Flashback Review: Bruce Lee's Game of Death (1978)
Much to popular demand, the Flashback Review is back !!!! I decided to write this comeback review on none other than Bruce Lee’s The Game of Death. This was the last movie Bruce Lee worked on before his untimely death. The footage that was used in the movie was filmed in 1972 & 1973. Bruce Lee died on July 20, 1973. However, the movie Game of Death was released much later in Hong Kong on March 23, 1978, and in the United States on June 9, 1979 due to some production issues that I will discuss later. In Hong Kong, the movie made approximately $735,000, and in the US, it made $10 million. Worldwide, the movie made $32 million dollars, which was huge at the time in which filmmakers were banking in on Bruce Lee’s popularity in popular culture.
The movie is about a martial artist actor that will fake his death in order to find the people that are trying to kill him. Very basic, but promising. Too bad that Bruce Lee did not finish to film the movie. I will not get into the plot in more detail because it has been done many times since the film’s release.
In order to get a good grasp of the movie, it is nobody’s secret that Bruce Lee was able to film only the climatic fighting scenes. Originally there was supposed to have 5 level of fighters, but in the end, there were only 3 and the one with Kareem Abdul Jabbar was only partially filmed. This led to the filmmakers to make many modifications to the plot and bring in Bruce Lee replacements to complete the movie. In the end, they used up only 11 minutes of the original 100 that was filmed.
Kim Tai -Jong and Yuen Biao played Bruce Lee’s role and Chris Kent voiced it. The issue with this is that none of them really looked like Bruce, so they spent most of the film in disguise with false beards and large dark sunglasses. You know there is an issue when at some point, they just use an actual picture of Bruce Lee to cover the actor’s face. That must be one of the worst film productions that ever existed.
Several actors associated with previous Lee movies were included in the reshoot for the final 1978 film. For example, Robert Wall, a villain in both Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon, played a kickboxer named Carl Miller who must battle with Billy Lo. Sammo Hung, who appeared in Enter the Dragon, served as the fight coordinator for the reshoot of Game of Death, and appeared in the scene as a ring opponent for Miller. To maintain continuity with the fight footage taken from the original filming, Dan Inosanto (renamed Pasqual) and Ji Han-Jae (whose character was unnamed and was not shown until near the end of the film) were given small parts as additional enforcers for the syndicate. Although Chuck Norris is credited as starring in the film, his role is limited to clips from Way of the Dragon inserted into the movie.
The best part of the film I would say are the fights that Bruce Lee was able to film, more specifically with Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Obviously, there is the size difference, but I found it quite entertaining with Kareem’s long legs and far reach, was using some martial arts like moves to fight. I think the contrast of size is what Bruce Lee wanted to accomplish and that is exactly what he got. Too bad that the entire scene was not filmed with these two legends. Check out the scene below:
The rest of the movie concerning the plot, the dialogue, the acting is really, really, really, bad. It makes Sharknado look like an Academy Award contender. I would even say that it is quite painful to watch the entire movie. The fight scenes are good like the fight at the ring, some of the street fights, but they were coordinated by Sammo Hung, so we know why they were good.
When you look at this movie with some hindsight, it looks like the filmmakers wanted to bank in on Bruce Lee’s popularity. They certainly did with their Box Office earnings. However, I think at the time Game of Death was released, it would have served the Bruce Lee Legend better to use the 100 minutes of film Bruce Lee did film, and make a documentary. Unfortunately, some of the footage was misplaced in The Golden Harvest Archives. The remaining footage was eventually made into a documentary entitled Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey which was released in October 2000. I think this is a more valuable tribute to Bruce Lee than having The Game of Death as his last of his movie legacy.
In summary, if you are a Bruce Lee fan, you will enjoy his fight scenes, that is for sure. As for the rest, it is mediocre at best. It just feels like everything was patched together and producers trying to bank on Bruce Lee’s popularity. It had much Box Office success. However, a tribute to the legend would have been more appropriate.
I give the movie a 6.5 on 10, mostly because of the martial art fighting.