The trend-setting martial arts film Enter The Dragon was released exactly 50 years ago in the USA. Thereafter, when it was released in Hyderabad, it became an immediate hit, especially among the youth. The twin cities experienced a kung fu and karate craze as boys and girls from many schools and colleges took up the sport with great enthusiasm.
The roots of the current craze for MMA fighting among the youth of the present days can be traced back to the popularity of this Bruce Lee starrer. When the film was released, almost every youngster immediately wanted to become a black belt in martial arts although not all of them had the capacity to go through the tough grind of training and self discipline.
Some fake karate schools opened
When the demand peaked, many fly-by-night operators spotted a chance to make quick money. They opened martial arts schools in nooks and corners of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. Some were genuine but quite a few were fake. Several karate schools professed to have affiliation to exotically named karate organisations in China, Japan and Korea.
Since the internet was not available back then, it was impossible to check the claims of these so-called martial arts experts. They opened their training institutions in school playgrounds, or empty plots or even terraces of individual houses.
Now we know that a martial arts trainee needs to practice for many years to establish control not only over his body but his emotions too. The genuine teachers guided their students along the right paths. But as the karate clamour grew, the fake gurus began handing out black belts like free food being distributed to the needy.
Functioned in unsafe environment
Most people were not aware that joining these schools was risky too. They had no safety standards, no first-aid facilities and functioned in an unsafe training environment. But the youth and their parents just did not have enough knowledge about martial arts to make a sound judgement about which was genuine and which was fake. So as a consequence, the iconic film set off a wave of fraudulent practices in the twin cities. Seldom does any single film have this wide ranging effect on the entire society.
Reasons for film’s popularity
Iconic performances by the heroes Bruce Lee, Jim Kelly and John Saxon were the most important factors. But the villains too played their role well. The tall American Bob Wall, the burly fighter Bolo Yeung and arch villain Shieh Kien (who played the role of Mr. Han), all did their job to perfection. The plot was a simple and time tested one. A set of heroes fighting against a set of villains. A bit like the film Sholay of Bollywood.
The film had innovative fight choreography which was a blend of Eastern and Western styles. The film’s themes of honor, justice, and overcoming an oppressor also resonated with the audiences, making it a timeless favorite.
It paved way for others
In a poll carried out by The Guardian in 2013, Enter The Dragon was voted as the best martial arts film of all time. It also paved the way for the popularity of many other martial arts films that were released in the twin cities. Sometime after ETD came the movie The 36th Chamber of Shaolin which was welcomed hugely by the youngsters. Later came The Karate Kid (1984) which was a coming-of-age story centered on martial arts training and mentorship and this too ran to packed houses.
Other movies that became very popular were Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – an absorbing film with perfect choreography and fantastic martial arts sequences. Kill Bill: Volume 1 was the famous filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s homage to martial arts films, featuring intense action and an outstanding female lead.
Had Enter The Dragon not electrified the audience in 1973, the martial arts films and action stars who came later such as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Charles Bronson’s film The Street Fighter and Jackie Chan’s martial arts movies may not have enjoyed the success that they did. So ETD was responsible for setting a trend that continues even now.