Let’s be real. No one watches a Bruce Lee movie for the story. The plot of The Big Boss (his first major role) and Enter The Dragon (his crowning achievement) are essentially the same, and decidedly threadbare. Both films pit Lee against shadowy drug cartels. He preaches fortune-cookie inspired anti-violence, before dispatching the goons in escalating video game-like fashion. The Big Boss (aka: Fists of Fury) couldn’t be more low-rent. Enter The Dragon is only superficial sophisticated, filling the frame with anonymous day-players, and flirting with a ham-fisted flashback structure. Victims of the era in which they were produced, these films should be resounding failures.
But a funny thing happened in the intervening decades. The shitty film-stock, dodgy performances, lazy dubbing, distracting zoom-lenses, porn-caliber music and flare-legged fashion has actually enhanced their charm. Some of the violence, and the accompanying ketchup-soaked gore, is laughter-inducing. But again, that’s half the fun. The other half is the unadulterated joy of watching Lee leap into nunchuk-swinging action.
Regardless of the storytelling deficiencies, Lee’s physical showmanship is unparalleled. What he lacks in traditional action hero brawn, he makes up for in preternatural athleticism. Unassisted by wires or CGI, his weapons are speed, dexterity, coordination. Lee is a coiled whip that snaps with surgical precision. His paradoxical aversion to conflict is broached by an effortless sense of humour. Far-East mystique meets Western star power. The result is that Lee's screen presence, and his legacy, remains unmatched.