Game of Death (1978)

What Must Be Done is Being Done.

When I reviewed Fist of Fury, my coworker friend Markle felt it was necessary to come to the defense of his fellow Asian Bruce Lee and request a movie that he felt would redeem the man.  He requested today’s movie and I pretty much forgot about it.  But today I had been looking for something that I could watch in my living room so that I could watch the movie while using my stationary bike to increase my sexy and hopefully make Markle leave his lady to get a little piece of the Robert, but I had no movies from Netflix in, and I haven’t seen anything on RedBox I wanted to watch in some time now.  I instead decided to browse through my Netflix instant queue to see if there was any talent within, and I found the movie Markle had requested.  So I decided to review Game of Death, originally written by Bruce Lee, but rewritten by Jan Spears, directed by Robert Clouse with the action choreographed by Sammo Hung, and starring Bruce Lee, Kim Tai-jong, Yuen Biao, Dean Jagger, Gig Young, Colleen Camp, Mel Novak, James Tien, Robert Wall, Dan Inosanto, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Chuck Norris, and Sammo Hung.

A criminal syndicate, run by Dr. Land (Dean Jagger), is trying to pressure a martial arts movie star named Billy Lo (Bruce Lee, Kim Tai-jong, or Yuen Biao depending on when you’re looking) into signing a contract with them.  Both Billy and his fiancée Ann Morris (Colleen Camp) refuse, so the pressure is amped up, getting them attacked numerous times.  It reaches its peak when Land’s assassin, Stick (Mel Novak), sneaks onto the set of Billy’s latest film and replaces a blank with a real bullet, hitting Billy in the face.  Working with a reporter friend named Jim Marshall (Gig Young) and the doctor, Billy fakes his death so that he can take the fight to Dr. Land and take them by surprise.

What in the hell is wrong with Markle?  This movie sucked.  But the reason this movie sucked was not because of Bruce Lee.  It was because of the lack of Bruce Lee.  Bruce Lee actually died during the production of this movie, but the director wasn’t about to let that little hiccup slow him down.  He decided to use the 11 minutes that Bruce had filmed of the movie – along with scenes from his other movies and body doubles – to make Bruce appear in the movie anyway.  They seemingly had to hastily rewrite the intended story in order to make it work and explain why you couldn’t often see Bruce Lee’s character, and the story shows it.  But the story itself isn’t really all that bad for a martial arts movie; it was just hard to figure that out when I kept getting distracted by how badly Bruce was substituted.  We’ll get to that in the next paragraph.  I feel like the movie might not have been that bad if someone could go back in and use the technology of today to put Bruce into the whole movie, young Jeff Bridges style.  It’s fairly typical stuff for a martial arts movie.  The bad guy does something to the main character that pisses him off, and he fixes everything with the power of his fists.  Before he’s figured that part out, he wastes a pretty good amount of time going around talking to people about what he should do in this situation.  I too feel that the first places I go when I have a problem are a reporter and a Kabuki actor.  I also thought it was a strange bit of horrible coincidence that a large part of the movie revolves around shooting blanks at Billy but them actually killing him because that same thing would lead to the death of Bruce’s son later on.  But I wasn’t really worried when Billy got shot in the movie.  They had plenty of backup Billy’s apparently, and it would just be an excuse to wrap his face up for a large portion of the movie.  The ending of the movie was also really lackluster.  The bad guy dies.  ALL WRAPPED UP!  Let’s go home, gentlemen.  Good work!

Obviously, the look was my biggest issue with the movie.  More specifically, the shitty way that they patched in Bruce Lee when he wasn’t actually there.  It was always obvious and usually distracting.  If you’d like the best example of how bad it was, it would have to be the part where they literally taped a cardboard cutout of Bruce Lee’s face on a mirror over the face of the substitute.  That is not a joke.  They also were big fans of using their actor and cutting away to a picture of Bruce Lee’s eyes, or his scene from one of his other movies.  He has an entire fight with Chuck Norris in the movie that was just clips from Way of the Dragon.  I guess Chuck Norris is so powerful that he roundhouse kicked that movie and it ended up in this movie.  They also used a lot of stand in work, but they were both obviously not Bruce Lee, and that’s saying a lot since my racism makes me think they all look the same.  I’m pretty sure Markle and my friend TimKim stood in for Bruce Lee at one point in this movie.  The fights involving the non-Bruce people were not that spectacular, but the fights where Bruce Lee was actually there were good.  The bulk of it is in the last 20 minutes of the movie, which is also the only parts of the movie that I would say are worth watching.  Thankfully, you can skip right there with Netflix and get everything you need out of the movie.  Horribly, I was not afforded that luxury.  But the last 20 minutes is good times, while actually not being much more than a series of Bruce Lee fights back to back.  The first one starts as a fight where Bruce puts a Charles Manson style X on the forehead of his enemy with a jade fishing pole, then a standard fight, and the boss battle with a giant black man.

I can’t really say anything about Bruce Lee’s performance in this movie.  He didn’t offer one.  The only scenes he’s in are fights at the end of the movie.  The stand in people are wooden and unconvincing, and the people that dubbed his voice made Bruce Lee’s trademark “WAAAAAAAH”’s in battle sound really goofy.  Dean Jagger was actually an interesting character to me.  I liked that he was a mob boss but didn’t choose to take the standard intimidating guy performance.  He actually seemed likeable.  And it was also nice that he never really discussed their crimes openly with his associates, as if there was a chance he was being recorded at all times.  I actually liked Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in this movie.  But he also didn’t really speak.  He was just a gigantic black guy fighting tiny Asian people.  I think it should also serve as a lesson that you should never teach giant black guys martial arts.  They would be too powerful!  It’s bad enough that tiny Asian people can use them against us!  The guy Bruce fought right before him caused me to laugh out loud too because, when they met, he obviously said something, but they muted him.  So he just stands there for about 10 seconds moving his mouth in silence before they start to throw down.

Aside from the last 20 minutes of the movie, Game of Death is a total failure in filmmaking.  The story was pretty basic.  At least I think it was, as I was too distracted through the entire movie with the horrible way they tried to have Bruce Lee in this movie when he wasn’t there.  The fights that they have that Bruce had already recorded were good, but the rest were just bad.  Personally, I think this movie should have died when Bruce did.  There was nothing in the bulk of this movie worth seeing for anything other than an instruction in what not to do.  I recommend the last 20 minutes of this movie for viewing, and the rest of the movie for burning.  Game of Death gets “A venereal disease.  Often terminal” out of “You lose, Carl Miller!”

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