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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Enter the Dragon (1973)

EntertheDragon_2Enter the Dragon [龍爭虎鬥] (1973)

Starring Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly, Sek Kin, Robert Wall, Bolo Yeung, Ahna Capri, Angela Mao, Betty Chung, Geoffrey Weeks, Peter Archer, Hao Li-Jen, Roy Chiao, Lau Wing, Sammo Hung, Stephen Tung Wai

Directed by Robert Clouse

Expectations: High. I love this movie.

threehalfstar


There’s no doubt of the legendary, iconic status of Enter the Dragon. Bruce Lee will always be in the American cultural consciousness and Enter the Dragon will always be the movie most associated with him in the West. It also gave us Jim Kelly, and Bolo got his badass name from his character in the film. I love the movie; I watched the film many times in my youth and to this day I have that poster to the right on my wall. But I must say, watching Enter the Dragon within the chronological confines of my Shaw series definitely made me look at it differently.

I don’t know that I ever considered just how American this movie is. It’s shot in Hong Kong and it features a plethora of Hong Kong actors and stuntmen, but it never once feels like a Hong Kong film. It’s a martial arts film with the full weight of Hollywood behind it. The version on my DVD has a couple of Bruce Lee’s philosophical scenes added back into the film, and the fact that these scenes were originally cut speaks volumes. To the general American audience (and apparently to director Robert Clouse), the martial arts are simply about fighting, and the philosophy is something you can lose without sacrificing the integrity. Of course, the philosophy is a HUGE part of martial arts, so it’s great that they put the scenes back in.

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The Way of the Dragon (1972)

wayofthedragon_1The Way of the Dragon [猛龍過江] (1972)
AKA Return of the Dragon, Revenge of the Dragon, Fury of the Dragon

Starring Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, Ngai Ping-Ngo, Wong Chung-Shun, Gam Dai, Unicorn Chan, Lau Wing, Jon T. Benn, Chuck Norris, Whang In-Shik, Robert Wall, Malisa Longo, Robert Chan Law-Bat, Chen Fu-Ching

Directed by Bruce Lee

Expectations: High, it’s Bruce Lee!

threestar


With The Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee stepped into the role of writer/director along with the acting and choreography roles he had inhabited on his previous two Hong Kong films. As a result, The Way of the Dragon is much more reflective of Bruce Lee’s personality than his films under Lo Wei. Depending on your viewpoint, this could be a good or bad thing. For me (someone who enjoys the work of Lo Wei far more than other kung fu fans seem to), it was somewhere in the middle. I have always thought this was the least of Bruce’s films, and today’s viewing only solidified that for me. But this time, I think I understood why I’ve always been somewhat disinterested with the film.

Taking this film as evidence, it would seem that Bruce Lee’s relationship with Lo Wei was somewhat similar to Lo’s later relationship with Jackie Chan. Both stars wished to express themselves through more than just the traditional notes of what a martial arts film was at the time. Both stars immediately integrated comedy and martial arts in their films away from Lo. Jackie was obviously the more successful in doing so — does anyone know Bruce for his comedy? — but both stars clearly wanted to push the genre beyond what their initial director wanted to let them.

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