Jump to content
TSM Forums
Sign in to follow this  
Guest TSMAdmin

DVD Review: Game of Death - Platinum Edition

Recommended Posts

Guest TSMAdmin

Game of Death: Special Platinum Edition




Studio: Golden Harvest/Media Asia



Distributor: Hong Kong Legends (Region 2 only)






On one hand, there is the standpoint that this is little more than a very bad movie; on the other, there's the perspective that it contains the finest Bruce Lee fight scenes ever committed to film. And then there's the Aliens/Blade Runner/Star Wars-esque furvour surrounding the very, very, VERY controversial lost footage (which has actually been restored to this DVD).





It's nigh-on impossible to cover every aspect of this film, but hopefully it'll give you a decent overview to what I feel is Lee's greatest work, and an understanding of what things like "Artport" "'72/'78 version" and "Bey Logan" actually mean.




Overview (The Dope)


Film review (The Flick)


Extras review (DVDeal)


Verdict (The Word)






The Dope





There's no sugar-coating it: GoD is a bad flick. Bruce Lee was dead almost six years before it was finally released, and only appeared in 11 of the film's 90 or so minutes (in the UK we actually saw even less, as the nunchaku scenes were cut, being as the weapons were banned here at the time). What we wound up with was two Lee body doubles, one face double, a lot of footage taken from his old films... and three of the best fight scenes ever committed to film.




Quick Brucie backstory: Having come to America for his education and having successfully opened a series of dojos teaching his own brand of martial arts, Jeet Kune Do (to the likes of Steve McQueen and James Coburn, no less), Bruce landed the role of Kato in The Green Hornet. After the series was axed, he co-developed the treatment for the Kung-Fu show, which he was set to star in. However, after he was screwed out of the lead due to his ethnicity, he lost his smile and went back to Hong Kong to make movies, the idea being that he would use Asia as a stepping stone to get back to Hollywood stardom.





Obviously, he became nothing short of a legend in Hong Kong, and after a series of flicks that destroyed every box office record being kept, Bruce went to work on a personal project of his, Game of Death, which he wanted to be a more philosophical martial arts film (reflecting his own beliefs and particularly his own fighting system). Having completed forty-something (or more, if you believe the Roswell-stuff) minutes of footage, the deal came through to work on Enter The Dragon in conjunction with Warner Brothers. In short, this would be the film that would establish Lee in Hollywood.

So in 1972, Bruce dropped what he was doing with GoD, and went to work on Enter. He completed the film and went back to Hong Kong to finish GoD - unfortunately, however, he died shortly thereafter, and all that remained (again, Roswell notwithstanding) were the forty minutes of film, comprised of three breathtaking fights. This uncompleted footage is what is referred to as the " '72 version".




When the dust had settled, Golden Harvest Pictures wrestled with their conscience for about five minutes before buying the rights to the footage from his wife Linda, and then hacked together a whole new film using body doubles, face doubles, footage from other Bruce Lee films and only 11 minutes of the original GoD footage - and none of the philosophical stuff. The result is one of the cheesiest, hokiest, most appallingly thrown-together pieces of cinema that is what is referred to as the " '78 version", and is the version that most people are familiar with (and resent so much).





However, the original footage completed by Lee contains three of the greatest martial arts battles of all time, which more than redeem this crapstain of a flick. Now that's gotta be worth something.






The Flick






So there's the original, uncompleted footage shot in '72, and the bastardised completed "film" from '78. Still with this so far? Right. This part of the review deals with the latter version - the original footage is included in the DVD extras, and as such gets looked at in the extras section ("DVDeal") below. As for 1978 "film", well, all you really need to know is that a 96-minute Bruce Lee film only contains 11 minutes of Bruce Lee. The other 85 minutes? Well, how can I put this... have you ever seen Plan 9?



Well, it's not quite that bad. But it's close - you do get the same, twisted pleasure in watching (and laughing at) it. To make up for his absence, Bruce is replaced by three doubles, a lot of footage from his old films, footage from his funeral (yes, Bruce Lee's actual funeral), and even a cutout photograph stuck on a mirror in front of someone else's face. C'mon, I couldn't make that up. Obviously, none of these are very convincing. They flat-out ripped off entire fight scenes and inserts from Lee's other films (they cannibalised almost the whole Chuck Norris Way of The Dragon fight before the credits had even finished), and all the doubles wander around the whole time wearing really big shades to hide their faces. There's even a scene where "Bruce" gets shot in the face so that they can wrap him in bandages and account for the poor likenesses of the doubles - but this doesn't happen until halfway through the film.






