A martial arts movie star must fake his death to find the people who are trying to kill him.
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Wow. “Game of Death” (1978) is probably one of the most outrageous movies I have ever seen. In my life. It was made from Bruce Lee’s unfinished film. Although Bruce Lee died before this project was complete, Hollywood still took the task. It created a movie that was ’dedicated’ to Bruce Lee and his fighting style Jeet Kune Do. Unfortunately the film was a disaster.
One of the many odd elements of this film is it’s ignorance. First it ignores the fighter and figure that was Bruce Lee. Most importantly the movie ignores the standards of good film making. For instance, the editing is abrupt rubbish. The casting is a joke. There’s nothing funny about this film and how it ignores being … a film.
The only classic thing about this movie is Hollywood exploitation. It blatantly exploits Bruce Lee’s character in many of it’s scenes. It’s ironic that the protagonist of this film is a washed-out, fake Bruce Lee, who finds himself beaten through out the picture. It is as if the director has spited the man personally! On the other hand the director also made a cheesy film. It can be seen as a classic 70’s flick with a poor story line.
Originally “Game of Death” was created to be Bruce Lee’s thesis/ After a life time of work, Lee created a fighting philosophy called Jeet Kune Do. The belief system is the foundation of today’s mixed martial arts. Lee believed that an effective fighter must study the arts and use only what is practical. This creates an adaptable and flexible fighter. However, traditional martial arts emphasizes strict structure and movements. Their rigidity is their weakness. As a result, Bruce Lee meant to display this argument through his final film. Unfortunately he died before he could complete the “Game of Death”
In 1978 Hollywood finished Bruce Lee’s movie and sold it in theaters. In this new “film” Bruce Lee’s character was shared by Yuen Baio and Kim Tai Chung. The main character, named Billy Lo, is a washed out action hero who sold out to the mob. The gang’s funded his success and now they want his money back. Through out the film, Billy must fight for his life and struggle against extortion. He turns the tide only after they almost kill him and his girlfriend. And so the rest of the film centers on Billy’s fight for revenge. This Hollywood cliché of revenge dilutes Bruce Lee’s original intention.
Although both films feature an action hero-turned fighter, their motivations vastly differ. In the 1978 Hollywood version, Billy Lo simply wants to end his harassment. He is constantly battered by bikers, mob men and old dudes until he grows sick of it. On the other hand, the original Billy Lo was a prized star who invaded a 5 story building. This original protagonist took the task to steal an object from the top floow and save his sister. Unlike the Hollywood character, Bruce Lee’s original wins when all other men have failed.
There are vast differences in Bruce Lee’s acting and the characterizations done by Yuen Biao and Kim Tai Chung. First and most obvious is the fact that neither men look like Bruce Lee. Instead, they wear sunglasses, hats, and fake beards that grow more ridiculous as the film goes on. The second difference is their fabricated fighting styles. For instance, Bruce Lee is known for his clean cut fight scenes; he is always in control. Sometimes he even taunts his opponents. However his stand-ins are constantly fooled by their enemies. This is the only martial arts film I’ve seen where a hero is genuinely beaten by an extra! In several scenes, random stunt men stomp Yuen Baio into the ground. This pattern of humiliating loss is nothing like the Bruce Lee I know.
To further the pain, Bruce/Billy is tormented by a weak villain. Jim Marshall (Gig Young) is a kind-faced bad guy with a cane who beats Billy Lo regularly. In their final scene, he overcomes Billy’s complex fighting with the simple art of fisticuffs. Yes, fisticuffs, a fighting style with raised fists that looks like Notre Dame’s Irish mascot. Jim Marshall was able to take down Billy Low with these simple moves. In addition Jim was the man who oversaw Billy’s demise. Fight after fight, he gloated tall over Billy’s beaten body. Then he would remind Billy to “pay up next time”.
Of course the main villain and the man with the cash is a weaker and older Dr. Land. He is a feeble old man who laughs with joy whenever his pet fish devours another tiny fish. He is a man who controls the obedience of Jim Marshall and the entire gang of bikers. At the core of his force are four powerful fighters … and Mr. Marshall. One by one, Billy assassinates them until he reaches Dr. Land. However, even he cannot defeat Dr. Land. Instead, the doctor abruptly slips off a roof, right in front of Billy. This is the end of the movie, and it underscores the many flaws.
Of the plethora of errors in this movie, the sloppy fight scenes stand out the most. First recycled fights are used. These fights are from Bruce Lee’s older films. Every once in a while an older image of Bruce Lee will be cut into the film. Many times the lighting and background will suddenly change. Most noticeably Bruce Lee will look nothing like Yuen Baio and Kim Tai Chung, even though all of them play the same character. On a positive note, several minutes of Bruce Lee’s original “Game of Death” is inserted into this film. However the differences in lighting and look stand out like a sore fist.
Another flaw of this film is Billy Lo. For a martial arts hero, he is constantly abused. He is kicked, beaten, extorted and even laughed at regularly through out the picture. Even when Billy’s victory is as clear as daylight, things suddenly change. Without warning Billy is punched in the belly by some random dude and quickly stomped to the ground by the minor stunt men. Even the final two fights are an embarrassment to Billy. First he is beaten mercilessly by Jim Marshall, a man with little or no knowledge of martial arts. Second, Billy fails to defeat Dr. Land, the true villain of the film. Instead, the doctor merely slips to his death to euthanize this movie.
The editors in this film weren’t the only ones to create a bad movie. It was a team effort. I don’t know who’s idea it was to use random stock footage of Bruce Lee’s funeral in this film. Furthermore, I don’t want to know who decided to include a scene where they desecrate the man’s grave. Like the script, the poor editing and bad acting, this scene was done in poor taste. It is the exploitation of a human being’s death. It is a celebrity sacrifice at it’s best.
In the “Game of Death” (1978), Bruce Lee fails to become an honored fighter. Instead, his character and to an extent he, is kicked around and abused by Hollywood sellouts. His effigy is treated as weaker, inferior and slapped around by random stunt men. He even loses his proud culture for the sake of American dominance. And yet, despite the film, Bruce Lee is still a prized fighter. Known as the father of mixed martial arts, his memory lives on even thirty years after his death.
I continued to watch “Game of Death” (1978) to see how Bruce Lee was honored. Instead I found him disgraced. Perhaps I will look at his original footage for my next review. Until then, this film gets 0 kicks out of 4. It is not a kick ass karate film : (