Monday, January 4, 2010

Game of Death (1978)

Title: Game of Death (1978)

Director: Robert Clouse


Game of Death was the film that Bruce Lee was in the middle of making, when he was suddenly offered to work in his first American production entitled Enter the Dragon. Bruce Lee didn’t want to let the opportunity of making a big American production such as Enter the Dragon pass, so he decided to leave Game of Death unfinished. His plan was to film Enter the Dragon with the Americans, then return and finish filming Game of Death. Problem is that Lee died while making Enter the Dragon, so Game of Death was never finished. What’s a director to do? The main star of your unfinished film has died! And they had only filmed the ending!

Well, what they did was they brought in Robert Clouse, the same American director who had filmed Lee’s Enter the Dragon to try and finish the film. This is where the story gets really ugly for me because what they did was they wrote this whole other film around the footage they had already shot. The result is less then stellar. They did this story about a martial artist who is making action movies named Billy Lo. Billy Lo has gotten super famous as a movie star, and for some reason has decided to go up against the mafia. The mafia decide to kill him while he is shooting a scene for one of his movies. Will they kill him? Will Billy Lo win his fight against the racketeering mafia?

Truth be told this movie almost completely sucks. There are a few things that work, but they are so few and far between that they don’t save the movie. The good stuff is swamped in the middle of all the crap. What’s so crappy about this movie? Well, for starters, there’s some bad taste involved in wanting to exploit Bruce Lee after his death. They had almost no footage of Bruce Lee shot for this movie. The only thing they had was a couple of scenes with Bruce Lee fighting his way through the tower of death. So they decided to film this whole other film, with a double standing in as Bruce Lee and then just splice that footage of the real Lee somewhere near the ending of the film. Problem with this is that you spend the whole movie thinking you are going to see Bruce Lee at some point, but you never do! All you see is this pretty pathetic stunt double imitating Bruce Lee’s movements and facial expressions, but never fully achieving it. Second thing that makes this movie so hard to watch is that they use a lot of filler to extend the films running time. As a result, we get a bunch of people we care nothing about talking a lot of unnecesary crap.

I had no idea what a travesty Game of Death was going to turn out to be. It’s almost an insult to any true Bruce Lee fan. The movie starts out by showing us a couple of minutes of Bruce Lee’s Way of the Dragon. You know that last climactic scene where he fights off Chuck Noris in the Roman coliseum? Well, that’s how the movie starts out, with showing you this whole fight from Way of the Dragon. Then, we are introduced to Billy Lo, the guy playing Bruce Lee. Only he isn’t Bruce Lee! You can tell in various ways that the king of martial arts movies was nowhere to be seen. First up, they use this really crappy visual effect where they simply super impose Bruce Lee’s face over the doubles face! It was so pathetic its beyond description. If felt like an episode of South Park or something. Then, the double who plays Bruce Lee looks absolutely nothing like him!! I mean, what did producers think? Did they think that all Chinese people look alike and that no one was going to notice that THAT actor was not Bruce Lee? Come on dudes! It was pathetic.

For a moment, you think that you are only going to see this double acting as Bruce Lee for a short while, and that at some point, the REAL Bruce Lee was going to take over. Well, sorry to disappoint you guys, but you don’t. You don’t get to see Bruce Lee during most of this film. Only the last 20 minutes or so include the real footage they shot of Lee fighting Kareem Abdul Jabar, and another deadly warrior from the Tower of Death. And of course, these last twenty minutes are awesome because we get to see “The Man” in action. You can’t help but wonder how this movie would have turned out had Bruce Lee been alive! But as it is, we get a Bruce Lee double through out most of the film hiding his face in shadows, wearing fake beards and mustaches, wearing these big ass sun glasses and by giving us his back so we cant clearly see he is not BruceLee. I kept telling my friends "when Bruce Lee is on the will know!" Because Lee had that kind of aura and charisma. As soon as he is on the screen, he lights it up with energy.

There’s a couple of things that make this movie “special”. One of them is when Sammo Hung appears in the film. Sammo Hung is actually a well accomplished martial artist, with many films on his repertoire. He looked so young on this film! Hung has a couple of pounds on him; he isn’t super skinny like Bruce Lee. This dude is fat, but boy can he move! By the way, Sammo Hung himself choreographed many of the martial arts sequences in this film, which is really what makes some of the fighting sequences just a bit more watchable, but you still don’t feel like you are watching that energy and intensity that Bruce Lee puts into his performances and his fights. But anyhows, Sammo Hung appears in a scene when some characters walk into this coliseum where there’s a fighting match going on, and for a couple of minutes, the film focuses on the fight that is going on in the ring. That’s when we get to see Sammo Hung shine. The scene has nothing to do with the film, and its only there to let Sammo show his fighting ability to the world, but it was entertaining to watch Sammo do his thing. He certainly is one of the highlights of the film.

