Thursday, February 28, 2008

Enter the Dragon: Kung Fu 007?

Bruce Lee's kung fu moves in Enter the Dragon doubtlessly inspired generations of young American kids to learn martial arts. However, I found the film problematic for several reasons, namely, in its portrayal of Asian men, its rampant sexism and objectification of women, and the fact that it seemed to lift a lot of its material from the James Bond series.

The tournament arranged by Han, the arch, sinister villain of the movie, brings together martial arts masters of various races and nationalities. The noteworthy characters are Williams, an African-American man, Roper, an white American playboy (who looks *suspiciously* like Sean Connery), and Oharra, a white man of dubious nationality, who is also happens to be Lee's nemesis. Han's games are held on his private island, where the masters are invited to stay, and are provided with liberal food, hospitality, and promises of sexual encounters with exotic Asian females.

Han's army of martial artists, all Asian men, do not really have speaking roles in the film. His guards are nameless and identity-less; they are there to provide Lee a chance to show off his prowess. In the first glimpse we see of Han's extravagant hospitality, Asian men sumo wrestle as exotic dishes are carried around by waiters. Lee's voice, when he exclaims while making his kung fu moves, has been dubbed over with a strange, high-pitched squeal -- is this meant to parodize Asian men? I'm not quite sure. Lee, I must say, is really bad-ass, and an excellent hero. However, I was rather flummoxed that the American army had to come in and save the day... why couldn't Lee have all the glory?

The women in Enter the Dragon, with the exception of Lee's sister (who is driven to kill herself by Han's men and Oharra in a flashback at the start of the film), are submissive, silent, and slave-like. They are, essentially, sex slaves for Han and his male cohorts. In addition, we learn that Han has been drugging beautiful women with heroin/opium, and keeping them captive in his underground lair. These women we encounter are mostly white -- I suppose this is meant to signify white slavery by an evil Asian opium den lord.

I'm a big James Bond fan, and I know that many of the Bond films predate Enter the Dragon. Therefore, I was a little annoyed that this movie seemed to borrow so much from Bond -- it clearly would be able to stand on its own, I think, and many of the Bond elements seemed cheesy or out of place. The music, for example, sounded quite Bond-esque, but it clashed with the more "Chinese" music at the beginning of the film. The styling and shots were also very Bond. And Han's white cat? Totally Doctor No. Also, the fact that Roper so closely resembles Sean Connery was probably no accident. One thing that was different: Lee refused to use guns, and this made me happy. It prevented the film from veering into Asian-remake-of-Bond territory and made Enter the Dragon really unique.

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