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Capsule Reviews

The Game Of Death    (1978)
Bruce Lee’s unfinished project was completed in his absence five years after his death, comprising of a new story, new actors, stock footage and finally Bruce’s own footage he shot shortly before filming Enter the Dragon. The results are as mixed as the reviews but ultimately equate two different films which should be judged on different grounds.

Game of Death was Bruce’s next film project after his hugely successful Way of the Dragon. He drafted early notes and ideas regarding the story and put together something totally different to anything he’d made before. Having shot footage of the films action-packed finale inside the famous pagoda tower, he had to abandon his planning on Game of Death to film the Hollywood / Hong Kong co-production, Enter the Dragon. Shortly after completing this film, he tragically passed away and all that remained of Game of Death was the footage he shot for the ending. The unfinished film remained in the vaults of Golden Harvest until Enter the Dragon director, Robert Clouse, picked up the project in 1978 and created an entirely new film to accommodate Lee’s unreleased work.

Some paint this as a tribute, others would argue it was a shameless cash-in scheme, but fans will really need to make their own decision. The story was re-written and given a crime caper feel as actor, Billy Lo (Bruce Lee), must take on a ruthless crime syndicate who will do whatever it takes to make him sign their contract. Billy Lo is played by a host of Bruce Lee doubles, including Kim Tai Jung and future star, Yuen Biao. Stock footage of Bruce in earlier projects is also incorporated and never quite fits with the 1978 film, appearing grainy, occasionally out of focus (due to editing), and altogether clumsy.

One redeeming feature of the 1978 portion of the film is the inclusion of Sammo Hung as action director who recalls he wanted to give the action scenes a suitably Bruce Lee style. For fans the most relevant part of Game of Death comes for the truly stunning finale in which Bruce battles through the pagoda tower, taking on a martial artist of a different style on each floor. This makes the whole film worth while, as Bruce goes head-to-head with excellent opponents in some of his best fights ever seen. He even employed some of his own students to play the roles, just as he had done for Robert Baker in Fist of FuryFist Of Fury
Among the most memorable is Dan Inosanto as Pasqual, a martial artist who fights with weapons. First he uses a pair of sticks but quickly switches to the nunchaku, which culminates in a truly jaw-dropping one-on-one nunchaku battle between him and Bruce. This is my all-time favourite of Bruce’s many fights as it demonstrates the incredible skill and technique of both men using the weapon. Also, it does not overstretch the realism of being hit by a nunchaku. Making contact with the weapon is not excessive but when it does hit, it counts.

Bruce’s Jeet Kune Do philosophy is highly important throughout his portion of the film. It is an invaluable approach of his character in fighting and ultimately defeating adversaries who are fixed to a rigid system. In contrast, Bruce is able to adapt and alter his technique to fit different circumstances. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who is guardian to ‘the floor of the unknown’ embodies this and therefore makes the most superior opponent – fighting with no identifiable style. It is only through discovering and exploiting the weakness of this physically giant adversary that hero, Billy Lo, will stand a chance to win.

This is what is meant by two different films - The 1978 Robert Clouse crime adventure with body doubles and stock footage, and the 1972 Bruce Lee action-packed martial arts showcase which concludes the story. The end is undoubtedly the highlight but the complete package is worth seeing for Bruce fans and anyone interested in the film’s history.

Although far from being outstanding, some of the ‘so bad its good’ edits and attempts to insert Bruce into a new scene mean there is more to be enjoyed than many reviews would have you believe. Fans are advised to treat it as a bit of fun.
Mike Fury 1/30/2009 - top

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 1/30/2009 Mike Fury

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