Thursday, November 1, 2012
Game of Death (1972) Review
The Game of Death was first produced in the year 1972, and was Bruce Lee’s last movie before his death. A film that was to showcase Bruce Lee’s martial art – Jeet Kune Do, this movie contains over 100 minutes of footage surrounding the protagonist, Hai Tien, played by Lee. Some of the footage was misplaced by the Golden Harvest archives, and this film was later transformed into Game of Death by Robert Clouse. Using stand-ins and very little original footage from the previous movie, Game of Death reaped a huge profit, but was critiqued for its severe flaws and mishmashes.
The 1972 film, The Game of Death revolves around the protagonist Hai Tien, who is a retired martial artist champion. Confronted by thugs from the seedy Korean underworld, Hai Tien is compelled to join forces with these men in order to ransack a pagoda that holds something valuable. Said to be in the fifth floor of the pagoda, Hai Tien along with his men, is forced to take part in the mission as his siblings are kidnapped and withheld by the thugs. They would be the second team in history who are going on this treasure hunt, after the first group was routed. The pagoda (Palsang-jon) is said to be located in the Beopjusa temple, at the Songnisan National Park in South Korea.
The action of the film lies in the encountering of the pagoda’s guards and fighting them with age old kung fu practices and martial arts, chief of them being Jeet Kune Do, as epitomised in Lee’s combat. They defeat the 50 guards at the base of the pagoda and move on to each successive tier, only to face challenges that are harder and more dificult. Hai is left to fight his enemies in a one-to-one combat as his allies prove hopeless against the onslaught of challenges and masters of martial arts. Hai successfully defeats Dan Inosanto, Ji Han Jae and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his mission to get the valuables. On par with Hai’s Jeet Kune Do, Abdul-Jabbar is defeated when Hai finds out that the former is liable to a high sensitivity to light. The film ends unresolved with the pagoda, now unguarded, being abandoned by Hai without any mention of his siblings who have been held captive, or the valuables that were left untouched.
The aim of the film was to throw light on Lee’s fluid movements, his unpredictability while fighting his opponent and an almost eclectic blend of martial arts techniques. This in turn led to showcasing the flaws of the other masters as well.
The 1978 version of the movie, directed by Robert Clouse, uses the story of Hai Tien as the basic premise, but deals with modern-day Hong Kong and is an action/crime thriller. The protagonist of the film is Billy Lo who is a renowned martial arts actor, and the plot revolves around his attempts to disguise himself and wreak havoc on the syndicate of a drug racketeering gang, while they hold his fiancée, Ann Morris as captive. Believed to be dead, Billy takes on the role of a master in disguise and thwarts his opponents. The action of the pagoda is replaced by the Red Pepper restaurant and each of the thugs is ambushed by Billy. The leader of the syndicate, Dr. Land, and his henchmen are routed and Billy rescues Ann with a flourish.
This version of the movie extensively used doubles as well as footage from Bruce Lee’s earlier films to make it look authentic, but was albeit a poor attempt. The doubles and standings for Lee were played by Kim Tai-jong and Yuen Biao. The American theme song was composed by John Barry and the movie was also dubbed in Cantonese and Mandarin for a Chinese audience. This is one of the great collections of Bruce Lee’s action films and you must see this if you are a Kung Fu fan.