When Bruce Lee died in 1973, he left behind him four completed films, and one – Game of Death – for which he had only shot a series of riveting fight sequences. Game of Death was completed by producer Raymond Chow with the help of a Lee stand-in, Kim Tai Chung, and released in 1978. While it proved pretty bad entertainment (Lee’s fight scenes excepted), it was a huge hit worldwide, particularly in Japan. So when Japanese investors, eager for a sequel, were offered more unused Game of Death footage, they snapped it up; what they actually got was a couple of minutes of Enter the Dragon outtakes, none of which happened to feature the great man in combat. Nevertheless, it was enough to justify Lee’s name on the credits, and in 1981, Tower of Death (aka Game of Death II) was released.
Game of Death’s movie star hero Billy Lo (played again, except for a few shots of the real Lee, by Kim Tai Chung) returns to mainland China to see his old master Chin Ku (Hwang Jan Lee) and his errant brother Bobby. Chin Ku dies mysteriously and Billy smells a rat – unfortunately he too is murdered, leaving it up to Bobby (Tai Chung again, this time not disguised as Bruce Lee!) to solve the mystery and avenge his brother's death. The trail leads him to the stronghold of American kung fu expert Lewis (Roy Huran), from whom he learns of an inverted tower beneath the earth that may hold the secret to Billy’s murder.
Tower of Death is by no means a good martial arts movie. Storylines are obviously not the genre’s strongpoint, but this one is so poor that it really does take a lot of fighting to pad the film out to even 82 minutes. The cutting from a bewigged Kim Tai Chung to shots of the real Bruce Lee is so jarring that it’s a relief when Billy Lo is killed off after half an hour, although when his ‘disguise’ does come off, it becomes clear that Tai Chung wasn’t hired for his acting abilities or martial arts skills (much of his fighting was doubled by star-to-be Yuen Biao). The dubbing in the English version is, again, bad even by the low standards of the genre (luckily the UK DVD also offers the film in subbed Cantonese), and there’s a scene where Bobby is attacked by a lion that’s so hilariously fake that you begin to wonder if it is actually supposed to be a man in a panto suit!
That all said, there is some pretty decent kung fu on display, courtesy of Yuen Woo-Ping, the veteran fight choreographer best known these days for his work on The Matrix films and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The momentum may flag a little during the final third, but you do get some thrilling action as Bobby fights his way through the underground tower.
Aka: Si Wang Ta, Game of Death II, The New Game of Death
Hong Kong born writer, director and producer. Worked as an executive for the Shaw Brothers studio until the early-seventies, before leaving to direct for independent companies and establish his own production house. Produced two of Jackie Chan’s most influential late-seventies films, Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, plus hits like Tsui Hark’s The Butterfly Murders, Ninja in the Dragon’s Den and Tower of Death (aka Game of Death II), which he also directed. Ng See-Yuen also had some success in the US during the 1980s as producer of the extremely popular No Retreat, No Surrender, which introduced the world to Jean-Claude Van Damme.