The Game of Death (1978)

The Game of Death [死亡遊戲] (1978)

Starring Tong Lung, Bruce Lee, Gig Young, Dean Jagger, Colleen Camp, Hugh O’Brian, Mel Novak, Roy Chiao, Robert Wall, Dan Inosanto, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Billy McGill, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Casanova Wong, Ji Han-Jae, James Tin Chuen

Directed by Robert Clouse

Expectations: Not much.


The Game of Death is a tricky film to review, but I’m sure it won’t be nearly as painful as actually watching the movie. The actual Bruce Lee footage is as great as it ever was, but everything that leads up to it is pretty sub-standard. The Robert Clouse-directed stuff is most of the movie, too — only 10 minutes or so are from Bruce Lee’s shoot — and there’s just no way around the fact that it’s boring. Even with Sammo Hung choreographing the fights, and Yuen Biao doing a lot of acrobatic double work for “Bruce,” the fights are largely uninspired and average compared to the best the Hong Kong industry was producing in 1978. For instance, Sammo made the absolutely incredible Wing Chun movie Warriors Two later the same year, and the quality gap between these two films is about as wide as the Grand Canyon.

Perhaps the difference lies in Robert Clouse’s direction; there is certainly no palpable passion in any of his material. The shift in tone and quality is jarring when Bruce finally shows up in the final 10 minutes with every bit of charisma he ever had. Bruce Lee was always passionate about his martial philosophy, and he focused on presenting it through his films — particularly The Way of the Dragon and the unfinished Game of Death. Care could have been taken to preserve this spirit, and present a version of Game of Death that was as much a celebration of Bruce Lee as it was an attempt to salvage the unfinished footage. Instead, it was decided to ditch Bruce’s vision for a cliched and rather dumb plot that just sort of stumbles its way towards the electric Lee footage.

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The Iron-Fisted Monk (1977)

The Iron-Fisted Monk [三德和尚與舂米六] (1977)
AKA Iron Fisted Monk, San Te & Chong Mi-Liu

Starring Sammo Hung, Chan Sing, James Tin Jun, Lo Hoi-Pang, Chu Ching, Wang Hsieh, Fung Hak-On, Yeung Wai, Dean Shek Tin, Yen Shi-Kwan, Wu Ma, Casanova Wong, Eric Tsang, Chin Yuet-Sang, Chung Fat, Chiu Hung, Fung Fung, Lam Ching-Ying

Directed by Sammo Hung

Expectations: Interested to see this again.


Sammo Hung left the Shaw Brothers studio in the early 1970s to help kick-start Golden Harvest as an actor, stuntman, and action choreographer. Golden Harvest kept him very busy in the years leading to The Iron-Fisted Monk, giving him ample opportunity to hone his skills and develop new ones simultaneously. I don’t know if Sammo finally felt he was up to the task of directing his own film in 1977, or if Golden Harvest finally relented to his requests, but the finished film demonstrates that Sammo was definitely ready to add a new feather to his cap. I first saw this film a few years ago when I watched my way through Sammo’s entire directorial filmography; at the time I thought it was a pretty good debut, but not especially great. At some level, I still agree with myself, but watching the film within the context of its Shaw contemporaries reveals it to be a more impressive movie than it initially appeared.

Chong Mi-Liu (Sammo Hung) is a mischievous student at the Shaolin Temple. He began studying there after Manchu thugs bullied his uncle and killed him. Chong was unable to fight them off, but thankfully the revered Shaolin monk San Te (Chan Sing) — the same character that Gordon Liu plays in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin — takes control of the situation and shows the thugs the power of Shaolin training. Chong is like many heroes out for revenge, though, and waiting for the completion of his training is just not an option. Chong remembers how Hu Hui-Chien — the folk hero Chi Kuan-Chun plays in Chang Cheh’s Shaolin Cycle films — left Shaolin early, so he decides to do the same. For those keeping track of Shaolin lore, according to The 36th Chamber of Shaolin San Te was the monk who trained Hung Hsi-Kuan, so this and Chong’s knowledge of Hu would place this film sometime after the majority of the Shaw Brothers Shaolin films. The Chinese title of The Iron-Fisted Monk is a lot like those Shaw films, as well, simply stating the characters names: San Te & Chong Mi-Liu. Any disappointment about there not being an iron-fisted monk can be attributed to yet another misleading English title. Apparently, both characters are Chinese folk heroes (the original trailer states as much), but I couldn’t find any specific info on Chong.

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