From the Vault – Game of Death (1978)

Director: Robert Clouse | Runtime: 1h 40mins | Action, Crime, Drama

When Martial Arts movie star Billy Lo (Bruce Lee/Tae-jeong Kim) won’t sign a deal with a corrupt and dangerous management company, he must fake his death and take down the people who attempted to murder him.

One of the obvious tragedies in Hollywood history is the untimely death of Martial Arts legend Bruce Lee, who graced us with defining moments in Martial Arts history. One of those is the yellow and black jumpsuit donned in his last ever movie appearance in Game of Death. While people romanticise the idea that this is the last part of Bruce Lee’s great legacy, the movie’s incompleteness barely reaches the level of quality that made the man a star.

Truth be told this is a barely Bruce Lee movie, with the exception of the last 15 minutes. For the majority of the movie they use Tae-jeong Kim as a stand-in, perpetually wearing sunglasses to mask the actors true identity and occasionally using shadows as well. While this is in honour of the movies original leading man, the film can’t escape the fact that what made Lee a star was much more than just looks and his unique fighting style.

The charisma and confidence is completely lost, and while I understand it’s difficult to mask this kind of drastic change it does take away from the overall quality of the movie. One scene actually tries to visually stitch Bruce Lee’s face onto the screen, and how that made it out of the editing room we will never know. The movie consistently jolts while they try to implement random shots of Lee’s face into different standoffs, doing what they can with the situation but still never finding the spark that made movies like Enter the Dragon (1973) and Way of the Dragon (1972) so iconic.

…watching Bruce Lee duck and dive around a conveyor-belt of enemies is exactly why people watch his movies.

But the movies problems don’t just lie on the constant jolting, the narrative change is somewhat confusing as well. While the story is simple, taking the realism of Lee’s life to incorporate the movie star aspect (maybe a little too much, using footage of his funeral), it’s the villains that seem muddled. Not many movies would go for using a management company as sadistic killers, and for good reason. They are forced into the world rather than forming a natural opposition, and for that the delightful campiness of the final product loses it’s sting.

At the end of the movie we finally get to see Lee in all his glory, using the initial footage from 5 years earlier to bring the film to it’s climax. This is the highlight really, watching Bruce Lee duck and dive around a conveyor-belt of enemies is exactly why people watch his movies. His unstoppable charisma and unique style are oozing through, but unfortunately you have to endure a lot of weak points before you reach this part, leaving it bittersweet at best.

This is a movie full of ‘if only’s’, but the biggest question is really if it was necessary? Its honourable in it’s intentions but really falls flat as a standalone film, not adding to the legacy of Bruce Lee but reminding you just how good he is in other films. If you really want to put yourself through this, watch the last 15 minutes, as the rest is a devastating reminder of what could have been.

Verdict:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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