Enter the Fat Dragon (1978) Review

"Enter the Fat Dragon" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Enter the Fat Dragon” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Sammo Hung
Writer: Ni Kuang
Cast: Sammo Hung, Peter Yang, Meg Lam, Leung Kar Yan, Fung Fung, Lee Hoi San, Roy Chiao, Fung Hak On, Ankie Lau, Luk Chu Sek, Chan Dik Hak, Chik Ngai Hung, Ching Chu, Huang Ha, Lam Ching Ying, Lee Hoi Suk, Tony Leung
Running Time: 100 min.

By Joseph Kuby

Watching this flick for the second time made me realize that I’d rather take this on a bad day than Bruce Le on a good day.

At first glance, the film appears to be a spoof of Enter the Dragon but when one looks underneath the surface it’s really more of a spoof of Way of the Dragon with nods to Enter The Dragon and Fist of Fury, particularly in the style of music chosen (like what Stephen Chow did in Shaolin Soccer for the opening credit sequence, Sammo does his own remix of Way of the Dragon’s theme during this fight with stuntmen on a Bruceploitation movie set). With this film, Sammo makes several points about the Bruceploitation movie genre through the use of satire. Sammo clearly has an affection for Bruce Lee so I never felt he was lampooning Bruce as he was humourously referencing him.

In one scene, set during this party which takes place outside this villa, Sammo simultaneously piss-takes Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (like how the makers of the Shaw Bros. classic Killer Army threw a sly wink towards the Seasonal boys). Actually, the scene draws parallels with a scene in The Incredible Kung Fu Master* (another Sammo Hung flick made in the same year but released in 1979) where Sammo equates kung fu with food! On one side of the metaphorical tennis court, you could say that maybe Sammo was making a slam towards the makers of Killer Army by throwing back the tennis ball into their court with their dismissal of Jackie’s snake fist escapades. Once again, Dai gaw (big brother) comes to the rescue!

Heck, it’s probably more of a genuinely heart-felt and poignantly fitting homage to Bruce Lee in comparison to the so-called “tribute” flicks which have been associated with Bruce Lee’s name. Sammo does more for the preservation of the image and spirit of Bruce Lee than Jason Scott Lee and Rob Cohen could ever hope to. Which is no surprise since Sammo had first hand insight into being with Bruce Lee, on film or off. Alongside Peter Chan Lung (first guy to get hit by Bruce in Fist of Fury and brother of Billy Chan Wui Ngai – the hunchback in The Odd Couple), Sammo had the most contact with Bruce Lee (except Linda & the rest of the family of course).

Unfortunately, the film suffers from a few flaws which kind of give away the low budget/independent nature of the film. The flaws of the film is that during some of the fights you can see people laughing. For instance, during the fight at this outdoor villa party, we can see Professor Pai, Leung Kar Yan, Lee Hoi San and the Westerner laughing as Sammo drunkenly wails on his opponents (which contradicts their opposition towards Sammo and their acting later on in said scene) though I suppose you’d have to be an eagle eye to spot that (i.e. somebody who pays attention to the background of a certain scene or someone who likes to look at other things besides the focus point of a certain shot).

When Sammo fights with stuntmen on a movie set after a disagreement about the way the Bruceploitation actor** is portraying him, you can clearly see one of the stuntmen on the floor laughing (it’s Chung Fat – crazy cat-fist kung fu stylist in Magnificent Butcher). I’m glad and somewhat relieved that I’m not the only one who spotted this, even someone on the Internet Movie Database spotted this too (though it’s not listed in the goofs section)!

A lot of people have miscontrued Sammo Hung’s intentions with casting Lee Hoi San as the black Karate stylist (when he’s introduced, the original subtitled version refers to him as a ‘harate expert’). Whilst it could be argued that maybe Jim Kelly, Carl Scott, Ron Van Clief or, f*ck, even Steve James weren’t available or that nobody had the skill of Lee Hoi San, the truth of the matter is Sammo was doing Bruce a favour by taking the mick out of Hollywood and, to a grander scale, the Western psyche.

You see, Sammo was great friends with Bruce (they even had a sparring match which resulted in a draw) and their friendship took place a long time before they shot that scene in Enter the Dragon. Bruce had taught Sammo many things about martial arts and filmmaking as well as having great times together as they socially interacted with one another. As one may expect from such a friendship, facts were exchanged among the two about their backgrounds and future ambitions. Sammo was both shocked and appalled when he found out how humiliating it was for Bruce to face mockery from Westerners partially due to the Charlie Chan movies and Mickey Rooney’s role in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, so with Enter the Fat Dragon, Sammo was making a point by giving the Western filmmakers a taste of their own medicine! (“If they can do it and get away with it, why not us?”)

