's all-time top films in commercial terms. Lee went on to top this with The Way of the Dragon and the cameras had barely stopped rolling when he began what was to be his final film Game of Death. (...) Now director Robert Clouse has completed Game of Death.
  47. ^ Hoffmann, Frank W.; Bailey, William G.; Ramirez, Beulah B. (1990). Arts & Entertainment Fads. Psychology Press. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-86656-881-4. American moviemakers already knew the potential of the martial arts film; in 1973 “Enter the Dragon,” starring Bruce Lee, earned Fred Weintraub and Raymond Chow $100,000,000 worldwide. Of that amount $11,000,000 came from U.S. sales, indicating the market was really overseas.
  48. ^ "Star Tribune". Star Tribune. 20 November 1987. p. 59. Retrieved 8 June 2020. Filmed in 1973 for $500,000, its worldwide grosses are now about $150 million.
  49. ^ Beale, Lewis (24 March 1988). "Move Over Bruce Lee; Jackie Chan Kicks Out". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 8 June 2020. A biography of his life has sold more than four million copies, and Enter the Dragon, made in 1973 for $500,000, has grossed in excess of $150 million worldwide.
  50. ^ "The Turtles Take Hollywood". Asiaweek. Asiaweek Limited. 16. May 1990. Retrieved 10 June 2020. Lee's 1973 film Enter the Dragon is said to be one of the 50 top-grossing films of all time.
  51. ^ "Immortal Kombat". Vibe. Vibe Media Group. 6 (8): 90-94 (94). August 1998. ISSN 1070-4701. Bruce's own production company, Concord, was a full partner with Warner Bros, in his final, and greatest film, Enter the Dragon. Made for just $600,000, it has since grossed more than $300 million.
  52. ^ Bishop, James (1999). Remembering Bruce: The Enduring Legend of the Martial Arts Superstar. Cyclone Books. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-890723-21-7. Three weeks after Bruce Lee died Enter the Dragon was released in the United States and became an instant hit. The movie, made for around $800,000, made $3 million in its first seven weeks. Its success spread to Europe and then worldwide. It would eventually make over $200 million, making it one of the most profitable movies of all time.
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