Favorite Scenes №20: Enter The Dragon

In 1973 Robert Clouse directed, Bruce Lee’s second to last movie Enter The Dragon. It was not a good film, but it contained one of Bruce Lee’s best scenes. The opening moves that Bruce Lee uses in his fight against O’Hara contain all of what made Bruce Lee a compelling icon.

In the film, Lee and O’Hara square off in a formal fight with a referee and rules. They are fighting before a prestigious audience from all over the world. Lee and O’Hara take opposing stances and cross hands waiting for the referee to yell begin. Lee knows that O’Hara has killed Lee’s sister but Lee is a complete stranger to O’Hara.

The referee, played by the incomparably beefy Bolo, makes a loud grunt in lieu of shouting “begin” and before anyone can even take a breath Lee has smacked O’Hara in the face with a back fist and is standing where O’Hara stood while O’Hara tries to lift himself up off the dusty ground.

The two men return to starting position. We see a close up of O’Hara’s confused face. He can hardly believe this stranger’s audacity. The two men reset and the camera pans across the expectant faces of the crowd, a rogue’s gallery of shaggy 70’s haircuts. Again Bolo abruptly grunts and again the same lightning fast back fist knocks O’Hara to his knees. O’Hara has now lost face. He can’t even prepare and execute a single move before his opponent has made a fool of him.

They face off again and this time O’Hara manages two blocks before suffering the same loud smack to the head. Lee stands calm and ready, unflustered by O’Hara’s contrasting rage. The fight continues on and you can guess who wins, but the opening three moves say it all.

Bruce Lee and the martial arts that he promoted valued technique over force. Lee used form and finesse to defeat O’Hara making O’Hara seem clumsy and oafish. Where O’Hara was strong and ruthless Lee was calculated and fast, leaving O’Hara ill-equipped to deal with Lee’s attacks.

Bruce Lee used his films to not only promote his fighting style but his heritage and home as well. What Lee represents in the fight has its roots in Chan Buddhism. In Chan, enlightenment is not a gradual process, it is a sudden bolt of realization. The Chan practitioner may find nirvana at any moment while performing the most menial of tasks. To this end, the practitioner strives to maintain a heightened sense of awareness and to keep his mind in the present. Whether he is drawing water from a well, fixing his sandal, or opening an umbrella, he moves with grace and perfection, seeking out fulfillment in the smallest of gestures.

Kung Fu, the root of Bruce Lee’s style, was invented in the Shaolin Buddhist Monastery as a physical form of meditation. Lee’s performance in his fight with O’Hara displays the calm and precision that is cultivated in all Buddhist endeavors. In contrast, O’Hara gets increasingly more frustrated as the fight goes on. Lee presents us with a typical Buddhist lesson. It is not Lee who defeats O’Hara but O’Hara who defeats himself by losing his equanimity.

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