Heck, I’m black (or more precisely, West African, Czechoslavakian, French, Irish and English) and I wasn’t the tiniest bit offended, instead I was rather amused the first time I saw it!

If you want offensive humour in a Sammo Hung movie, look no further than License to Steal. Check out the following exchange between Joyce Godenzi and Agnes Aurelio…

Agnes: You look plump and butch. Wasn’t life wonderful in cell?

Joyce: Yes, better than you with sunburn like a nigger.

Racial-tinted humour notwithstanding, it’s not like Sammo directed or wrote License To Steal, he just produced it.

Even Wong Jing’s done more offensive humour like how in Sixty Million Dollar Man there’s a dark skinned FBI agent called Mr. Black Stone or even, worse still, in Royal Tramp there’s a scene where the main villain (Ao Bye, played by Elvis Tsui) has several women in his possession who are accused of being his accomplices, when Natalis Chan asks Stephen Chow why the black woman would be his accomplice (as well as a possible thief), the latter retorts “Even a black one couldn’t escape, they’re all the same in the dark.”

Though Jim Kelly was a great martial artist in his own right, the role wouldn’t require him to do much anyway. The stuff Lee does in this is nothing compared to what Kelly did in The Tattoo Connection besides maybe take more hits and thus give well-timed and well-acted reactions to Sammo’s blows.

For artistic reasons rather than politically correct ones, I would have preferred Jim Kelly because it would have the been the icing on the cake as far as Bruce Lee references are concerned. It would have made for a far more greater as well as longer fight had we seen the Black Karate stylist do more stuff, it would have probably been the best fight of the decade…”Sammo Hung VS. Jim Kelly”, it would surely have allowed the film to be picked up for international distribution much earlier and better…ah well!

Politically correctness has never been one of Sammo’s strongest points (if you were to equate political correctness with social acceptance), whether it be abuse towards animals or abuse towards women though he reasons that it’s more realistic as men aren’t the only ones who get hurt in his movies, but children, women and animals. I guess it would seem one-sided if there was a crime thriller where a psychopathic hoodlum would go all out on a male but would hardly do a thing towards a woman.

Feminists will probably slam Sammo (rather than the subtitling job) for the scene where Professor Pai tells his two cronies to put “it” down – “it” referring to the woman they’ve just kidnapped after giving her a drugged bowl of soup at the restaurant. I can imagine feminists throwing up their arms in the air over the near-date rape allegory as well as the way she’s placed in a box like an antique!

Animal lovers might get offended by Sammo’s introductory scene where we see him practising his Lee-isms on a bunch of pigs. I don’t mind it myself, with the way he was doing it, I hardly think they would have suffered from internal bleeding or anything.

Car lovers might be equally offended by a scene where Sammo mistakingly vandalizes a smooth-looking car thinking it belongs to one of the two crooks who have given his friend a hard time!

The only thing missing here is one or two gags relating to homosexuals. With that being said, did you know that despite it’s stereotyping of homosexuality, a selected few have stated that Sammo’s Pantyhose Hero is actually a pro-gay film and it was screened at a Boston Queer Film Festival in 2003? (no sh*t)

Whilst not hitting the same comedic high-notes of his later directorial feature Winners & Sinners or even My Lucky Stars, the script is still original, clever and sharply written (with wonderful sight gags that would make Wong Jing proud – trust me, it’s a good thing) thanks to the ever-so-reliable scribe Ni Kuang (a.k.a. Yi Kwang who played Sammo’s father in Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon), who’s written so much notable stuff that there’s no room for it here, so here’s a link:

As in Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon, Sammo uses the escrima sticks (or kali sticks) ala Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon though whilst it was technically filmed better in his 1989 effort, his skill is more proficient and evident here. Same thing with his utilization of the nunchaku. Which brings us to the action, while the film shows us why Sammo was the premiere action director after Bruce Lee***, it doesn’t reach the same heights as his other work in the 70s (e.g. Warriors Two) and later stuff (e.g. Pantyhose Hero), it isn’t so much to do with the contemporary setting prohibiting the action as it to with the fact that Sammo wasn’t working with the people who made his fight scenes top-notch (i.e. fantastic) rather than just being great. The people, in question, being Lam Ching Ying, Billy Chan Wui Ngai and Bill Yuen Biao.****

