The Game of Death is an incomplete 1972 Hong Kong martial arts film directed, written, produced by and starring Bruce Lee, in his final film attempt. Lee died during the making of the film. Over 100 minutes of footage was shot prior to his death, some of which was later misplaced in the Golden Harvest archives. The remaining footage has been released with Lee’s original Cantonese and English dialogue, with John Little dubbing Lee’s Hai Tien character as part of the documentary entitled Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey. Most of the footage that was shot is from what was to be the climax of the film.
During filming, Lee received an offer to star in Enter the Dragon, the first kung fu film to be produced by a Hollywood studio (Warner Bros.), and with a budget unprecedented for the genre ($850,000). Lee died of cerebral edema before the film’s release. At the time of his death, he had already made plans to resume the filming of Game of Death.
After Lee’s death, Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse was enlisted to finish the film using two stand-ins; it was released in 1978, five years after Lee’s death, by Golden Harvest.
The revised version of the film uses only 11 minutes and 7 seconds of the footage from the original The Game of Death, and for the vast majority of the film, the role of Billy Lo was shared by Yuen Biao and taekwondo master Kim Tai-jong and was voiced by Chris Kent. The plot of the film allowed Kim and Yuen to spend much of the film in disguises, usually involving false beards and large, dark sunglasses that obscured the fact that they bore little resemblance to Lee. Many scenes, including fight scenes, also included brief close-up bits of stock footage of the real Bruce Lee from his pre-Enter the Dragon films, often only lasting a second or two. These clips are easily recognisable due to the difference in film quality between the old and new footage. At one point in the movie, real footage of Lee’s corpse in his open-topped casket is used to show the character Billy Lo faking his death. There is even a scene, taken place in Billy’s dressing room, where a cut-out of Lee’s face was taped to a mirror, covering the stand-in’s own face.
Several actors associated with previous Lee movies were included in the re-shoot for the final 1978 film. For example, Robert Wall, a villain in both Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon, plays a kickboxer named Carl Miller who must battle with Billy Lo. Sammo Hung, who appeared in Enter the Dragon, served as the fight coordinator for the re-shoot of Game of Death, and also appears in the scene as a ring opponent for Miller. To maintain continuity with the fight footage taken from the original film, Dan Inosanto (renamed Pasqual) and Ji Han-jae (whose character was unnamed and was not shown until near the end of the film) were given small parts as additional enforcers for the syndicate. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar refused to participate in the re-shoot, with another tall African-American stand-in (renamed Hakim) included instead. Although Chuck Norris is credited as starring in the film, his role is limited to clips from Way of the Dragon inserted into the film.
The film quality of the Clouse-directed footage was noticeably higher than that of Lee’s earlier Hong Kong films, and John Barry provided an original soundtrack. The film also featured performances by experienced actors as well as up-and-coming stars, including two recipients of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Dean Jagger and Gig Young) and several who have been honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, including Bruce Lee, Dean Jagger, Chuck Norris, Hugh O’Brian, and Gig Young (in his final film).
For Chinese-speaking audiences, the film was dubbed into Cantonese and Mandarin, and had significant changes, such as the inclusion of a fight in a greenhouse with Casanova Wong and a different opening and closing credits sequence, featuring a new theme song, plus a couple of minor scenes. Unlike the English version, they use Lee’s actual battle sounds. Several scenes were removed, also, including the fight in the opera house dressing room.
In the original Hong Kong version, the fight with Ji Han-jae is included (during the middle of the film though), whilst the ending did not show Billy Lo being arrested. Instead, both he and Ann share their good-byes to Jim as they appear to depart Hong Kong on a boat. The Singaporean version ended with Billy’s arrest, and it did not feature the Ji Han-jae fight. This is the version commonly found in Chinese.
The Mandarin dubbed version of the film featured a different theme song to that of the Cantonese version. The theme song sounded familiar to the main theme of Way of the Dragon. This version also included the scene where Billy and Ann share their good-byes to Jim. The Cantonese dubbed version shows the commonly found scene where Billy is arrested by the police.
The transcript below is from the video “Bruce Lee Game of Death Behind the Scenes Fly Kick 7 Feet (New Rare Footage)” by BruceLeeRealFight.
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