Game of Death is the martial arts epic we sadly never got to see. Everyone (my mother included) was shocked to learn Bruce Lee passed away at the young age of 32. It seemed like he was just getting started. Game of Death was meant to be Lee’s second directorial effort, but Enter the Dragon kept him from finishing it. Despite over 39 minutes worth of footage existing, only 11 minutes were repurposed into an awkward American production. Needless to say, my mom was less than eager to recommend it. The much cooler original Game of Death plot would’ve seen Bruce Lee as retired martial arts champion Hai Tien.
The idea of him ascending a pagoda to fight increasingly tough opponents can still be seen in action movies and video games today. Same with his iconic yellow & black jumpsuit. The 1978 film butchers the footage with a less than original revenge story against racketeers. Every trick in the book is used to convince you several stunt doubles are Bruce Lee. The most infamous example being a cardboard cutout of Lee’s face taped to a mirror. Footage from Way of the Dragon and Fist of Fury are used since Billy Lo is an actor filming scenes from both movies. The stand-in always wears thick sunglasses and stands at a distance, but you can clearly tell he isn’t Lee in close-ups.
A presumed death, that distastefully uses real funeral footage, gives Billy the excuse to have plastic surgery and wear a disguise. When his American girlfriend played by Colleen Camp is threatened, Lo takes a yellow motorcycle tracksuit and faces the mob at their pagoda restaurant. As expected, the only highlight is seeing Bruce Lee himself. Although it feels harsher without the dialogue, it’s good enough seeing Lee fight the nunchucking Dan Inosanto, flashy Ji Han-jae, and 7 ft. basketball player kareem Abdul-Jabbar himself. Their fight is particularly memorable since Abdul-Jabbar is so huge. Game of Death has so much lost potential that can’t always be found in the finished cut.
P.S. I’ve supplied the real Game of Death underneath.