Game Of Death (1978)

Dir: Bruce Lee, Robert Clouse, 1972/1978


Posthumously released after star, writer and director Bruce Lee’s premature death at the young age of 32, Game Of Death is an action-packed, thrill-a-minute epic of martial arts and excitement.

At least, that’s what it should have been.

Instead, we have this total crapfest that is an insult to the great man’s legacy, life and work.

Lee must have turned over in his grave when they finished this.

In Bruce’s original vision, he played a character named Hai Tien who had to work his way up a pagoda to save his sister, with each level guarded by a master of a particular discipline and harder than their predecessor.

Lee filmed around 100 minutes of raw footage, mainly from the pagoda sequence. John Little’s fantastic documentary, Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey, assembles Lee’s footage into forty minutes of how he wanted to it go.

Alas, Clouse chose to use only ten minutes and drastically altered the narrative to fit the new story:

Billy Lo is Asia’s number one movie star but refuses to get involved in a big time crime organisation.

Angered by this refusal, the organisation attempt to have Lo killed by being shot with a real bullet instead of a blank. But Lo survives the attack, fakes his own death and goes into hiding.

After undergoing plastic surgery, the former actor is forced to come out of hiding and rescue his girlfriend when she is kidnapped by the organisation.

Where the original took place in a pagoda, the 1978 cut has it all staged in a restaurant, with the floors of the pagoda acting as the upper floors of the restaurant.

Lee had conceived the idea of Tien being assisted in his mission, played by James Tien and Chieh Yuan.

Clouse edited out Yuan leaving only Tien and moved his footage to earlier in the film.

The Bruce Lee footage is phenomenal and is the only saving grace for this steaming turd.

Game Of Death is atrocious in every respect. The plot is laughable and ridiculous. There are no special effects whatsoever. It’s so bad, they actually paste a cardboard cutout of Bruce Lee onto a mirror to hide the real actors face.

Don’t believe me? Take a look:

I know that special effects were not as advanced as they are today but, seriously?

Game Of Death wasn’t made out of respect for Lee. Head of Golden Harvest, Raymond Chow, cobbled the idea of this together to make money back on what had already been spent on 1972.

To keep costs down, Chow and Clouse recycled footage from Lee’s earlier movies, The Big Boss (Fists Of Fury), Fist Of Fury (The Chinese Connection) and The Way Of The Dragon (The Return Of The Dragon).

Actors who appeared in those films turn up in this, albeit without their knowledge or consent.

It’s a rush job. Tacky, disrespectful and offensive. Lee deserves so much better than this.

The soundtrack is appalling and is nothing like anything you that would be in a Bruce Lee movie.

Clearly inspired by James Bond films, the opening credits are a garish selection of roulette tables and dice with snapshots of the cast, all accompanied by a screeching singer wailing some godawful tune. It looks more like Dallas or Falcon Crest than anything you’d see in the super spy series.

There’s just been no effort in making this. Kim Tai-chung is the stand in for the late star but looks nothing remotely like him. Tai-king is the wrong height, weight and build. His facial shape is entirely askew and is masked by sunglasses and a ridiculous beard that looks like it’s been bought from a joke shop. Have a look:

Throughout the whole film, there’s a stench of disgrace that leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

Until that is the Lee footage starts and it becomes a masterpiece.

Before pausing production to film Enter The Dragon, Lee was only able to film three of the five guards. Judging by this, it’s nothing but a shame and a loss to cinema that he wasn’t given the opportunity to finish the film. What he did film is an exhibit of some of the finest fighting scenes and displays of martial arts that had been, and ever will be, committed to celluloid.

The first of the trio is the most exciting of the three and should have been the final guardian.

Eskrima and nunchaku master, Dan Inosanto, is more than a match for the world’s greatest martial arts star. Swinging the Kali stick around with a deft control and manipulating the nunchakus around his torso with a forceful speed and excellence, Inosanto had what it takes to become a star in his own right. Battling Lee in a competition of nunchaku mastery is the highlight of the film and could never be topped.

Guarding the final level is American basketball star, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Standing at over seven foot, the fight is more about power rather than skill and Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t have the prowess or fluidity to be an on-screen fighter or cinematic match for Lee.

Because of the BBFC’s (well, James Ferman’s) ridiculous policy of not allowing certain martial art weapons to be shown, the British theatrical run had all the scenes featuring nunchakus removed. Causing a problem with the opening credits, a major overhaul had to be done to accommodate the censors.

Further cuts were required to the Inosanto duel. The cuts were difficult to implement without ruining the continuity so the entire scene with Inosanto was deleted leaving Lee battling just two guardians.

The same cuts made their way onto video with an extra two seconds removed to remove a back break.

It’s this entire finale that drags Game Of Death out of the pit of abhorrency. The footage filmed by Bruce Lee is the only thing that stops this from getting a zero.

If you really want to see it, watch John Little’s documentary or fast forward the whole film to the fight in the pagoda/restaurant.

A travesty.


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