Remembering the Dragon

We are halfway through the Year of the Dragon, as the Chinese calendar designates 2024. The Orient, of course, has for long immortalised this four-legged, winged serpentine character in its storehouse of legend and lore. While traditional and popular culture in the West typically portrays dragons as evil, in China they are viewed as benevolent, friendly harbingers of good luck. Sage and compassionate, imbued with active yang energy, they are believed to protect in uncommon ways, displaying great intelligence and loyalty. Interestingly, the Chinese actually even identify nine types of dragons: Bixi, Qiuniu, Yazi, Chaofeng, Pulao, Chiwen, Bi’an, Suanni, and Fuxi.

The inimitable Amul ad from 1976, capturing the popularity of the cult film. Pic courtesy

It is half a century after the mythical creature was made memorable by being extended contextually to the definitive martial arts flick, Enter the Dragon. Wowing Bombay audiences with a crackerjack opening four years after its Hollywood launch on August 17, 1973, Enter the Dragon became one of the highest grossers of moviedom. Bruce Lee’s Chinese stage moniker gave the film its name – it translated as Lee the Little Dragon, for the fact that he was born in both the hour and the Year of the Dragon (1940), assigned by the Chinese zodiac.

Speaking to Esquire magazine, Lee’s daughter Shannon shared how she is convinced her father’s performance is timeless in that decade’s abundance of funky kitsch. “He still electrifies and jumps off the screen, and is just so badass,” she is quoted as saying, referring to the full houses packing global re-runs to mark the film’s golden anniversary.

The super-successful spy drama about the secret agent infiltrating a martial arts contest on an exotic island to confront a criminal mastermind, resulted in rave reviews. Serpentine ticket lines wound their way around all the streets surrounding city cinema halls the film released at, like Eros at Churchgate. Sold into Lee’s cult following, young men and women fans struck his trademark poses, attempted nunchuck moves slicing the air against fictitious attackers and initiated animated discussions assessing these techniques on school and college campuses worldwide.

Ironically, Lee was denied a chance to revel in the wild impact of his catapulting fame. He succumbed to cerebral edema at a tragically young age, 32, a month before the film’s original Hong Kong release.


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