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.