Game of Death (1978)

I was asked to review a movie of my choice. I decided to write a review on my favourite martial arts movie. But, before I get messages from fanboys about “Fist of Fury is the best”, let me tell you why I make such a statement.

Cast

Dean Jagger as criminal mastermind Dr. Land, Sammo Hung as fighter Lo Chen, Bruce Lee’s top student Dan Inosanto as Pasqual and student/basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar as Hakeem. Supporting roles are attached to Hugh O’Brian as the enforcer Steiner and Mel Novak as marksman Stick. Bob Wall co-stars as champion fighter Carl Miller. Colleen Camp plays Billy Lo’s singer girlfriend Ann Morris and Gig Young as his news reporting friend Jim Marshall.

Plot

Bruce Lee’s character is Billy Lo. A successful, famous action movie star. Along with his girlfriend Ann, (a famous singer) the two are being harassed by a local crime organisation, who want to add them to their roster of clientele. Headed by the relentless Dr.Land and his no nonsense enforcer Steiner, the two of them pursue the couple everywhere they go and consistently make them an offer they cannot refuse. Billy does refuse and is constantly beaten up! To make matters worse, he is scared for his girlfriend’s safety, as she too has been given an ultimatum by the organisation. The two decide to quit their professions, leave the country and never return.

Things take a turn for the worse, as whilst filming his final scene in a movie (cue the fly-kick from Fist of Fury at the end) he is shot and presumed dead. Miraculously he escapes death. A public funeral takes place to convince the world that he has passed away, with no-one but Jim and his surgeon doctor the wiser. Footage from Bruce Lee’s actual Hong Kong funeral is shown. After having surgery, faking his death certificate/passport and donning a beard with black shades, he sets off on his quest to find those responsible for his misery and rage. Trailing Dr.Land from Hong Kong to Macau in a boat he hires, Billy follows Dr.Land and his entourage to his mansion. As soon as Dr.Land is alone…sparks fly!

Action

The action in Game of Death is mixed with original footage shot by Bruce Lee in 1972 and additional fights choreographed by Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung in 1978. When Billy arrives at Dr. Lands’ place a fast and furious fight delivers some high octane kicking sequences, coupled with some iconic Bruce Lee signature moves. This is just a taste of what’s to come! Next is the locker room brawl with Bob Wall. Although the real Bruce Lee is not in this scene, it is a great fight. Strength, power, lightning agility and jaw dropping techniques will have you reaching for rewind! You can feel the blows in this scene!

Next is where his iconic yellow catsuit makes its first appearance. This fight is a prelude for the grand finale. Before I get to that, I couldn’t carry on without mentioning a fight scene that was included as a deleted scene, but was inserted in the Hong Kong version of G.O.D. I am, of course talking about the infamous greenhouse fight with kicking supremo Casanova Wong. It’s a shame this wasn’t dubbed in the main movie, as there isn’t much dialogue. However, this is an excellent showcase. Truly sublime kicking techniques from both performers. A lesson not only in skill and flexibility, but also control. Now, the final showdown: I am going to analyze the movie feature rather than the uncut feature, which I will get to later. We see Bruce Lee make his on-screen appearance for the first time. I recommend you watch this if: a) you haven’t seen this movie before b) haven’t seen this version before.

Summary

As a martial arts movie it’s entertaining to watch. As a movie directed by Enter The Dragon’s Robert Clouse – it’s watchable. It could have been made better. Nevertheless, this is why G.O.D. is my favourite movie: the lost footage changes the viewing pleasure for me. This is where Game of Death REALLY starts! Bruce Lee’s performance against all three opponents is highly artistic. The first showdown is with top pupil/former Olympic Judo champion Sifu Dan Inosanto. Wearing traditional Filipino attire and armed with the skill of Eskrima. This leads to an epic battle of nunchaku vs nunchaku. Bruce Lee displays skillful sequences, perfect control and in-direct attacks!

The battle with real hapkido Master Ji Han Jae is a lesson in trapping, locks, holds and throws, mixed in with some shootfighting and a touch of wrestling. The final fight is legendary. Bruce Lee shows why he deserves the title of genius! The bonus content is packed. Inosanto himself imparts the knowledge that western boxing was actually assimilated by the Brits, originating from the Philippines!

The more I learn about Bruce Lee’s teachings/martial arts, the more I see in each viewing of the lost footage. It may be by his finger posture to sense an incoming attack or the way he gets up by pushing up on his toes, to a quick kick to the back of the knee in to a shootfighting trap-takedown on Jabbar. If Fist of Fury is the martial arts fans’ favourite…then this has to be a martial arts enthusiasts’ favourite! The soundtrack to the final fight has been remixed for the DVD’s release and gives it an edgier feel about the final confrontation. Ultimately, I would say G.O.D. encapsulates the lasting legacy of Bruce Lee – something future generations can appreciate and learn from. Yes, Game of Death is truly bona fide pastiche…

 

Trivia

  • Did you know that the U.S version of Game of Death has the extended log scene fight between Chieh Yuan and Dan Inosanto?
  • Bruce Lee had over 20 pages of choreography for Game of Death. Even by today’s standards, that’s huge!
  • Three actors including Yuan Biao’s acrobatics were used for the role of Billy Lo.
  • Taekwondo Master Whang Ing-Sik, was to be the second floor guardian and filmed kicking sequences in Hong Kong’s new territories with Bruce Lee. This was not used in the final film.
  • Kareem Abdul Jabbar was not given clearance by L.A Laker’s to travel, as they were worried he would be injured during filming. He went anyway!
  • Footage exists of Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul Jabbar rehearsing the flying-kick sequence, which was not included in the DVD.

Film rating: 8.5/10

(10/10 for the Platinum Edition)

Now, I’m going to do something that will definitely raise some eyebrows. As I said, this is only my opinion. I am going to give Game of Death Platinum Edition a 10/10. Why? As a movie it’s good, so 7.5. With the lost footage it deserves 8.5 for the reasons mentioned above. For the bonus content and the fact that it’s a collectors’ edition 10/10. I feel the score has been justified with the breakdown. There’s something for everyone. Lastly I would like to say, “support your local retailer”. Enjoy!

Trailer for Game of Death


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Amardeep Sidhu is a (very!) long time martial arts movie fan. On watching "Enter The Dragon", at five years old, became fascinated with Bruce Lee and by eight was hooked on the main man (Jackie) CHAN's movies! He has studied Taekwondo as his primary base, as well as mixed shaolin kung-fu, southern praying mantis, wing chun and capoeira. He is a keen movie watcher with a serious appreciation for fight choreography!

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