Every man fantasizes about having Bruce Lee inside of him.
Hmm, call me a cynic, but I sense this simple statement already being misconstrued. Let me be a bit clearer. I don’t mean we feverishly dream of being bummed by the little Asian poppet. I mean we’re all in love with the idea of a super tough guy lurking within that will instantly materialize when faced with some antagonistic ass hat in a bar.
And no, it doesn’t matter if you’re 120 pounds soaking wet or brought up by your parents to abhor violence. We wannabes can always picture disabling a douche bag with a roundhouse kick or an elbow to the throat, preferably accompanied by a steely face and a disciplined exhalation. Before possible confrontations we can’t help conjuring up these precise acts of brutality, although they’re much more likely to blossom into rich, rewarding color after we’ve sheepishly left the scene.
(Well, we certainly don’t imagine being in a fight that involves a lot of name calling and shoving before disintegrating into a roll-around-the-floor debacle which, incidentally, is exactly what we want girl-on-girl fights to become).
Anyhow, this desire to be a hard ass, no matter how well hidden, is just the way men are. A primordial drive, I guess, that has something to do with evolution, survival tactics and mating rights.
And, to be honest, it’s guys like Bruce Lee who help fuel such macho fantasies. Born in 1940 and dead before Dragon came out, his brief life had an immediate and enormous impact. Just check out how much onscreen stuff in the early 70s incorporated chop-socky nonsense, such as Doctor Who’s Jon Pertwee or the doddery, cardigan-clad Richard Burton at the height of his alcoholism in the jaw-droppingly non-PC The Klansmen.
Lee’s early movies weren’t that good, featuring implausible storylines and misjudged attempts at humor. Indeed, I can recall one scene in which he kicked a guy through a wooden fence leaving a cartoonishly perfect outline. Basically, Lee had to wade through some poop before delivering a knockout blow.
That’s not to say Dragon is perfect because if you’re in the wrong frame of mind it’s still possible to snigger through a fair chunk of its hundred minutes. For a start there’s the pseudo-philosophy so prevalent in martial arts movies. After easily winning a demonstration fight against a physically inferior opponent, Lee’s elderly Shaolin teacher tells him: “I see your talents have gone beyond the mere physical level. Your skills are now at the point of spiritual insight.”
Er, what? Just cos he publicly kicked the ass of some long-haired fatso?
It gets worse with Bruce revealing the highest fighting technique is to have no technique and, best of all, there is no opponent because the word ‘I’ does not exist. No, I don’t know what it means, either, but I certainly plan to trot it out to the next meathead in a pub who picks on me.
Oh, well, at least a man from British Intelligence quickly steps in to get the plot moving. He wants Lee to check out Han (Kien), a Shaolin monk who’s gone renegade by setting up his own kingdom on a privately owned island. The baddy is now trafficking drug-fucked girls to an ‘exclusive clientele.’ Han holds a prestigious fighting tournament every three years, providing the perfect opportunity for Lee to investigate and kick a shit load of ass in the process.
Once over there, Lee is joined by Roper (Saxon) and Williams (Kelly), two ex-Nam buddies. This pair is good value. Gambler Roper is in debt to a nasty loan shark so needs the money while Williams is on the run after knocking out two racist honkies and driving off in their patrol car. To be honest, Lee’s character is a tiny bit dull next to them. Whereas he’s a teetotaler who refuses Han’s offer of top-quality pussy, Roper and Williams dive straight in. Indeed, Williams plays the black stud to the hilt, choosing four girls to fuck. “Please understand if I missed anyone,” he tells the other two, “but it’s been a big day and I’m a little tired.”
Director Clouse acquits himself well, supplying some nice shots of the sprawling Hong Kong while delivering one of the biggest money-spinners of all time.
Han, meanwhile, is a stylish, charismatic bastard, refined and ruthless at the same time. He’s very much in the tradition of a Bond villain, even stroking a white cat at one point. Worshipping strength above all else, his philosophy is also a bit easier to get hold of than Lee’s pretty-sounding claptrap.
To begin with, he throws a lavish banquet for the competitors, making a grand entrance surrounded by a bevy of dart-throwing beauties. “We forge our bodies in the fire of our will,” he tells the guests to appreciative nods. Still, his flamboyance doesn’t prevent him from having the typical weakness of a Bond villain, apparently employing guards on the basis of their deft ability to pause at exactly the right moment to get cold-cocked, to helpfully fling themselves around, or to easily lose fights against an unarmed, solitary opponent despite wielding baseball bats.
Other colorful characters included the muscular Bolo and the undisciplined O’Hara, a scar-faced henchman who surely provided the inspiration for Razors in The Long Good Friday.
With its numerous fights, groovy soundtrack and smattering of tits and ass, this movie is a blast. Lee dials down the campiness of previous efforts, replacing it with an unforced humor. He is rewarded with far and away his best film. Nearly fifty years later, its influence on pop culture remains substantial. And with his amazing body and lightning quick moves, Lee remains the personification of cool. Age shall not weary him.
Right, I’m off to practice my two-finger pushups as I prepare to flatten the next bozo that ticks me off.
And this time, I mean it.
Dave Franklin also writes novels about violent men, although he prefers child killers and leg breakers to fancy moves and black belts.