Of course, the main reason to get this movie is simply to watch Bruce Lee do his thing on the last half of the film. When Bruce Lee finally walks into the movie (I mean the real guy, not that stunt double that plays him) you simply know it. You simply feel it. He's got that energy! 100 killowats of pure concentrated ass kicking energy walk on to the screen when Lee finally shows up. He displays once again why he was the best guy with those nunchucks! He has a face off with Kareem Abdul Jabbar which is awesome because Bruce Lee looks so tiny next to Jabbar's towering persona! Its a odd fight, but one that Lee quickly turns to his favor by getting a choke hold on Kareem! Awesome sequence, too bad such a cool sequence is in such a crappy movie!

Another thing that makes this movie interesting is the fact that it’s a kind of prophetic! Why? Well, for one, on Game of Death, Bruce Lee is playing a character who is a martial artist who has suddenly become a famous film star. So basically, we can infer that Billy Lo, the main character on Game of Death is really representative of Bruce Lee himself. So this is one of those films where they are making a movie, within the movie. In one scene, Billy Lo is afraid he will get shot while making his film. But he shoots the movie anyways. An actor that is supposed to use a prop gun, ends up using a real gun, and replaces the blank bullets with real ones! So on one scene where Billy is supposed to get shot with blanks, he gets shot for real! Everyone thinks he is acting, but Billy Lo was actually shot in the head for real! What I found most bizarre about that whole scene is that it was kind of prophetic on how Bruce Lee’s own son, Brandon Lee, died a few years down the line while making The Crow (1994). Someone put a real bullet in the prop gun they were going to shoot with on a certain scene, and kablooey! Brando Lee was no more. But I thought it was extremely eerie how, on Game of Death a film that came years before Brandon Lees tragic death, his death was prophesized! I thought that was freaking weird. Maybe the guy responsible for Brandon Lee's death actually got the idea from this film! Who knows!

Some people might find it in bad taste that this film actually uses real footage from Bruce Lee’s funeral. You see Game of Death suddenly becomes a documentary during its last five minutes. They actually show the way the world reacted to Lee's death, with thousands of people on the streets attending his funeral. They show Bruce Lee’s real dead body being careed around in a casket on his way to his burial. Bad taste? You bee the judge! Anyhows, this movie will more then likely be a let down for many of you guys and gals out there. It has almost no Bruce Lee in it, instead we get lousy looking double who looks NOTHING like Bruce Lee. The film also has some truly sloppy visual effects. I recommend you check this one out if you are a Lee enthusiast. But be warned, the REAL Bruce Lee only appears on the last 20 minutes or so. Its funny, because when Bruce Lee finally appears, all you'll be able to say is "that's what's been missing from this movie this whole  time!"

Rating: 2 out of 5


Scare Sarah said...

That's really interesting. I didn't know all that about this film. Thanks, great post.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks Sarah, this is one of the less known Bruce Lee films, and its probably because its not all that good, except for that last part with Lee himself.

Theres actually a sequel, but they just did the same thing. I might be watching that one soon, but Im not looking forward to it.

Dom Coccaro said...

That's fucking creepy about the gun scene. Man, I need to brush up on my Bruce Lee acumen. Have you seen Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story? It's an above-average biopic from 1993.

Franco Macabro said...

@Dom: Yeah, that scene creeped me out a bit cause it kind of got me to thinking that whoever was responsible for Brandon Lee getting shot exactly the way he did get shot on the set of The Crow...saw Game of Death a couple of times.

Another creepy detail about Game Of Death, the three letters of each word in the title spell GOD when you put them together...creeeepy...

Yeah, saw Dragon the Bruce Lee story, its quite good. That feeling that Lee had, like he had someone chasing after him all the time to kill him,I thought it was very poetic, similar to how death might be chasing after us, when were trying to do what we came here to do. I admired Lee a bit more after watching that movie!!

Hows about Way of the Dragon, you seen that one, its also known as Return of the Dragon. Its the one where Chuck Noris gets his ass kicked by Bruce Lee in the Roman Coliseum. NOt a great movie, again, the best thing about it is the ending.

