Our next movie review, and in continuation with our documentation on the five movies of Bruce Lee, is Game of Death. The movie, which was released posthumously, didn’t receive great reviews but has aged well with the names in the movie. Seeing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the seven foot NBA goliath, go toe to toe with Lee in hindsight is incredible. While the movie wasn’t fantastic, what Game of Death left behind was something special.
Game of Death was inspirational in a non-traditional sense for Bruce Lee fans as opposed to The Big Boss, Fist of Fury and his other movies. Instead, it changed how people looked at the structure of fight scenes. The end saw Lee going up levels of a building, fighting a new enemy on each floor. This has permeated throughout movies in a literal and abstract sense. When the hero has something accomplished, a bigger challenge awaits on the next “floor.” The John Wick series sees Wick take on his dog’s murderer, then his dad, then the Continental, and even the head of the assassin’s network itself. Each step was harder for Wick to overcome. While inspiration for this was taken from Kuang Ni’s Have Sword, Will Travel, Game of Death brought it to the next level.
Perhaps the meaning of the tower scene in Game of Death was the styles of martial arts used. Lee went out to show that no one form of fighting is superior to the other in a true sense. Each have their weakness. He used all forms of fighting to best his opponents back to back to back.
Game of Death was released after Lee’s tragic death. But before he passed, Lee recorded 30 minutes of fight scenes before pausing to move on and film Enter the Dragon. Originally, Muhammad Ali, James Corben, and Steve McQueen were all reached out to but respected Lee after passing and decided against being in the film. While his time short on this earth, Bruce Lee made a lasting impact on those around the world.
Game of Death: The Good
Often criticized, Game of Death gets a good bit right in honoring the legacy of Bruce Lee. While the funeral scene was in poor taste (more on this in the next section), Game of Death does show off the different fighting skills of Lee in a cinematic experience. We also get the iconic yellow jumpsuit that has become part and parcel of Lee imagery.
The fight scene between Robert Wall’s Carl Miller and Lee is also set up very well. We see Wall in what’s essentially an MMA match and he’s beating his opponent. After the fight, he’s confronted in the locker room by Lee where the two fight. Lee, of course, gets the win, but not after taking some lumps. The line, “You lose, Carl Miller,” is a fun and distinct line in the movie, showing Lee’s character was aware of who he was fighting.
All in all, the fight scenes in Game of Death are well done, as one would expect from a movie starring Bruce Lee. We see techniques actually used in real life, while some are a bit far fetched as well. But the choreography is fantastic overall.
The fight with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the highlight of the film by far. Lee and Kareem showcase something special that Lee always fought for: the little guy. With Kareem being 7’ 2” and an NBA Hall-of-Famer, Kareem towered over Bruce Lee. But that never stopped the Hong Kong native and we got to see a cinematic recreation of David and Goliath. The fight, which Lee won, of course, masterfully showed the size differential when Kareem kicked Lee in the chest and his footprint spanned from his chest to his naval. But, Lee showed that despite size, the little guy can win, which is something he’s always hung his cap on in martial arts. It’s not about size, it’s about technique.
Game of Death: The Problematic Side
Unfortunately, Game of Death is overall not that great of a movie. Only hardcore fans of Bruce Lee will appreciate what it brings to the table: the last cinematic look of the martial arts icon. The plot is oddly put together with lulls in between the few action scenes. But the action, or lack thereof, isn’t the biggest gripe with the movie.
It’s the funeral scene. In Game of Death, the producers shamelessly used actual footage of Bruce Lee after his passing at his own funeral. They showed Lee in the coffin. It was incredibly tasteless and the fact that the producers and studio greenlit it makes the movie deserve every ounce of criticism it receives. You have athletes like Ali, actors like McQueen and more turning down roles in respect of Bruce Lee then on the other hand you have producers using his death and using actual footage from people grieving from his funeral to make a buck. It’s disgusting.
Game of Death rating: 5/10
The funeral scene and it’s poor taste does not factor into the average score for Game of Death. But the lack of action keeps one from actually getting engaged in the movie fully. When watching, I found myself waiting, impatiently sometimes, on the tower scene just so I can see some Bruce Lee ass-kicking action. The influence of Lee on his previous movies is apparent with the lack of input from Lee in Game of Death.
Bruce Lee was notorious for fighting for what he thought was good in his movies. He believed that martial arts movies, especially with his name attached, should be of a great quality when they were traditionally not. Game of Death suffers from his lack of input because of his passing and it’s very apparent.
Does that make the movie one to avoid? That really depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for entertainment, stay away. You’ll be bored with the movie as a whole. But if you’re a disciple of Bruce Lee, it’s a must see, regardless of the lack of quality.