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  Game of Death Bruce On The Loose
Year: 1978
Director: Robert Clouse
Stars: Bruce Lee, Colleen Camp, Dean Jagger, Gig Young, Hugh O'Brian, Kim Tai Chung, Yuen Biao, Robert Wall, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mel Novak, James Tien, Dan Inosanto, Roy Chiao, Russell Cawthorne, Sammo Hung, Chuck Norris
Genre: Thriller, Martial Arts, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 2 votes)
Review: Billy Lo (Bruce Lee and Kim Tai Chung) is a big movie star in Hong Kong and making his latest martial arts epic, but today when the director calls "cut" to end the filming, an arclight falls and nearly hits Billy. Accident? Or something more sinister? Billy thinks he knows when he enters his dressing room and Steiner (Hugh O'Brian), the right hand man of a top gangster, is waiting for him. Steiner is insistent that Billy carry out the wishes of the Syndicate and fight in a lucrative match, but the star is not so keen and recommends he leave. Then Billy visits his singer girlfriend Ann (Colleen Camp) in the studio, but she's concerned for his welfare, as well she might be as the Syndicate, led by the scheming Dr Land (Dean Jagger), are determined to make an example of him...

So you've got footage of one of the biggest screen stars of his time, but unfortunately he died over five years ago, what do you do with the footage that could potentially make you money? A good answer to that is Game of Death, well - perhaps "good" isn't quite the right word - where Bruce Lee had filmed a handful of fight scenes for his next martial arts endeavour, but had had to put it on hold to shoot Enter the Dragon. We all know that he never lived to finish his film, which might have been great, but on this evidence might not have been, yet that didn't stop the owners of those scenes shooting a whole new story around them.

The notion of editing in a dead star into your movie is not a new one, and perhaps the most notorious instance before this one was Edward D. Wood Jr's Plan 9 from Outer Space where home movies of Bela Lugosi created his final starring role with the help of a double. However, you can quite safely say director Robert Clouse and his associates really took this idea and ran with it, by cutting in the odd closeup of Lee from other features into film of a double wearing enormous sunglasses to obscure the fact that he's not Lee after all. And it works like a dream!

No, of course it doesn't, it's painfully obvious by the way the double is usually seen in shadow, or has to wear a false beard and moustache as disguise, or frequently has his back to the camera, that there's a strong element of fooling going on. The American cast members don't really help much, with O'Brian even set up as an opponent to Bruce for the climactic fight - not the best way to end your action movie - and Camp reduced to wailing and looking upset: in one scene all she has to do is sit in a car while the Lee stunt doubles go to work and cry "Bi-lleee!" This might be more palatable if Lee had filmed more of the original, but as it is he only came up with ten minutes that are used.

The whole idea behind that original footage was that Lee's character would move up various levels of a pagoda, fighting a tougher opponent on each level until, erm, he emerged the victor, I guess. And that's all you see of him, as it's obvious early on that, say, sticking a picture of Lee's face over a mirror and having the double sit very still to make it look as if it's his own face wasn't going to be especially effective. And that's the trouble, none of it's effective and there's not one point where the subterfuge isn't obvious, so you either throw up your hands in frustration or watch it as an example of cinematic hubris, a bad movie for bad movie buffs. In fact, it's not particularly exciting despite the involvement of stars like Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, as most of the production is the boring thriller plot, and the finale sees Lee struggling with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which looks odd, more than anything else. Music by John Barry.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Robert Clouse  (1928 - 1997)

American director who, after directing Darker Than Amber, settled into a string of martial arts thrillers starting with the Bruce Lee favourite Enter the Dragon. His other films include Golden Needles, Black Belt Jones, The Ultimate Warrior, Game of Death, The London Connection, The Big Brawl, camp classic Gymkata, China O'Brien and its first sequel.

 
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