Movie of the Day – The Game of Death
August 29, 2011 2 Comments
I want you all to pour one out for your hoomie, Bruce Lee. Game of Death was to be Bruce Lee’s final movie that showed off his amazing fighting style of Jeet Kune Do, but he left the film to work on Enter The Dragon and died after the making of the movie. The Game of Death is basically the last film to have been made by Lee, but sadly never finished. It was ambitious to say the least, with Lee showing off the versatility of his fighting style with a big final set piece and cementing his status as an icon of Chinese and American cinema. I choose this today as it the movie wasn’t even supposed to have seen the light of day or even be finished for that matter. Some look at it as a way to profit off of his death and others look at it as the last gift Bruce Lee had to give to his fans and those that follow his teachings.
Now the film actually has two different plots. Before Lee’s untimely death, the plot of the movie involved Lee character named Hai Tien who was a champion martial artist and his involvement with a gang kidnapping his sister. The gang enlists Tien to travel to a sacred Pagoda where a treasure (never mention or shown) is guarded by a group of highly skilled martial artists. Tien must battle his way to the top and defeat the master of the pagoda to get the item and rescue his sister.
Since Lee died before all this could be realized, the producers and Golden Harvest Production decided to rework the movies plot line and use stand-ins, double, masks, anything that they could use to make it seem like Lee was still the star of the movie. The 1978 versions is essentially a new movie based on the same material as the first. The title was change from “The Game of Death” to just “Game of Death”. The plot was a bit more convoluted and involved only 11 minutes of the original footage of Lee in the movie, before using doubles to make the movie. I won’t get into that plot line but suffice to say it is just a mess of a movie.
The original film is what you want to see. But since so little footage exists to make a fleshed out movie, there was a documentary called Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey, which documented Bruce’s life, but also included the original footage of The Game of Death. The footage contained the center piece of the movie which is the fight at the pagoda but only 3 scenes were filmed due to Lee’s departure for Enter the Dragon.
It might be weird that I am choosing to write about a movie that wasn’t even completed. It’s the fact that this movie was meant to be soo much more than just another Bruce Lee movie. The small footage that is available, while action oriented, showed a philosophical side to combat, where Bruce goes up against masters of certain types of combat and how his Jeet Kune Do style allows for fluidity and can adapt to the rigid style of others martial arts. It was a lesson that Bruce wanted to showcase in the movie and how his style was, in most cases superior since it incorporated many techniques. Sadly we would never get to see the complete film, only what remains are low quality footage and the last remnants of the film.
The Game of Death, while not complete, still has a cultural impact on his legacy and film making. The most prominent feature or memory of the movie is the yellow tracksuit that he wore while fighting in the pagoda. You know exactly what the suit looks like and if you think hard enough, you can recall seeing homages to this suit in many different movies. Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Vol. 1 wore it in the tea house scene near the end of the movie. Bruce Leeroy wore it in The Last Dragon and hell it was even in Revenge of the Nerds where Takashi was wearing a similar suit during the tricycle race of the last part of the movie. One last image of the movie and of Bruce Lee, influenced so many directors and fans.
I would recommend, if you can, to watch the original version of the movie. If you watch the 1978 release, prepare to laugh as there are a lot of funny ways they trick the audience into thinking that they are watching Bruce Lee. The scene with the double looking into the mirror is hilarious since the reflection aspect of the camera shows an obvious cardboard cutout of Bruce Lee. If you own the 2-disc special edition of Enter the Dragon, the second disc contains the documentary which has the original scenes from The Game of Death. If you don’t check it out on youtube and watch Bruce Lee in all his glory.