My biggest regret about Bruce Lee Month is that I can't end it on a high note. Game of Death not only alternates between hilariously bad and just plain bad, but insults the memory of Bruce Lee. I always thought that Scaramouche (1952) would be the subject of my first all-out negative review on this blog, but Game of Death is more than worthy of that "honor."
Just to be clear, none of this is Lee's fault. He had only shot twenty minutes of footage for The Game of Death before making Enter the Dragon, consisting of the final three fight sequences. He had definitely been planning to get back to work on it when Enter the Dragon was finished, and had been meeting with an actress to discuss her role in the movie on the day he died. Game of Death was intended to be the film that fully expressed his martial arts philosophy about emphasizing practicality over the rehearsed routines that he felt styles consisted of. Even his trademark yellow jumpsuit symbolized a lack of affiliation with any style or system.
Our hero is Billy Lo (Bruce Lee), an up and coming kung fu movie star. Billy is being menaced by an international crime syndicate led by Dr. Land (Dean Jagger) that specializes in forcing celebrities - actors, musicians, athletes - to work for them and extorting a percentage of their earnings. Billy's girlfriend, singer Ann Morris (Colleen Camp) is also targeted by the syndicate, and the two are repeatedly threatened. After a failed attempt on Billy's life (in a manner uncomfortably similar to what happened to Bruce's son Brandon during the filming of The Crow), he fakes his death, gets plastic surgery, and begins hunting down Dr. Land and his henchmen. When the villains learn Billy Lo is alive, they kidnap Ann to lure him into a trap. Billy rescues Ann, learns where Land is hiding out, and storms his castle - or rather, his restaurant - battling through a gauntlet of martial arts experts.
I could almost admire the way this movie intercut Lee's surviving Game of Death footage with new scenes and Lee's previous movies if the execution had been clever and not so abysmally horrible. (Less laughable and downright offensive is using news footage from Bruce Lee's real funeral for the scene where Billy Lo fakes his death.) The filmmakers even manage to screw up the plastic surgery plot point where they imply that Billy will have a new appearance, which would help explain why his face looks different in certain scenes. There's just one teensey-weensey tiny little problem with this - the movie opens with footage of Lee's fight with Chuck Norris from The Way of the Dragon, and closes (mostly) with his original Game of Death footage. In other words, HE LOOKS EXACTLY THE SAME AT THE END OF THE MOVIE AS HE DOES AT THE BEGINNING - making the whole plastic surgery subplot...
That does it for Bruce Lee Month! I hope you all enjoyed it and found it interesting. Regular reviews continue next week (I'll be taking a break from action for a bit, just for a change of pace).