Believe it or not, Bruce Lee sadly died before this film could be completed. But with the help of a willing crew and a stunt double, Game of Death was finished. Ironically, even though Bruce Lee isn’t featured throughout the entire film, it ranks up as one of my favorite Lee movies of all time. After Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee began filming the ending battle sequence for a film he planned to call Game of Death. But Hollywood came calling so Lee shut down production on the film to begin Robert Clouse’s Enter the Dragon instead. In the film, Bruce Lee (though it’s mainly Korean actor Kim Tai-Jung) plays Billy Lo, a sensational martial artist on the verge of superstardom in the Hong Kong film industry. Billy’s got it all: fame, money, and a fine girlfriend. But, all is not as peachy as it seems.
Because of his up and coming fame, he is hounded by a syndicate attempting to sign and exploit potential stars. When the syndicate drags Lo’s girlfriend Ann into the conflict, Lo is forced to fake his own death in order to buy him enough time to find and shut down the syndicate and reclaim his life and that of his girlfriend. Overall, the film’s staging is pretty bad, and it’s horribly obvious they’re using a double for Bruce. I don’t think the film’s a wash though, because the stuff with the real Bruce really shines. You see, it is the last half hour of the film that is one of the best scene in martial art movie history.
The way to enjoy Game of Death is to realize that the movies plot is crafted entirely to drive the story to the final showdown in the tower against NBA Legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The last half-hour is where Bruce is shown uncut, beating down on all the bad guys in the film one-by-one. The final scene showcases all of Lee’s amazing talents, from his weapon style to his grappling ability. Game of Death is still the last real movie to showcase the charismatic presence of the legendary Bruce Lee. As a story, Game of Death is not especially good, or even thrilling. But the fight scenes are, occasionally, pretty spectacular.
Even though the stand-ins and extras were sub-par, the work done to flesh out thirty minutes of actual Bruce Lee footage into a full movie was interesting and rather ingenious. Instead of filming a separate scene for Lo’s funeral, they used actual footage of Bruce Lee’s real life funeral for the scene. Lee’s death was indeed a tragedy, and the talent that was lost is irreplacable. Using his own specially crafted style of karate called Jeet Kune Do, Lee changed the face of martial arts films for the better and is responsible single-handedly for the rise of other famous martial artists. Without Lee, and films like Game of Death, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and the iconic Chuck Norris would not be around today. Game of Death is a great testimonial film to one of the legends and this film deserves to be remembered.