The Game of Death … Memories

bruce4I have a lot of memories of The Game of Death, which stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Tien, and Bruce Lee.  It’s an incomplete movie, but I think it could be one of the most influential martial arts films I’ve ever watched.  It inspired Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino on the Kill Bill movies, and Jet Li wore Bruce Lee’s famous tracksuit in his own movie just like Thurman did in hers.   The yellow tracksuit might be famous and the Abdul-Jabbar fight with Lee is awesome, but the movie is a mess.  If it weren’t incomplete, dubbed, and poorly edited, it would probably be mythical.  It almost makes me upset how good this movie could have been.

There are many versions and knock-offs of The Game of Death, plus there’s plenty of documentaries covering its troubled shooting.  Bruce Lee was accidentally killed during the filming of this movie and the filmmakers tried to cut their losses by using stand-ins and other tricks to somehow get out a finished film.  This version was released in 1978 and was the one I saw on low-budget cable television, before every cable channel was glitzy and smelled of corporate greed. 

bruce2Back in the day, local cable sometimes ran old movies, but mostly had stupid reruns of worn-out sitcoms and Family Feud.  You were sometimes able to find a rare Godzilla movie or Bruce Lee flick on some of these channels.  That’s how I was introduced to Bruce Lee, on a grainy picture which didn’t come in so well.  Anyway, the movie didn’t look all that sharp to begin with, so I guess I wasn’t missing anything. 

bruce3Honestly, I agree with some of the critics that this movie contains Bruce Lee’s best fighting sequences.  Really, this is the only reason to see the movie.  Most of them were filmed and in the can before he went off to Hollywood to star in Enter the Dragon, which is actually a movie.  The Game of Death was just pieces of footage at that point, but the director of Enter the Dragon stepped in later to finish it with stunt doubles and other cheap crap.  The result is a mess.

If you can get through the beginning of the movie, it turns into all-action and uses the scenes Bruce Lee shot before his death, so that’s the good part.  The plot is nonsensical and doesn’t make sense, but that’s not important.  It’s Bruce Lee kicking and punching and whipping nunchucks around, so it holds your attention, especially as Lee makes hilarious facial expressions during the fights.

I don’t watch this movie much anymore because I don’t have the patience to sit through the crap.  It’s sorta embarrassing how much this movie has inspired other copy-cats and there’s even a Game of Death II, which uses more Bruce Lee stock footage from Enter the Dragon for a cash in.  Pretty dumb.  Still, the final fight scene is really good, and at least has a plot you can understand.  I’m trending toward movies I can comprehend, but The Game of Death still has fond memories for me.