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The New Game of Death (1975)

The New Game of Death [新死亡遊戲] (1975)
AKA Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death, Goodbye, Bruce Lee

Starring Bruce Li (Ho Tsung-Tao), Lung Fei, Mang Ping, Wei Hung-Sheng, Wang Ching-Ping, Tsai Hung, Shan Mao, Lee Keung, Shih Yin-Yin, Wong Hoi, Ma Cheung, Kuslai, Sandus, Ronald Brown, Johnny Floyd

Directed by Lin Bing

Expectations: Low, but I do like some good Bruceploitation.

Technically speaking, The New Game of Death isn’t a Shaw Brothers movie, and it really shouldn’t be a part of my review series. The Shaw Brothers picked up various films for distribution on occasion, so this is probably what happened with The New Game of Death, although I can’t find any real info to support that. In any case, it was the only film produced by the Yu-Yun Film Co., somewhere along the line Shaw Brothers got the rights to the film, and then when Celestial Pictures remastered the Shaw catalog and released them on Region 3 DVDs they gave The New Game of Death the same treatment. Given this circumstantial chance to check out an early Bruceploitation film in its raw, original form — it was edited and released in the US as Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death — I just had to take it.

The New Game of Death opens with Bruce Li playing himself (I think), picnicking with his fiance and practicing martial arts. A film producer approaches him and asks him to help complete Bruce Lee’s unfinished film The Game of Death. Bruce Li doesn’t know if he should do it because it’ll postpone his marriage, but of course he accepts, and it doesn’t matter anyway because once the movie-within-a-movie starts, we never go back to this frame story. Once he agrees, the producer sits him down to screen the film they have so far… which oddly stars Bruce Li instead of Bruce Lee, and is apparently complete! Logic has never been Bruceploitation’s strong suit. 🙂

The film’s main story line is far less interesting than this little intro, unfortunately. Bruce is tasked by a dying man to deliver a mysterious box, but curiosity makes him take it home to his brother first. They open the box and discover it’s full of money. Bruce asks his brother to take it to the police for him, but he doesn’t do it, so now gangsters are after Bruce and his brother. I’m not entirely sure what the money was for, but all you need to know is that it eventually sets up an action finale that replicates the “tower of bad guys” idea of The Game of Death in far shoddier style.

The action, though, isn’t even that satisfying. For most the movie the choreography is bland and very average, even with Bruce Li showing a good amount of martial skill. There’s a fight in a playground that might remind fans of a similar situation in Police Story 2, but the setting is where the similarities end. The series of fights up the tower are by far the best in the movie, but don’t expect anything spectacular. Like the film itself, the ideas are better than the execution. Regardless, pitting Bruce Li against opponents like a samurai, a wrestler, a boxer and a nunchunk-weilding yogi comes with a lot of inherent fun, even if the choreography is nowhere near as good as the best Shaw films. To be honest, I should probably watch this section again, because I have a feeling it would play better on its own when I didn’t sit through the rest of the film and its incredible amount of inane telephone conversations.

The US version happens to be up on YouTube, so I took the opportunity to examine what exactly was edited out of that version. I read a couple of other reviews for this movie and there seemed to be a lot of conflicting stories about how the opening framing scenes were added in the US version, etc. Those scenes are definitely present in the original Mandarin version, in fact there are more! The opening credit sequence plays over Bruce Li showcasing his athletic ability in various sports, where the US version plays a funky “King of Kung Fu” song over a bunch of Bruce Lee magazines, with only a small section of Bruce Li’s gymnast routine. The only other major difference comes in regards to Ngai (Wei Hung-Sheng). The US version completely cuts out his spoiled 20-something daughter who needs a playmate. Bruce’s girlfriend, who works for Ngai, comes over to help him with this. Bruce calls her on the telephone and she invites him over, which facilitates the meeting between Bruce and Ngai that happens later. Oh, and they cut out some insert shots of cool animal figurines during one of the conversations when Bruce tells his girlfriend (speaking of Ngai), “Your president is a monster. He’s worse than a beast. He appears to be a gentlemen, but in fact he’s a bastard,” which is also cut.

The New Game of Death flopped hard at the Hong Kong box office, and unlike some of the legitimately good Shaw films that made roughly the same amount (The Golden Lion, Well of Doom, The Gambling Syndicate), it’s pretty easy to understand this film’s failure. The idea that The New Game of Death was meant to satiate the multitude of loving Bruce Lee fans is insane, as it only vaguely bears any resemblance to anything the superstar did. Bruce Li does his best, though he definitely had yet to really come into his own. He does the nose flicks, he wears the big sunglasses, he uses nunchucks and he even dons the trademark Game of Death tracksuit. But without an entertaining film behind them, all the accoutrements merely remind you that this isn’t Bruce Lee, and that the world just isn’t the same without him.

Fans of Bruceploitation will probably enjoy this anyway, but even then it’s a pretty poor Bruceploitation movie. It actually feels more like an attempted homage than a true case of exploiting his legacy. Despite throwing an awful lot of Bruce-isms at the screen, The New Game of Death does not feature footage of Bruce’s funeral, which always felt to me like the true line that defined the Bruceploitation genre.

Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is the final 1975 Shaw film in my series (which is actually another old film held back until 1975): Wu Ma’s The Protectors! See ya then!

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