So I just got through watching Justin Lin’s mockumentary ‘Finishing the Game’ which is his made up account of the search to find a replacement for Bruce Lee to complete the movie he died before finishing, the now classic for all the wrong reasons ‘Game of Death’. While watching this very funny little movie it dawned on me that I haven’t seen ‘Game Death’ in my adult life, with my last viewing being close to 25 years ago when I was in high school, or maybe even grade school – and I OWN the freaking movie. I own all of Bruce Lee’s movies by the way, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember what ‘Game of Death’ was actually about so I took it out of the shrink wrap, where it’s been for at least four years, tossed in the old DVD player to see if it’s nearly as bad as it has been purported to be over the years. And after seeing it again… well… it’s kinda bad… but…
Our film opens with possibly the longest opening title sequence in the history of movies with the titles sliding across amidst archival footage of Bruce Lee kicking much ass. Since Mr. Lee had been dead for a few years I’m assuming we had to get Bruce up in here as much as possible and this six minute opening title sequence was as good a way as any. We meet Billy Lo, who is intermittently played by a number of dudes including Bruce Lee, who is kicking Chuck Norris’ ass on some film set when a light falls from a fixture and almost kills him. We soon learn that Billy is being harassed by some entertainment mobster named Dr. Land (Dean Jagger) who has sent his right hand man Mr. Steiner (Hugh O’Brien) to tell Billy how it’s going to be. Billy slaps Steiner silly and sends him about his merry way. Billy then travels to see his girl Ann (Coleen Camp) who is a singer of sorts and is also being harassed by this entertainment syndicate of mobsters. The mobsters ain’t none too happy with Billy and his refusal to join their conglomerate, and they’re doubly unhappy that he won’t let his girl sign, so they arrange for Billy to suffer an onscreen accident which leads to Billy pretending that he’s dead so that he can get his revenge!
There are soooooo many things that just aren’t right about this movie that they are almost too numerable to name. The history behind ‘Game of Death’ has been well documented over the years, a movie Lee had to put on ice while he shot ‘Enter Dragon’, and then tragically passed away before completing the film, thus leaving the powers that be to use the footage that he had shot, along with some archival footage, toss in a couple of stand-ins and like Magic: a ‘Bruce Lee’ movie is born. I think we all realize the first problem, despite beliefs to the contrary, is that all Asian people don’t look alike. Even putting Jackie Onassis oversized sunglasses and a big beard on some cat couldn’t make him look even remotely like Bruce Lee. Obviously the now legendary ‘technique’ of pasting Lee’s face in the mirror reflection was simply hilarious, but to have some dude who looks nothing like Lee walking through a hallway, and then a cut to a grainy stock footage shot of a close up of the actual Bruce Lee’s eyes, then a cutaway back to a wide shot of that mysterious stand in again was just plain weird. I thought after he got ‘shot in the face’ they would go ahead and use the other guy since the Doc did say he would need facial reconstructive surgery, but no, that would have made the final fight scenes with the actual Bruce Lee null and void, but then why mention the ‘reconstructive surgery’ in the first place.
The actual story that they went ahead and decided to stick this spare footage in wasn’t so bad in that it makes about as much sense as any other lame action movie, and the action sequences in the film wouldn’t have been so bad either if they didn’t keep going back to the stock footage of the real Bruce Lee. The guys who substituted for Lee seem to have been quality fighters but they couldn’t accurately mimic Lee’s style, which just threw everything else off kilter. Now by the time the actual Bruce Lee gets to the ‘restaurant’ and he fights the three masters there, ending with the fight against Kareem Abdul Jabbar, you then see the real tragedy of this film for if Bruce Lee hadn’t died so prematurely, this movie could have been one of the best Kung Fu flicks ever.
As ‘Game of Death’ stands now, it is merely a comical collection of scenes stitched together to form possibly the worst movie idea of all time. I know it wouldn’t have happened, but they would have been better served just trying to make a star out of one of those stand-ins and just created a stand alone Kung Fu movie without the presence of Bruce Lee, but then that would like made sense.
Lastly I just want to mention that this movie had actor Mel Novak in it as one of the heavies. Why does this matter to me? Because Mel Novak also played the heavy in possibly the worst movie ever made ‘Vampire Assassin’, prompting me to ask why in the hell does Mel Novak hate me so much?