Hands down, Bruce Lees best film ever is without a doubt Fist of Fury! Wow, best Bruce Lee ever, really freaking furious. That scene where he is asking "Whyd you kill my master??" Why WHy Why??!!" That scene is Bruce Lee at his best!

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

What timing - I just watched Game of Death (and the almost unwatchable Game of Death II) recently! Great review here - give it credit where it's due but don't let crap get away with it either.

I loved seeing the scenes with Bruce Li as well as Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Sammo Hung - those were the highlights of the film. The rest felt kinda morbid with the storyline they went with.

If you haven't seen in, I'd highly recommend Justin Lin's mockumentary called Finishing the Game: The Search for the New Bruce Lee. I saw it at the Reel Asian festival a few years back and it's freaking hilarious - I think you'd really appreciate it. And it's got a fun 70's vibe to it.

Franco Macabro said...

I have Game of Death II, but Im not in a hurry to watch it because I have a fear it will be even worse then this one. With even less Bruce Lee! Is it?

Hey thanks for the suggestion with that documentary, Ill try and check it out!

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

Game of Death II certainly has less Bruce Lee and working it into the 'plot' makes even less sense than the first one. To be honest I barely watched it, but I did let it run start to finish so at least I can say I did :)

The mock-doc is awesome! I hope you love it :)

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, to be honest, I kind of watched Game of Death without much interest! As soon as I noticed that it wasnt Bruce Lee, I was turned off. I kept looking out for him, but he never showed up.

So what my friends and just made fun of the film as we watched it. We couldnt help it, we just couldnt take the movie seriously at all.

Jack Thursby said...

No, no. Watch Game of Death II, it's a lot of fun. Yes, they recycle a bit more Bruce Lee footage at the start but then the other actor takes over as his younger brother. The final fight scene is directed by Yuen Woo Ping is pretty above average for the time.

Franco Macabro said...

I'll check it out then Jack! Thanks for the info! Didnt know Yuen Woo Ping had choreographed it, I'm looking forward to checking it out, I loved True Legend!

Roger v.d. Velde said...

I'm two years behind with this comment, but you're about 30-odd years behind with a review.

That badly superimposed face was just a picture of Bruce's face pasted onto the mirror in from of the double's. You didn't mention the idiotic superimposed towel though.

Two doubles were used, one for mainly face shots and another (a Korean actor) for action. The action double is accomplished in his scenes. The fight scene in the locker room with Bob Wall is great, and the fight in the greenhouse (not in all prints), which was also used in Game of Death II.

I'm getting the vibe you don't know much about Sammo Hung. Calling him 'actually a well-accomplished martial artist' is like referring to Fred Astaire as 'also a pretty good dancer'.

Aficionados of HK cinema know he's been a major talent running through it since about 1970. He's the long-haired fellow who fights Bruce in the opening scene of Enter the Dragon. And the modern Hong Kong action style is almost single-handedly his work.

Franco Macabro said...

You are never too late to comment on this blog my friend.

True, I'm no expert on Sammo Hung, but I have seen enough of his movies to say that the guy can impress; I called him a "well accomplished martial artist" because he is and also to let those readers who dont know anything about him know that he's one of the greats.

I loved him in Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind! Ever seen that one? Also, I most recently saw him on IP Man 2 which was a pretty cool sequel to the first IP Man which I loved.

Thanks for commenting!

Roger v.d. Velde said...

Indeed! Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind is a real classic. I have it on VHS, yet sadly no longer a video player.

I think I must have had a second glass of wine before writing my original comment. It looks awfully pompous when I read it back.

Franco Macabro said...

Spooky Kind was one of the first movies I saw that helped me see what a completely different view of the supernatural other countries have; some of the concepts were so alien to me when I first saw the film; but I was entertained none the less.

Also love Winners and Sinners (directed by Hung himself) is one of the funniest and most action packed Chan movies, I remember laughing like a mad man with that one. Theres a scene where they are all skating on the highway...awesome stuff! Or that scene where one of them thinks he is invisible and everybody plays along...hilarious!

Thomas Hildebrandt said...

Personally i’ve never liked the end result of this movie neither. Sometimes it can be pretty interesting to see it all from another persons point of view. You actually pointed out some interesting facts about this movie, which i’ve never thought about myself. Great review!

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks Thomas, glad you enjoyed the review!


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