The Game of Death (1978): Over the Top Amazing Action or The Movie That Knows Itself

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“The Game of Death,” is a movie that knows exactly what it is and is all the stronger for it. What do I mean, that it knows what it is? Think the “Kill Bill’s” (Bruce Lee’s same Yellow Track Suit probably helps) and how aware it is that it is a part of this genre and know that this film knows the same thing.

In regards to this film there is an unfinished 1973 version made in Hong Kong, written, directed and starring Bruce Lee. If I can find the footage I will review that one at some point too. Since it was Bruce Lee’s final film, as he died during the making of it. The 1978 using footage from it in order to create the fights and interactions with Bruce Lee’s character or a stuntman in Bruce Lee’s place.

Bruce Lee is one of my favorite people in regards to words he expressed and the life he lived (he was an extremely smart, wise and strong guy), and it was great seeing him in the type of films that made him famous (and he also helped write and direct this film too). I’m not sure how much power he had over the final product but the fact that he at least contributed to Robert Clouse’s final work in writing and directing (and being the star) is no doubt why some of the self awareness exists in this film. The awareness begins in the premise.

Billy Lo (Bruce Lee) is a famous movie star fighter struggling against a crime syndicate who is attempting to blackmail him into submission. When he resists the main villain Dr. Land (Dean Jagger) orders a hit on him on his film set. Billy is shot and needs plastic surgery. Faking his own death he goes undercover to bring the syndicate down.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Action – The action is fantastic! The stunts and martial arts flow beautifully and seeing Bruce Lee in action is something you don’t forget. He is quick and deadly and shows a diverse array of martial arts to take down his opponents (as the thugs that work for Mr. Land are all different sizes and fight in different ways). There is a fight on motorcycles, a fight in the restaurant that uses footage from the original Pagoda fight in the unfinished film which has him fighting the famous basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar at one point, and also Chuck Norris. In each fight he uses different strategies to win since every opponent uses different tactics. This action is the strongest part of the film.

Over the top Acting – I can’t really name any specific actor as being amazing since they all play their parts over the top (except for Bruce Lee) and it does a lot to add to the world. Mr. Land (Dean Jagger) is especially over the top. He laughs maniacally as he feeds his fish and when he escapes from Billy assaulting him in Macao makes a “Get away from me,” comment. Billy’s girlfriend Ann (Colleen Camp) is also extreme in how she voices her fear for Billy or “YOU KILLED HIM YOU BASTARDS!” to Mr. Land and his primary henchman Steiner (Hugh O’Brian). Hugh O’Brian and most of the most of the henchman are evil and love it, from threatening or kidnapping and glares of death whenever Billy shuts them down.

The Settings – This film moves around both in what is used (past footage) and locations Billy goes to get revenge. This makes it so there is never a dull moment and keeps the film rolling.

Billy Lo – Bruce Lee is great as the hero. He plays the confident movie star well (probably playing himself a bit there) and also the righteous hero out for revenge. He wears a bunch of different masks but always reveals himself to his enemies, and he pulled off the Yellow Track Suit so well that I understand why Quentin Tarantino used it for the bride in the “Kill Bill” series. The movie ends once revenge is done and Billy’s arc is complete of saving his girlfriend and friend who helped him fake his death.

Cons: Character Development – The characters are over the top, but I would have liked some motivation and backstory…especially for Dr. Land and the villains, and Billy too on how he rose to fame. This is one thing that would have made the film perfect and why “Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2” are better films…since we get that with all the characters. We get the completely evil and also the reasons why. For this film we get none of that, which is the biggest detractor for the film.

The Cinematography – The Cinematography isn’t great. The best stuff is the stuff Bruce Lee filmed in the Pagoda with the fights. The newer stuff is pretty unmemorable and tends to depend way too much on doing close ups of people’s faces and long shots.

This is a film I would definitely recommend, and I would call it a favorite for myself. I very much want to see more of Bruce Lee’s films after this and look forward to reviewing more of them further down the line. If you like Bruce Lee, Hong Kong Action Films, Martial Arts Films or Kung Fu movies you will like this film.

My final Score for this film is 8.7 / 10.

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