In 1973, Bruce Lee
was in the middle of filming the film that was to showcase his personal style of Jeet Kune Do, The Game of Death
when he received an offer to star in Enter the Dragon
. The first kung fu film to be produced by a Hollywood studio, and with a budget unprecedented for the genre, it was an offer Lee was unable to refuse. He was slated to resume filming The Game of Death
as soon as that was finished. Alas, before EtD
was even released, he died.
So the uncompleted footage for The Game of Death
sat and collected dust, with some of it being misplaced and Lost Forever
. Greedy producers weren't about to let this stand, so in 1978, they enlisted the director of EtD
, Robert Clouse, to make a new film using the surviving footage, footage from other times in Lee's career, and newly-filmed footage. The result is known simply as Game of Death
was to be about Korean thugs coercing Lee's character, Hai Tien, into helping them retrieve a treasure from the top of a guarded pagoda, wherein they would have to fight a different martial artist on each of its five floors. GoD
does away with this and features an entirely new plot. Billy Lo (played at various stages by Yuen Biao, Kim Tai Chung, and Chen Yao Po) is a renowned martial arts movie star. A trafficking syndicate wants his aid, and he refuses. When they fail to intimidate him, they order his assassination instead. Lo makes the attempt look like a success, and then uses the cover of supposedly being dead
to bring the syndicate down.
The film uses only 11 minutes of footage from TGoD
, in which Lee is genuinely the actor used to portray Lo. This fight scene is one of the most treasured in the history of martial arts movies, and probably the only reason to watch the film
. In addition to it being the last time audiences would ever see Lee fight, it is also known for the costume Lee dons during it: a bright yellow track suit with black stripes up the sides. This suit has come to be seen as something of a trademark for the actor; homaged numerous, numerous times. The homage to it that you most likely know of, however, is when Uma Thurman dons a motorcycle race suit in the same style whilst fighting the Crazy 88 in Kill Bill
An unrelated movie made due to high demand for more Bruce, using recycled Lee footage as well as deleted Enter the Dragon
footage, new scenes choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping
and Kim Tai Chung, called Tower Of Death
, was released in 1981 and in some markets called Game Of Death II
This film provides examples of:
- Allegorical Character; The characters in the pagoda are this in the original version. One could ask if they spend all of their lives n the pagoda waiting for some challenger, however, they represent the formalized system of martial arts that Bruce Lee wanted to proove wrong. They are all beaten with some ease, however Kareem-Abdul Jabbar has an unknown fighting style that represents the highest level of martial arts.
- Artistic License – Martial Arts: When Bruce Lee filmed the fights, he realized that they were much too fast for the audience so they had to slow down for subsequent shots.
- Bruce Lee Clone: GoD was put together predominantly to milk cash out of Lee's death.
- And before then, two films made to capitalize on the legend of Game Of Death were made, Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game Of Death (1975, starring Bruce Li) and Enter the Game of Death (1977, starring Bruce Le)... and one after, The True Game Of Death (1981, starring "Bruce Lee Siao-Long"), which ripped off the general plot and sometimes whole segments of the film were redone almost shot for shot.
- Corpsing During one of the bloopers, Lee who is normally The Stoic in his movies save for a few comedic scenes; struggled not to laugh when the stunt dummy of Chieh Yuan's character was hurled off the steps. His struggle only lasted 3 seconds.
- David Versus Goliath: Bruce Lee vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
- Fake Shemp: Korean tae-kwon-do expert Kim Tai Chung played Bobby Lo for most of the movie, his face partially obscured by fake beards, large sunglasses and cardboard cutouts. Notorious Bruce Lee Clone Bruce Li was also offered the role in tandem with Chung, but he declined because he didn't think he should be officially filling Bruce's shoes.
- Faking the Dead
- Fighting with Chucks: The movie has a nunchaku vs. nunchaku battle between Bruce Lee and Dan Inosanto. It also recycles footage from Bruce's iconic fight with another kind of Chuck for the opening titles.
- Intimidation Demonstration: When Billy and Pasqual (Dan Inosanto's character) both draw their nunchaku, they spend a good amount of time showing off their respective skills with them before getting around to fighting.
- Know When To Fold Them: In the original concept, Hai Tien didn't even want to go to the top of the Pagoda after beating Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Was exhausted to the point, where he was dragging his feet when going back down the flight of stairs he fought so hard to venture up.
- Lightning Bruiser: Two on the opposing ends of the spectrum. Hakim (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is an example of the surprisingly fast kind. Bruce Lee's Hai Tien-Billy Loo is one of the surprisingly strong kind.
- Martial Arts Headband: Pascal (Dan Inosanto) wears a red one during the nunchaku fight with Bruce Lee on the third to last level of the pagoda. He even wears it in the new footage of the 1978 version.
- Neck Snap: Bruce Lee does this to the escrima specialist with his nunchaku.
- Oh, Crap: When Bruce first wields the nunchaku, the look on Dan Inosanto's face is priceless.
- Punch Clock Villain: All of Bruce Lee's enemies in the pagoda are this (in the original version). See also Allegorical Character above.
- Real Men Wear Pink: In western eyes yellow is associated with cowardice but Lee seems pretty proud of that suit. Also the 4th master is pretty bishie, his suit seems to be more for attraction than practicality and he has lacey veils around his bed-throne. But he is NOT a Sissy Villain.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The whole concept of the movie is nothing more than heroic version of this trope. Five masters with five different styles and Lee uses his style to show the holes and weaknesses in theirs. Styles included a escrima specialist (3rd), Hapikdo (4th), Kareem was at the top and used Lee's style. The other two styles were going to have a kicking master (1st) and a master in a mantis based martial arts (2nd).
- In Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey, during the fight with the escrima specialist (played by Dan Inosanto, a real life Filipino Martial Arts master and a friend of Bruce Lee), Lee points out that escrima's "rehearsed routine" doesn't have the same flexibility as his own Jeet Kune Do and thus can't adapt to "broken rhythm".
- Stock Footage: The 1978 version makes heavy use of this: there are a lot of shots edited from previous Bruce Lee movies, like Way of the Dragon.
- Title Drop: In the original concept, shown in Bruce's story notes, this would have occured when the American member of the pagoda raid (who had yet to be cast) takes Hai Tien aside the night before the journey to their target, and tells him about the eponymous "Game" in philosophical terms.
- Wrestler in All of Us: Bruce's character takes out Ji Han Jae's character with a backbreaker variation.