The same thing applies with Yuen Kwai, Yuen Woo Ping and Lau Kar Leung. Yuen Kwai, by himself, is a good action director but he’s only at his best (very good) when he’s with Meng Hoi and Yuen Tak. Yuen Woo Ping, by himself, is a very good action director but he’s only at his best (great) when he’s working with Yuen Cheung Yan, Yuen Shun Yi, Yuen Yat Chor and Yuen Chun Wei (a.k.a. Brandy Yuen Jan Yeung). In theory, Lau Kar Leung’s fight scenes would be improved if he was to work with Lau Kar Wing but in actuality it’s been proven that Lau is at his best (great) when he has Lee King Chue and Hsiao Ho by his side. To be frank, Leung’s stand-alone abilities as an action director (very good) is such that Wing doesn’t add much to the ornate design of Leung’s quality set-pieces. If anything, it detracts rather than enhances Leung’s auteuristic***** sensibilities as a craftsman of martial mayhem.

Sammo Hung, by himself, is a great action director but he’s only at his best (brilliant/outstanding/excellent/fantastic/wonderful, etc.) when he’s with the aforementioned three assistant fight choreographers.

The action here goes beyond genre limitations and includes a wonderful sequence where Sammo incorporates a large gold ring/hoop ala Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind to intercept Leung Kar Yan’s pole. Like any Bruce Lee-related movie (or 70s kung fu movie for that matter) there is a showdown where the hero must take on different opponents of a different fighting style (and even race – One Armed Boxer being the more outlandish example), but then again it could be argued that it’s a requisite idea that’s become apart of martial arts filmmaking in general – it’s just it was more obvious in the 70s.

People (or more precisely media students desperately looking for material to produce an article about product placement or people who are too over-analytical and read too much into things) will probably say that the finale is filled with product placement (with the Marlboro boxes stacked on top of each other along with other stuff), but I just say “Aw phooey!, it’s just a coincidence” – if anything, it just helps create convincing mise-en-scene.

The highlight for this film though, cinematically speaking, is when Hung takes on the stuntmen on this false Lee movie called Death Appointment. It’s a rip-roaring scene which makes the nature of the finale look like a tea party! It wonderfully portrays Sammo’s frustration over people’s attempts to copy & rival his friend and idol! The set design partially resembles the Lee Hoi San-guarded floor in Enter the Game of Death (complete with the cardboard cut-outs which are supposed to simulate fighting targets). What’s also interesting about this scene is that the people used in this scene are the same as the thugs who trash the uncle’s restaurant, as if Sammo was to imply the notion that a lot of the stuntmen were working as Triads and perhaps vice versa!

Other good points about Enter the Fat Dragon is that Sammo, as always, is charming and lovable with an infectious innocence that not even the most youngest or pretentiously coyest of movie stars could ever rival or surpass. He looks as powerful as he ever has been in this film which helps sell his portrayal as someone who follows Bruce Lee. Though it’s not saying much, he makes Kurt McKinney look like a wimp… wait, that is saying much seeing as how Kurt is of a fairly slimmer and well-toned build. You’d think a fat guy imitating Lee would be the worst imitation of all time and lacking in clarity in technique, whereas it’s the other way round.

Like Van Damme (or any other action star for that matter), Sammo has his own trademark moves which he brings along from film to film such as the flying double front kick (as seen in The Odd Couple, Carry on Pickpocket, Winners & Sinners and Project A). Another trademark move (which he does in this movie) is when he counteracts someone’s kick by blocking, tripping them up and usually finishing them off with a punch (he’s done this in The Victim, Dragons Forever and the U.S. TV series Martial Law).

Co-starring in this movie is Rowena Lam (a.k.a. Meg Lam Kee Ming) who plays the rival restaurteur. She can be seen in other Sammo Hung films (i.e. Paper Marriage, Millionaire’s Express, Two Toothless Tigers and Dirty Tiger Crazy Frog).

Any movie with the legendary Roy Chiao is at least worth watching once! Interestingly, in the first scene we see him in, there’s a businessman who comes in to discuss with him about deals relating to South Korea and he looks A LOT like David Spade, the actor who played Dennis Finch in the American sitcom Just Shoot Me!.

It was also fun seeing Fong Hak On acting alongside his dad, Fung Fung, in roles which state otherwise.