Since the original footage only amounted to one epic final scene, Sammo "Martial Law" Hung was drafted in to reproduce Bruce's fighting. Granted, between the stand-ins, not once do you think it's actually Bruce, but the fights are entertaining and would be pretty good action scenes in their own right... but nothing that couldn't have been done elsewhere, without the pretence that "it's really Bruce Lee". And that's really the greatest challenge - once you get over the need to criticise every second of non-Lee footage, you can enjoy the flick on three levels: 1) The campy attempts to stooge Bruce's likeness, 2) the non-Bruce, but nonetheless entertaining fighting scenes, and 3) the blowaway original footage of the real Bruce kicking ass.





The climactic three Lee fight scenes are pure gold (but marred by the choppy editing to remove two original characters - see DVDeal). The fight with the Hapkido master is entertaining, but things really pick up with the insane nunchaku duel with his real-life student, Dan Inosanto. Topping it off is the legendary David & Goliath battle with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - the 5'6" Lee battling all 7'2" of Kareem is something everyone should see at least once, and maybe Tazz should kidnap Vince and make him watch it til his eyes bleed.




Movie Rating: ***


The first hour is junk, but the Lee-Jabbar fight is to Game of Death what Taker-Foley was to KOR '98.






The DVDeal




The reason every Bruce Lee and martial arts fan (which if you're reading this, means you) should own this set is the extras. More specifically, the original forty-minutes of completed footage (the '72 version), which was lost to the public until 1999. This expands the fight scenes to all-new levels of awesomeness, and paints an entirely new perspective on the GoD

we should have got.





Note to Bruce Lee hardcore fans: The footage is the same that appears on the Artport DVD, albeit cleaned up and looking good as new. It is not the same as the footage on the Warrior's Journey documentary (which contains the same action, but slightly different dialogue and music).



Let's get the other features out of the way first: The '78 version, should you really feel the need to watch it, has been digitally remastered and given an anamorphic transfer and a spanky 5.1 mix. In short, the film has never looked and sounded so damn good (allowing you to appreciate its mediocrity in an entirely new level of clarity). There's also a nice photo gallery with some rare publicity shots, behind-the-scenes pics, and promo posters. Then there's the original English and Cantonese trailers for GoD

, as well as spots for the other Hong Kong Legends DVDs.

Also included are the text-based "Game of Death Retrospective" and "History of Jeet Kune Do", as well as a forty-minute JKD seminar taught by Bruce's right-hand man (and GoD co-star) Dan Inosanto. There's also an interview with Inosanto, as well as Taky Kimura and George "That

James Bond" Lazenby (who would've also been in the film had Bruce lived), and a pretty neat documentary, "Legacy of the Dragon".




One of the best extras on any HKL DVD is the commentary by HK wiseman Bey Logan, who provides a ridiculous amount of insight and affability to the film. On a personal note, I must also point out what an all-around top-bloke Bey really is, since he dropped m an email of thanks after reading this review. You the man, Bey-san. Ther's a five-minute assembly of outtakes from the '72 version, including Bruce needing about ten takes to get a nunchaku display right, and there are five "deleted scenes" - these are a few seconds each, and are basically alternate cuts or inserts from the Cantonese release, except for the "Glass House Fight" which was seen in the even more entertaining Game of Death 2. But the jewel of the set is the original '72 footage...




The footage effectively quadruples the length of the fight scenes, as well as giving them a greater level of ferocity and continuity - the Inosanto nunchaku duel in particularl is more intense. It also re-inserts two new tag partners for Bruce, who must fight with him up the five floors of the pagoda to reach the uppermost level. During the course of their journey, the other two will fall victim to the martial arts masters that guard each floor due to their inability to adapt their styles; Bruce, however, survives, thanks to his ability to adapt to the challenges before him. This, coupled with a surprising amount of restored dialogue ("You know baby, this bamboo is longer, more flexible, and very much alive... your flashy routines cannot keep up with the speed and elusiveness of this thing here") are all that remain of Lee's original "philosophical action film", and as such are required viewing.




Game of Death has had a rough deal; the garbage we ended up with in 1978 isn't a patch on the original footage - and even at only forty unfinished minutes with virtually no story, it's still more of a movie than the '78 version will ever be.




Extras Rating: *****



I used to think some gasoline and a lighter was what this film deserved. Now I know that the DVD treatment is what it deserved all along.






The Word






At last, martial arts smarks (martial smarks?) can come out of the closet - their guilty pleasure is not so guilty any more.






Certainly, The Warrior's Journey and the Artport disc both feature the extra footage, but there really is so much more on this set. Between the solid (and exclusive) documentary, the interviews and retrospectives, and Bey Logan's awesome commentary, this is something that every Bruce fan, if not every martial arts fan, should get hold of right away. Providing you've got a multi-region player that is. If you don't know a reputable importer, check out Amazon UK

- it was around 35 bucks last I looked.





Overall: *****


Si fu. Si fu Bruce. Si fu Bruce, kick many asses!






Jay Spree


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this