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Arts Fest Review: Karsh Kale - Enter The Dragon

Arts Festival Review: Enter The Dragon

Review by Tyler Hersey

Enter the Dragon with Karsh Kale and Midival Punditz
Pacific Blue Festival Club
March 16, 2010

Indian-American drummer and producer Karsh Kale has taken on a task of epic proportions in re-scoring a much loved movie classic which already boasts music by one of the greatest composers in film & TV history. But by laying a new sonic foundation for the film to ride upon, Kale has shown just how modern and timeless the editing and directorial techniques used in the production really are.

Best known for writing the unforgettable theme music for Mission: Impossible, original composer Lalo Schifrin built his 1973 score for Enter the Dragon on the horn driven funk sound pioneered by Isaac Hayes, James Brown, and other soul greats of the era. By combining these high energy 70s vamps with melodies influenced by traditional Chinese folk songs, Schifrin created a unique amalgamation of sounds which reflected the hip multi-cultural cast of the film, the first martial arts flick produced by a major Hollywood studio (Warner Bros).

Known for his inventive use of jazz instrumentation and rhythms within the classical confines of film music, Schifrin's score must have sounded very timely upon the film's release. However, the composer's heavy handed use of early synthesizers has dated the sound, perhaps trapping the film in its time period more so than any other aspect of the production.

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With a new musical score leaning heavily on the electronic genres of world-beat techno and liquid drum and bass, Kale has injected a fresh dynamism into Enter the Dragon which somewhat releases the film from these early-70s confines. Still kitsch with its post-hippie costumes, Bond-like misogyny, and stereotypical characters, the film is nevertheless justifiably famous for its scintillating action sequences, choreographed and performed by Bruce Lee in his final starring role. The new soundtrack has also shifted the major cultural influence from East Asia to the Indian subcontinent, which created an interesting push and pull of traditions as tabla and Indian flute played over scenic shots of Hong Kong.

Kale shared the stage with the Midival Punditz, two Macbook-and-headphones-wielding producers plus a fantastic instrumentalist playing the bansuri. The opening and closing credits sequences provided the most interesting and sustained musical interludes of the night, giving Kale and the Punditz several minutes to throw down a driving jungle beat topped with looping shivers from the bansuri drenched in echo and delay.

With most of the soundtrack sequenced and triggered from the laptops, the resulting performance was an odd combination of Kale playing live drums over programmed tabla and bass tracks, or Kale playing tablas over programmed drum tracks. It was occasionally hard to tell if any sound at all was coming from the actual instruments on stage, as huge chunks of the soundtrack seemed to be playing straight from the computers. Often the best way to tell if the performers on stage were doing anything live was to look for the Punditz breaking their motionless computer gaze and beginning to nod their heads in time.

For the first half of the film, Kale left long passages of dialog completely devoid of music, providing a stark contrast with the raucous action sequences which were backed by a full-band sonic assault and punctuated by comical kicking and punching sound effects from the original film. Unfortunately, these early dialog passages are also the most boring parts of the film, which certainly isn't known for its screenplay.

This start and stop musical structure kept the performance from ever settling into a rhythm, as most of the action and travel sequences which contained new music ran for only a minute or two before giving way to more music-less dialog and exposition. For the first 45 minutes, the players spent probably half of that time simply hanging out on stage while the movie played behind them.

Later in the show, single phrases and lines were chopped from the movie and surrounded by Kale's lush orchestration to much better effect. The final battle scenes between Lee and the evil Han in his room of mirrors were well handled, moving from downbeat atmospherics into frantic drum and bass grooves propelled by Kale's admittedly masterful drumming.

And perhaps the greatest triumph of the project is the way in which Kale's score emphasized the breakneck speed and accuracy of the film's editing, which would be at home in any contemporary film. However, the overall performance would be better suited to viewing on DVD with a great sound system, rather than forced into a live show in which the performers don't have much to do onstage.


Press release: New NZIAF Nightclub on the Wellington Waterfront
Arts Festival website: Enter the Dragon with Karsh Kale & Midival Punditz (includes photo link)
TV3 Video: Bruce Lee fan pays musical tribute to Enter the Dragon
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2010

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