The Game of Death is the fourth film in our Bruce Lee Movies List. The following review originally appeared in The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s.—Editor

In 1972 and 1973, Bruce Lee wrote and shot 40 minutes (some say 90 minutes) of what would eventually The Game of Death. The idea was originally titled Song of the Knife, which addressed his philosophy about the existence of martial arts. Bruce Lee was interested in separating the useful and nonessential elements of various martial arts, and in this film, that process is revealed via a hero's journey while he ascends a five-story pagoda to reveal each floor's treasure. In the story, each floor represents a step toward truth and is guarded by a certain type of martial artist: karate warriors, a wing chun/praying mantis artist, a Filipino fighter (Danny Inosanto), a hapkido stylist (Chi Hon-joi) and “the Unknown" (NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). What was the treasure? Perhaps knowledge, understanding, or the realization that the journey is never-ending, and that it is the pursuit of the journey that is important.


Five years after his death, Bruce Lee's final treasure, now called The Game of Death, manifested as something far less than he had envisioned. This version combines 11 minutes of Bruce Lee's directed footage and fight scenes with a highly convoluted story about a famous movie star, Billy Lo (Kim Tai-chung/Lee), who feigns his own death in order to exact revenge on those who were trying to destroy him.

Snippets of Bruce Lee from his other Golden Harvest films and a double (Kim) were used. Also, compared to legitimate kung fu films and in order to mask Kim's lack of finesse, speed and fluidity, the martial arts were kept to a minimum, and fight director Sammo Hung purposely made his fight with Bob Wall poor so Kim's fights would look better by comparison. Ultimately, anyone aware of Bruce Lee's legacy watched the film just to see those precious 11 minutes and 32 seconds because at that time, who knew if there would ever be another opportunity to see them? Just for posterity, the stuntmen who wore Bruce Lee's famous yellow jumpsuit in the film were Yuen Biao, Feng Ke-on and Lam Ching-ying.

m.media-amazon.com

It's possible that Bruce Lee never intended for the footage to be part of a final cut, that it was shot and edited as a tool to convey his vision to get financing. Perhaps if the film were ever to be made, parts of the fights would have been re-shot to match his high expectations of quality and perfection. In the nunchaku sequence, for example, Bruce Lee's two mistakes are as obvious as an elephant running in a herd of buffalos, and you'll be in no doubt as to what they are when you watch the film. Next in line for what could have benefited from some re-shooting was Lee's bout with the 7-foot-plus, former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Although the contrast of height between the two combatants is a grand visual, Abdul-Jabbar was often off-balance; it seems as if he had not yet found his cinema legs. Also, what is with Bruce Lee and Chi's supposed kicking fight looking more like a judo bout? I have seen the behind-the-scenes footage shot by Bruce Lee, and it reveals that each time Chi blew a shot, Bruce Lee's frustration grew to the point at which the kicks became a no-go. The lesson learned is that good martial arts technicians are not always good movie fighters.

Bruce Lee accomplished a great deal in film and martial arts because he gave the Chinese people a sense of pride and national identity. He also essentially made the martial arts film genre a worldwide phenomenon. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, his name, films and images have largely been relegated to the dungeons of money and business for those who can tap into his success. Game of Death was merely a financial pawn in the Bruce Lee game of entertainment.

Game of Death Movie Facts

Directors: Bruce Lee, Robert Clouse

Starring: Bruce Lee, Kim Tai-chung, Danny Inosanto, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Chi Hon-joi, Bob Wall, Dean Jagger, Coleen Camp, Gig Young, Mel Novak, Cassanova Wong, Roy Chiao, Sammo Hung.

Titleography: As of this writing, no alternative titles could be found. Translation—Game of Death.

Our Bruce Lee Movies List

1969: Marlowe

1971: The Big Boss

1972: Fist of Fury

1972: Way of the Dragon

1973: Enter the Dragon

1978: Game of Death

SUBSCRIBE TO BLACKBELT MAGAZINE TODAY!
Don't miss a single issue of the world largest magazine of martial arts.

To Master the Supreme Philosophy of Enshin Karate, Look to Musashi's Book of Five Rings for Guidance!

In the martial arts, we voluntarily subject ourselves to conflict in a training environment so we can transcend conflict in the real world. After all, we wouldn't knowingly train in a style that makes us weaker or worsens our position. The irony of all this is that we don't want to fight our opponent. We prefer to work with what an opponent gives us to turn the tide in our favor, to resolve the situation effectively and efficiently.The Japanese have a word for this: sabaki. It means to work with energy efficiently. When we train with the sabaki mindset, we receive our opponent's attack, almost as a gift. Doing so requires less physical effort and frees up our mental operating system so it can determine the most efficient solution to the conflict.In this essay, I will present a brief history of sabaki, as well as break down the sabaki method using Miyamoto Musashi's five elements

Keep Reading Show less

Enter our partner's current Sweepstakes. They are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe'.

TAKE NOTICE!

FIVE KNUCKLE BULLET 'Wardrobe' Sweepstakes

Feeling Lucky? Enter our current Sweepstakes Now! We are giving away a Grand Prize 'FKB Wardrobe' which consists of our most popular sportswear items. Prize includes the following:

Keep Reading Show less

Osu!

Osu! I occasionally greet people with, "Ehh, howzit?" Those people are my age or younger, people I know well and who have some conversance in Hawaiian pidgin

Now, suppose someone, particularly someone for whom English is not a native language, hears me say, "Ehh, howzit?" to a friend and decides it is the way a reasonably well-educated, upper-middle-class person greets others. After all, they heard me say it, and I make my living using words. Therefore, it must be correct.

Keep Reading Show less

Turn the clock back to 2005 and check out this legendary performance by Steve Terada.

This is the sixth installment of a series that features old school sport karate videos to keep the history of the sport alive. Steve Terada was a member of the prestigious Team Paul Mitchell Karate and gained his reputation as a top competitor with his innovative extreme forms. He is one of the pioneers of martial arts tricking, having contributed to the creation of several tricks including the snapuswipe (an inverted 540 kick with an extra rotation before the landing). He was also the first to land many of these tricks in competition.

Keep Reading Show less
Free Bruce Lee Guide
Have you ever wondered how Bruce Lee’s boxing influenced his jeet kune do techniques? Read all about it in this free guide.
Don’t miss a thing Subscribe to Our Newsletter