I appreciated Sammo’s reference towards Chuck Norris’ chest hair in Way of the Dragon. It feels like almost every actor has done that gag of swiping someone’s hair and blowing it away whether it be Jackie swiping a piece of Huang Ha’s hair in Drunken Master or Jet Li swiping a piece of Yu Cheng Hui’s beard in Martial Arts of Shaolin. I think that fight scene between Billy Chow and Sophia Crawford should have had Billy grab some of Soph’s pubic hair or maybe vice versa.

What’s funny about this film is that it was made in the same year as Half A Loaf of Kung Fu, starring Jackie Chan (who, as we all know, were former classmates at the same Peking Opera school), which was also the latter’s attempt at mocking Kung Fu movie conventions and stereotypes. Both share the similarity of having an opening credit sequence that both parodies and defies the martial artist performing in front of a blank background routine. Also, another thing used in the opening parts of both films is when the camera pulls back to see that the hero of the piece is taking on a much more smaller target than first perceived. One more similarity between both films is that they both share a dream sequence (involving someone idolizing about a goal or dream) with even the same Italian-esque music featured in the background.

Hmmm…. I wonder if they were talking to each other at the same time both films were being made or if they either swiped the other’s ideas or perhaps collaborated!

Ironically, there’s another similarity between Enter the Fat Dragon and a Jackie Chan movie, the JC movie being Rumble in the Bronx (a film whose basic story resembles Way of the Dragon). Just like in Rumble in the Bronx, there’s a scene where the thugs retaliate by smashing up the protagonist’s business.

Watching this film twice made me realize that Ho Chung Tao copied the gag of someone having to travel at great miles via menial means to catch a bunch of kidnappers, for his film Interpol (a.k.a. Fists of Bruce Lee). If an analogy had to be made, it would be that Ho’s lifting of that scene is his way of saying “Back at ya, Hung Ching Pao!” as if to suggest that they’re on equal terms about the Bruceploitation tomfoolery! Akin to James Ho’s Bruce Lee, We Miss You, the chase scene in Enter the Fat Dragon predates and rivals Jackie’s opening chase sequence in Police Story (well, the second half of it anyway).

Just like Jackie Chan and Bill, Sammo also proved to be immensely popular in Japan (i.e. establishing a sizable fanbase) when Enter the Fat Dragon was released over there. Their individual popularities in Japan is what helped them (or rather helped Golden Harvest vice president Leonard Ho) to break box office records when they made films together rather than the films making big bucks solely because Jackie was in them.

Big Boss fans (yep, including you Jeff) would be surprised to learn that the guy who plays the eccentric professor/millionaire antique dealer is non other than Peter Yang Kwan (or Yang Chun)****** who was one of the two Chinese ice factory workers who get whacked when they refuse to work for the manager’s drug-trafficking scam. Peter was the yellow striped T-shirt one with the small hair (the one who receives the hatchet to the head). Coincidnetally, he was in another film called Big Boss which was directed by Lee Tso Nam (who, if you’ve been keeping up to speed with my reviews, was the assistant director for Bruce Lee’s Big Boss) which also starred Danny Lee (who was in the aforementioned Bruce Lee & I).

Heroic Bloodshed fans may have seen him playing Andy Lau’s father in the Rich & Famous films (the sequel of which is called Tragic Hero – both films had Chow Yun Fat in principal roles) and who was also in Andy Lau’s Sworn Brothers (which had Sammo Hung’s action team co-ordinating the stunts). Stephen Chow fans may remember him as gangster boss Wei in My Hero******* which also had kung fu regulars Yuen Woo Ping and Pomson Shi in the cast.

Enter the Fat Dragon isn’t one of Sammo Hung’s worst or lesser features nor is it one of his best. It doesn’t possess the sheer excellent fight choreography or ground-breaking narrative structure of The Victim, it doesn’t have the same creativity of humour & all-round genius which permeated Millionaire’s Express, it lacks the overall cinematic quality of The Prodigal Son, it lacks the in-depth characterization and powerful themes of Eastern Condors (referring to the uncut version) and it doesn’t have the superbly superlative genre-mixing and powerhouse acting performances of Pedicab Driver.

