Game of Death (1978)

game of death poster 1978 movie bruce lee
4.0 Overall Score
Story: 4/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 7/10

Bruce Lee, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fight

Posthumous hackjob in Bruce Lee's name

Movie Info

Movie Name:   Game of Death

Studio:  Golden Harvest

Genre(s):  Martial Arts/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  March 23, 1978 (Hong Kong)/June 9, 1979 (US)

MPAA Rating:   R

game of death bruce lee killed brandon

Eerie similarities to Brandon Lee’s death…

Targeted by assassins from a crime syndicate run by Dr. Land (Dean Jagger), international superstar Billy Lo (Bruce Lee) finds he must fake his death to protect his girlfriend Ann Morris (Colleen Camp) and his journalist friend Jim Marshall (Gig Young) to take down Dr. Land and his syndicate.  Billy is undercover and on the most dangerous mission of his life…and death is at every turn!

Directed by Robert Clouse, Game of Death is a martial arts film.  The film is made from footage originally shot in 1972 for The Game of Death that was being directed by Bruce Lee before he left the production to shoot Enter the Dragon.  The clips from the unfinished film were used with an entirely new plot and a stand-in actor for Lee in scenes to develop the story.  The film was financially successful but also received criticism for the posthumous use of Lee’s footage.

The Game of Death would have been awesome.  The movie’s storyline has been used multiple times with Bruce Lee fighting his way up a dojo with increasingly difficult warriors blocking his way (my favorite iteration of this story was the old NES game Kung Fu).  This plotline actually was used in Have Sword Will Travel from 1969, but Game of Death really seemed to take the format over.  Game of Death however feels like a bastardization of Bruce Lee’s legacy with a rather confusing plot that never quite works.

game of death bruce lee motorcycle standin helmet

Bruce Lee…is that you under there? Guessing not…

The story for Game of Death is barely a movie.  It is a plot loosely taped together and reminds me of Bowfinger…it is almost like Bruce Lee was alive when it was made and didn’t know he was in the picture.  Billy “goes undercover” with his new face and uses it to root out Dr. Land and his men.  It is just piecemealed together and easier to think of it as watching a highlight film.

Bruce Lee continues to be the master.  Despite not starring in the film due to his death, he still holds the scenes he did complete.  The movie even used parts of Bruce Lee’s real funeral (giving it an eerie real feel).  While Gig Young, Dean Jagger, and others fill in the missing plot, actors like Chuck Norris and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (arguably the coolest of the fights in the film due to the size difference) had objections to the reuse of the footage.

game of death bruce lee vs kareem abdul jabar

One of the oddest looking fights ever…

Game of Death does have a lot of iconic Bruce Lee to it despite it being a hatchet job.  Lee dons what has become his classic yellow and black tracksuit to battle (even if half the time it isn’t him).  This combined with some great choreography fighting shows what the movie could have become if Lee had lived and finished it.  The movie had immense potential, but the reedited film is lacking with tons of tricks to try to hide the Bruce Lee stand-in face.

Game of Death is worth seeing just to get the most out of watching Bruce Lee fight.  He was a true performer, and Lee was also a true example of why it is considered martial “arts”.  He floats and flies through his fights with grace and skill.  It can be pointed out within the film that there is another eerie coincidence.  Lee’s character is “killed” during a movie when a real bullet hits him…Bruce Lee’s son Brandon Lee was killed in a very similar situation while filming The Crow.  It is another legacy of Bruce Lee that was unfortunately will be remembered.

Related Links:

The Big Boss (1971)

Fists of Fury (1972)

The Way of the Dragon (1972)

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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