Newest Review: ... that there were plenty of more footage available of Bruce fighting in the film. Anyway, the film is basically full of Bruce Lee stand ins... more
The Last Dragon
The Game of Death (DVD)
Member Name: Jake Speed
The Game of Death (DVD)
Advantages: The actual footage of Bruce Lee in the film and on the extras is great
Disadvantages: The film is poor and hardly features Bruce Lee
The problem was that they only had about fifteen to twenty minutes of useable footage of Lee fighting in the pagoda and so had to construct a fairly shameless and tasteless brand new film around it that had absolutely nothing to do with Bruce Lee's conception for Game of Death. The only happy thing to report is that more footage of Lee shooting Game of Death has since been unearthed and is available on the extras here. You can see him practicing and filming the fight scenes, goofing around on the pagoda set, and just generally get more of a feel for what he was trying to do and what Game of Death might have been like had he lived to finish it. Even Game of Death outtakes or raw rehearsals featuring the real Bruce Lee in his dapper yellow tracksuit are preferable to anything that Robert Clouse's 1978 Game of Death throws at us in the (many) scenes where Lee is absent. Clouse's Game of Death begins in a most bizarre and misdirecting fashion. A snazzy James Bondish title sequence and stirring music by John Barry. Yes, that John Barry. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised as John Barry did score Star Crash, but I digress. One is immediately aware that this is a much more professional and expensive production than the Golden Harvest films made with Lee in the early seventies. It was their most expensive film to date and they even managed to rope in a few American actors like Colleen Camp and Dean Jagger. Rumour has it that Steve McQueen and Muhammad Ali declined offers to appear in the film and you can only applaud their sound and wise judgment. The most salient and obvious annoyance here is that the scant and authentic Game of Death footage they've assembled involving the real Bruce Lee doesn't amount to much and is consigned to the end of the film.
So about 85 to 90% of Game of Death presents us with an entirely new (and tedious) film involving Billy Lo, a martial arts film star who is being harassed by a crime organistion headed by Dr Land (Dean Jagger). Billy Lo is supposed to be Bruce Lee but he's mostly played by Tai Chung Kim in an assortment of beards and fake disguises. Anyway, Billy refuses to buckle to these crooks and they try to kill him by sneaking real bullets into a gun on the set of one of his films. There is a very dark irony to this scene now as Lee's son Brandon was killed in an accident on the set of his film The Crow involving firearms. Lo survives but requires plastic surgery. A very convenient way to further brush under the carpet the fact that Bruce Lee is hardly ever in this film. You soon realise that Game of Death 1978 is a complete rip-off and that Bruce Lee is not going to be in this film much but to make matters worse they keep inserting brief snippets of him from Way of the Dragon and Fist of Fury as if that is somehow going to fool us into thinking we are watching a new Bruce Lee film. The most ridiculous moment comes when an actor has (and I'm not making this up) a cardboard cutout of Bruce Lee's likeness superimposed over his face! Game of Death 1978 is absolutely shameless and pointless and the tasteless nadir of the picture arrives when they have Billy Lo faking his death and then show real footage from Bruce Lee's actual funeral! Despite the higher producton value these bizarre attempts to shoehorn Lee into the film through archive footage drag the film down to Ed Wood levels of head scratching ineptitude.
It doesn't even really work as a camp guilty pleasure despite the ripe acting from some of the supporting cast. Bob Wall pops up as a heavy but Tai Chung Kim as Billy Lo (despite looking a bit like Lee and obviously knowing his stuff when it comes to fighting and martial arts) is just plain dull in the lead and makes one appreciate Bruce Lee even more. Bruce Lee was charismatic just standing doing nothing but Kim just doesn't have the "It Factor" of the late star he is filling in for. This version of Game of Death is only worth watching for the fight sequences at the end involving the real Bruce Lee with Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Dan Insosanto. After completing production on Way of the Dragon, Lee heard that his friend Jabbar (the 7ft tall American basketball star) was in Hong Kong and got in touch in relation to Game of Death. Jabbar had first met Lee in 1967 and soon became one of his students. Even though he didn't have a script yet, Lee thought that Jabbar would be perfect to play the last floor guardian in Game of Death. A giant with a formless and unpredictable martial arts style who will present his character with a most unique challenge. The pair met up and shot a highly entertaining and unusual fight sequence for Game of Death with Lee wearing the iconic yellow tracksuit with black stripe that would later feature in Kill Bill. Lee's snazzy and modern looking jumpsuit is a deliberate counterpoint to the white karate clobber and headbands worn by his opponents in Game of Death. His message was that you should look beyond mere tradition and be ready to embrace the new. The fight with Jabbar is brilliant. What a great film this could have been if Lee had completed it when he was still alive - and what a wonderful experience by the way to watch a Bruce Lee fight sequence backed by a stirring John Barry action beat!
Lee had intended Game of Death to be a spectacular showcase for his many friends in the world of martial arts and planned to contact several famous fighters from around the world to appear in the film. As it turned out though he only filmed further (fairly) complete material with hapkidoist Ji Han Jae (who didn't consent to appearing in the 1978 version) and then a nunchaku duel with Dan Insosanto (which was always removed from British versions of Game of Death anyway). James Tien was also featured in some sequences as he was to play Lee's sidekick and friend in the film. The new footage is expanded with all of the fight sequences he filmed and it amounts to considerably more material than was present in the 1978 film. We learn much more about what Lee wanted to do in the film and how he wanted it to look. Scenes are presented with his notes in the form of subtitles. After viewing this footage in complete isolation from the Robert Clouse film you get a much better feel for the atmosphere Lee was striving for and what it might have been like if it had ever been completed. Some of Lee's students and Dan Insosanto recall their memories of the sequences that were shot and you also get an alternative approach by Lee to defeating Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Great stuff. There are also deleted scenes and documentaries that supply a lot of interesting biographical and anecdotal material. Did you know for example that George Lazenby was going to be in Game of Death? Although he had fallen on hard times, Lazenby had been James Bond only three years before and met Raymond Chow to discuss making some Golden Harvest pictures with Bruce Lee. When Lee died, Lazenby did the planned pictures alone. If you enjoy geeky trivia of this nature then you'll find a fair amount and you also get a commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Loga.
Of itself, Game of Death 1978 is mostly a waste of time and should never have been made but the 40 minutes of recovered footage on the extras is a joy and makes the film worth buying for that alone. At the time of writing you can buy Game of Death for about five pounds.
Summary: Worth a look for the recovered material