Having said that, the film still shows what Bey Logan meant in the Game of Death audio commentary when he said that Sammo was the true successor to Bruce Lee in terms of on-screen fight choreography. Sammo shows that, unlike many of the martial arts/action filmmakers of the period, he had the interest and talent to go beyond providing audiences wave after wave of fight scenes and gives us equally professional clout in the acting department as no-one comes off as a stinker in this. The story, no matter how episodic, still generates and retains interest. In spite of working with a budget usually associated with independent/underground productions, he surprisingly demonstrates a real directorial flair particularly through his intuitive eye for sight gags and keen ear for verbal humour. Though nevertheless the assured handling probably comes from his previous expenditure of directorial duties.

It still manages to be a mini-classic that mixes hilarious humour with dazzling displays of martial machismo. It’s definately one of the best martial arts films of the period, if not one of Sammo’s greatest movies. Whilst Iron Fisted Monk was more technically polished, Enter the Fat Dragon shows more originality and, in a sense, it’s the superior film which shows more of Sammo’s distinctive personality as a filmmaker.

No matter which way you look at it, Enter the Fat Dragon is superior than all Bruceploitation movies combined (perhaps save for Chinese Stuntman and Gold Connection). Hong Kong audiences seemed to think so, the film was a very big hit back in 1978 – earning HK$ 2,866,700 (US$ 369,369).

As a nice tidbit of trivia, the guy you hear on the bus-radio commentating on the horse race is no other than Eric Tsang Chi Wai (stocky funny guy who was in My Lucky Stars), who also can be seen with the orange specs at the previously mentioned villa party scene…. which reminds me, there’s a joke about Gin in this movie, it’d make for a great double entendre if someone, in a film, was to equate Gin with Wong Jing like through a series of comical mishaps due to misunderstanding of what was exactly said!

* The Incredible Kung Fu Master is also a film where Sammo pays respect to Bruce Lee, though in the form of his philosophy about not adhering to one particular style of combat. Sammo says that whilst some people prefer one type of food over another, he likes everything hence why he’s so fat (or filled with knowledge) to which gains an amusing response from Stephen Tung who states that he hopes to be as “fat” as Sammo (Stephen, of course, being the kid who receives from that lesson from Bruce at the beginning of Enter the Dragon).

** The guy who plays him is action director Tony Leung Siu Heung (someone of whom I will discuss in greater detail for my King of the Kickboxers review), who was doing double-duty in this point of time as an actor. He can be seen as the unlucky informant in Tattoo Connection and as the guy who fights Sharon Yeung Pan Yan in her show-stopping showcase moment in Duel of the 7 Tigers. He was one of the main protagonists of 36 Crazy Fists, whose behind the scenes story concerning Jackie Chan is equivalent to that of Fist of Unicorn with Bruce Lee. But even with Jackie surpassing Bruce’s fame in Hong Kong, there was not much Chansploitation going on besides only a few guys with similar names and a film starring Kim Tai Chung which was marketed as a Bruce Meets Jackie  movie!

*** By 1978, Hung had so much clout in the Hong Kong film industry (he and his stunt team were regarded as the best in the business) that he was able to form three production companies – Gar Bo, Boho and Bojon.

**** Yuen Biao’s official English name is Bill Yuen whereas Bill Yuen Biao is his full name, like how Yuen Kwai’s full English name is Corey Yuen Kwai but his official name is Corey Yuen. Bill Yuen is the Anglo name people refer to him by, including when he emigrated to Canada. His alternate alias, Jimmy Yuen, was coined by Raymond Chow as a name to ensure international success (i.e. to do with him what he was trying to do with Jackie hence the similar name).

***** Auteuristic is an adjective for the French word auteur. The term auteur is given to those directors who have demonstrated some sort of originality, creativity and/or longevity (timelessness of quality).

****** Peter was the consultant for this film.

******* Leung Kar Yan was the action director, director, screenwriter and co-star of My Hero.

Joseph Kuby’s Rating: 9/10

By Kenneth T

Another Bruce Lee parody, but probably the best and closet thing that you’ll ever get to the legend. It sounds kind of funny that Sammo Hung would be the one to imatate Bruce Lee so well, but for all who has seen this movie knows what I’m talking about. Sammo Hung uses Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do and does damn near perfect. He even throws in some kung fu ‘n there once in a while. Only problem there was that there are a couple of dead spots. But there are 4 or 5 fight scenes so you won’t be disappointed. Really good fight scene at the end against Leung Kar Yan!

Kenneth T’s Rating: 9/10 (Take it from me, Sammo Hung is one of the best things to happen to cinema period.)

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One Response to Enter the Fat Dragon (1978) Review

  1. Sujet incroyablement attrayant !!!

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