Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger (1976) Review

"Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger" US Theatrical Poster

“Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger” US Theatrical Poster

Director: Lee Tso Nam
Writer: Chang Shun Yee
Producer: Jimmy Shaw, R.P. Shah
Action Director: Loong Fei, San Moo
Cast: Bruce Li (aka Ho Chung Tao, James Ho), Lung Fei, Ma Chi Chiang, San Moo, An Ping, Kou Shao Po, Ban Kwok Leung, Chin Lu, Lu Chi, Chang Sing Yei, Tsao Shao Jun
Running Time: 84 min.

By Joseph Kuby

Hollywood Class Bruceploitation Actioner!

Exit The Dragon, Enter The Tiger is a unique film in the realm of Hong Kong cinema (especially in the 70s) in that it looks and feels like a Hollywood production (minus the wardrobe of Chang Yi’s character who’s dressed as a traditional Chinese mainlander except with a Western style hat and scarf to show that he’s a criminal authority).

Incumbent (or recumbent) to say, the production values (props, use of locations, style, camera work, editing and overall production design) are obviously a lot more higher than your average Bruceploitation movie and certainly more higher than 90% of Hong Kong movies made up to the year this film was concocted (1976).

It really does feel like as if it was a Hollywood film starring Chinese actors, the look of the print (i.e. the credits and cinematography) and the soundtrack are startlingly high.

Speaking of soundtrack, the film borrows from quite a lot of sources (but this is done in a way which enhances the overall quality of the film and makes it seem like a new experience, along with the quality of the dubbing which isn’t the usual British talent we usually hear for these kinda films).

The ‘library’ music cues that are used are from Charles Bronson’s Death Wish (coincidentally both Michael Winner’s and Lee Tso Nam’s films feature a rape attack which leaves the female character traumatized), Jim Kelly’s Black Samurai, Bond flicks and 70s rock.

The film was produced by Jimmy Shaw, so perhaps the film was a co-production between the Shaw Brothers film studio and Dimension Pictures (the distributor for this film – in some ways this is the first example of their butchering of Hong Kong cinema).

Whether there was even an intention to make it seem like an American/quality (i.e. American or American quality) film is open to debate, let alone whose intention it was (if it was on behalf of the Chinese or the Americans). Though having said that, the budget is probably on par with some of Hollywood’s lesser features that get released in cinemas or its TV movies of the era.

The original Chinese language version of this film is called Bruce Lee: Star Of Stars whose opening credit sequence utilizes a larger portion of the Isaac Hayes track of ‘Run Fay Run’ instead of the shorter excerpt used in the dubbed prints. A majority of the additional footage is dialogue rather than fight footage. Dragon is actually referred to as Li Xiao Long (Little Dragon Lee), Bruce Lee’s screen name; and instead of James Ho being named David ‘Tiger’ Lee, he is simply named Tang Lung, in reference to the character played by the real Bruce Lee in The Way Of The Dragon.

During the opening credit sequence, there was a nunchaku and broadsword sequence that was omitted (the version reviewed here is the UK DVD released before the BBFC lifted the ban on nunchakus) though only split-screen frames remain (when you see the sequence you will know what I mean). Though weirdly enough, they still include a single swing of the nunchaku in the very final frame of the film.

Whereas, in the Chinese version, the very opening contains an image of Bruce Lee unleashing his nunchakus in Way Of The Dragon. The Chinese version lasts 6 minutes longer than the 79 minute version on display here. Whilst the Chinese print features more dialogue, the dubbed prints show stock footage of Hong Kong in the film’s opening. Besides this, the Chinese print simply says ‘The End’ when Ho kills Yi, while the dubbed prints use stock footage of a large beach wave, with a superimposed transparent image of James Ho as he listens back to the last words of Bruce Lee.

In the year of 1976 ‘Exit The Dragon, Enter The Tiger’ was a surprisingly big success in the American box office market. It was a huge hit that defeated all blockbuster competition (including the King Kong movie which starred Jeff Bridges) and turned James Ho Chung Tao into a bonafide box office success and bankable martial arts movie star (though he became successful under the name Bruce Li and was forced to use it as a screen name since producers argued that he became famous & popular under that name).

Throughout the 70s, martial arts movies would take up 30% of the American box office and one of its main stars was James Ho. What’s ironic though about Ho was that back in the day his films were money makers all over the world and arguably seen by more people, via theaters, video and cable TV than the films of the real Bruce Lee but the assumption was that since the films were bad and didn’t contain the real Bruce Lee, they were somehow flops (okay….critically, they were flops but if they were flops financially then James wouldn’t have appeared in that many films so there was obviously a market for this Bruceploitation phenomenon).

There were even two unrelated sequels (Return Of The Tiger and The Tiger Strikes Again) which obtained similar success – helping to cement Ho in the number one spot. Return Of The Tiger (originally titled Silent Killer From Eternity) had the same cast but not the same characters and was a very gritty crime thriller and it even had Paul Smith – the torturer from Midnight Express – and Angela Mao.

