Game of Death (1978)

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In 1973, Bruce was making the film Game of Death when he was offered the lead in Enter the Dragon. After his death, Raymond Chow took the footage that was shot and combined it with doubles and changed the story to make what would be considered Bruce Lee’s last film.

Billy Lo is an international action star who is constantly finding himself under threat from a local syndicate led by Dr. Land. Steiner, Land’s right hand man, visits Billy on the set of his latest film and even more, decide to harass his girlfriend, singer Ann Morris. Under constant pressure, Billy finds himself facing off against various members of Land’s organization until the syndicate has had enough. During a shooting of his latest film, Land sends in Stick to kill Billy. Billy is shot in the face during a pivotal scene.

The world learns that Billy Lo is dead. However, the truth is, he is not dead. The only one who knows that Billy is still alive is his most trusted friend, reporter Jim Marshall, who witnesses Billy undergoing facial surgery. However, Billy uses his new “identity” to get even with the organization, beginning with Land’s karate champion Carl Miller. However, that will be nothing compared to Billy’s biggest test when in order to save Ann, he must take on three of Land’s deadliest opponents to get to him.

Well, the story has been told of how in 1978, five years after the death of Bruce Lee, Raymond Chow joined Enter the Dragon helmer Robert Clouse and created a new film with the footage Lee had shot in 1973 for the original Game of Death film. To complete the film, scenes from some of Lee’s earlier films were used, and not one, but two people were hired to play Bruce Lee’s character of Billy Lo. They were Korean tae kwon do fighter Kim Tae-Jeong (who would later play the ghost of Lee in the 1985 crossover No Retreat, No Surrender) and the very acrobatic Yuen Biao. In addition, Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung was brought in not only to play the opponent of Bob Wall’s character, but served as the action director for the new footage. However, one can’t help but be disgusted with one particular scene when Bruce’s head is badly grafted onto Kim Tae-Jeong’s body in a close up scene.

The story here is a very cliched one: action hero fakes death, uses new identity to get revenge on the men responsible for his “death”. While the story is pretty much dirt compared to what Lee originally envisioned (documented in John Little’s book and documentary Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey), it is clear that the action scenes of both new and old are the standouts of the film. In terms of the new action, the standout is clearly Billy against Carl after Carl celebrates his victory. Here, we see Yuen Biao pulling off the amazing flips while Kim does some amazing kicking to Wall.

The old school action of course starts with a retread and cut down clip from the famous Lee vs. Chuck Norris fight from Way of the Dragon. However, it is the climax that really shows Lee’s intentions for the film in terms of style. He wanted to display different forms of martial arts as a way of showing respect for one of his passions. The first fight pits Lee against real-life student Danny Inosanto, who uses first escrima before engaging in a nunchaku battle against Lee. The second pits Lee against Hapkido grandmaster Ji Han-Jae. However, it is the final fight that truly stands out as Lee brought in the famous basketball player Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, who represents pretty much Jeet Kune Do, or “no style” as like Inosanto, had trained under Lee in the martial art he created. This fight really takes the cake as Lee makes Jabbar look fantastic in this fight scene.

Game of Death is Lee’s final kung fu film that can be said to be bastardized five years after his death. However, the action scenes of old and new are the real reasons to see this film. To see Lee’s real vision of the film plus the finale of Lee against three fighters the way Lee meant it, see Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey.

WFG RATING: B-

A Golden Harvest production. Director: Robert Clouse. Producer: Raymond Chow. Writer: Jan Spears. Cinematography: Godfrey Godar. Editing: Alan Patillo.

Cast: Bruce Lee, Gig Young, Colleen Camp, Dean Jagger, Hugh O’Brien, Mel Novak, Robert Wall, Roy Chiao, Danny Inosanto, Ji Han-Jae, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Kim Tae-Jeong, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung.

 

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