The Game of Death (1978)
Starring: Bruce Lee, Gig Young, Colleen Camp, Dean Jagger, Tae-jeong Kim, Biao Yuen, Robert Wall, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mel Novak
Directed By: Robert Clouse, Bruce Lee (uncredited)
Written By: Robert Clouse
Rating: R (US) Running Time: 1 hr 25 min
I’m sorry (not really), but I think The Game of Death should never have been made. It certainly shouldn’t have been included in the Bruce Lee ‘Ultimate Collection’ on DVD, that’s for sure. Mr. Lee is only in the movie 11 minutes for Peat’s sake!
This is the one with that ‘yellow’ jumpsuit. That’s how I remember it. Lee’s 11 minutes in the Red Pepper restaurant, going from floor to floor, classing up the joint with his signature style of martial arts, physical prowess, and smart sense of humor. Taking on opponent after opponent, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar! But only for 11 precious minutes – right at the end of the film.
To get there, you have to endure Robert Clouse’s attempt to craft a Bruce Lee film – without Bruce Lee. As he cobbles together clips from Lee’s library, with footage starring a couple of actors who kinda look like the legend (if you were drunk, and blind). Throwing them on the screen with all the care and attention you’d expect to see from your mum’s first attempt at scrap-booking. With varying quality film stock, and an egregious use of makeup, lighting and props, all to squeeze box office gold from Lee’s loyal fans. Heck, this film even tastelessly uses actual footage from Lee’s funeral, including a shot of his open casket!
Now to be fair, not everything before those Kill Bill inspiring long johns, is all bad. John Barry’s score is nice to listen to, and the movie has plenty of action. It’s just not Bruce Lee action. Sure, his understudy’s manage to pull off a couple of half decently coordinated fight scenes. And they certainly remembered to include some Bruce-isms, like nonchalantly pushing away useless henchmen after beating the crap out of them. Or adding a touch of flare between attacks, while howling like a wounded cat. But they just don’t have Lee’s speed or lazer focus. Bruce could hit – fast and hard. He somehow brought gravitas to his roles, while also being playful with his opponents.
If you’re a Bruce Lee fan, you’ll probably (like me), really appreciate those closing moments of the film. If this is your first Lee film – stop! Go check his IMDB page, and start from the beginning! The Game of Death is rated R for its violent content.
With the hodgepodge of footage from different movies, I’d say this is best watched on a TV. Maybe as part of a Bruce Lee marathon! Only watch this one first, and save the better movies for later.
When Lee climbs the stairs and enters the Red Pepper restaurant, it’s like a breath of fresh air. After enduring pale imitations for most of the film, it’s so nice to see the real deal finally show up. His fights in the restaurant are the single best reason to see this film.