The Tiger Strikes Back (the UK title for Soul Brothers Of Kung Fu a.k.a. Kung Fu Avengers) was a film with Shaw Bros. Kung Fu star Lo Mang and Billy Chong co-star Carl Scott which had multiple endings filmed (two fates for two different characters). As for the Ho Chung Tao and Lee Tso Nam connection, the only other film they made together was Edge Of Fury which (just like this film) is all about gangsters and sleaze. The film was a big hit all over Europe and featured Yasuaki Kurata (before he appeared in Yuen Woo Ping’s Legend Of A Fighter). Tommy Lee (frequent co-star and action director of Lee Tso Nam) worked as action director.

As for ‘Exit The Dragon, Enter The Tiger’, the story (on the surface level) is exploitation fodder (some would argue filth) capitalizing on how and why Bruce Lee could have died; though the carefully thought-out script and skillfully handled direction beneath more than make up for this despite constant references to Bruce Lee. Some which are passable (posters of Bruce Lee), some which are barely plausible (people mistaking James for the real thing) and some which are plagiaristic (scenes which mimic Bruce Lee’s performance in Fist Of Fury where he did some detective work dressing up as an old newspaper seller and a telephone repair man).

Nevertheless, it is quite harrowing or ar least perturbing with its depictions of torture i.e. torching someone’s back, sticking needles into a woman’s fingers, banging a person’s forehead against a table repeatedly, attempted rape and abuse against women in general. This is not uncommon in Lee Tso Nam’s other film Black Belt Jones 2 (a.k.a. The Tattoo Connection).

Speaking of which, this film has many similarities to The Tattoo Connection such as a scene which takes in a bar with a dancer and famous 70s Western tune (in Black Belt Jones 2, it was this Suzi Quatro song whereas in this movie it is a psychedelic-instrumental version of Gimme Some Lovin by The Spencer Davis Group).

In this bar scene, we see a Napoleon Dynamite lookalike (possibly his uncle) complete with geeky glasses, a dorky demeanour (check out his reactions to the belly dancer) and one goofy afro (bearing in mind this is a white guy).

Other similarities include a fight scene set in an industrial junkyard where you have the protagonists fighting on materials which are laying on their side (e.g. logs of wood or barrels), gritty contemporary crime plots, torture sequences and, of course, violence against women.

Both films exert an American influence (The Tattoo Connection was financed and distributed by Warner Bros. and starred Jim Kelly).

The director, Lee Tso Nam, is a fairly accomplished director. He was the assistant director for Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss and Fist Of Fury. He’s perhaps best known for his independent Kung Fu retooling of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ (called ‘The Hot, The Cool and The Vicious’) and other films (which are famous but not as popular) such as Fist Of Fury 2 (starring Bruce Li) and Eagle’s Claw (which sports the villain of this film {Chang Yi} wearing a wizard’s hat).

He also did Challenge Of Death (which had legendary director King Hu as part of the cast), The Woman Avenger (his take on the Brazilian cult classic I Spit On Your Grave), Phantom Kung Fu (a Kung Fu Monty Python), Shaolin Invincible Sticks (Lee’s own version of Lau Kar Leung’s Eight Diagram Pole Fighters), A Life Of Ninja (his ninja classic), Killing In The Nude (his CAT III classic which predates Wong Jing’s Naked Killer and most notably Sex & Zen), Shaolin VS Lama (his answer to the Shaolin Temple films which starred Jet Li), The Leg Fighters (his take on the Secret Rivals films with the emphasis on high-kicking antics), Fatal Needles VS Fatal Fists (his near-classic) and Beauty Investigator (his take on the girls with guns genre).

There’s many more films he did, I just listed the more famous ones. He’s still making movies today!

Many have complained that the fight scenes in this wicked yet wonderful slice of Bruceploitation are too long (these comments coming from people who are fans of martial arts movies) which tells you about the quality of the fights on offer here. While there a few which could be described as good (i.e. fairly enticing e.g. the fight in the industrial junkyard at night time, the fight in a large gymnasium with a female gymnast, the fight on the rooftop and the fight on the seashore) most of the stuff on here is okay if not really all that good.

A lot of the action is spoiled by lack of intimacy with the fighters (due to the positioning of the camera angles) and routine choreography (they repeat almost the same moves but it still proves to be somewhat moderately entertaining) with only a few sparks of wonder.

However, the combination of competent cinematic quality (with above average moments) and okay action (with some decent moments) makes this a good film on artistic terms. But, the entertainment level of this film is big hence the high rating.

Joseph Kuby’s Rating: 7/10

By Alvin George

The production values of “Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger” are decent for a Bruce Li movie. It even uses music heard in the Jim Kelly flick “Black Samurai.” Unfortunately, the plot is a been-there-done-that deal, plus the fights involve the standard Bruce Li shit. The dude was better in “The Iron Dragon Strikes Back” and “Bruce Lee: The Man and the Myth.”

Alvin George’s Rating: 5/10

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