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The Game of Death (traditional Chinese: 死亡的遊戲; simplified Chinese: 死亡的游戏; Mandarin Pinyin: Sǐwáng dé Yóuxì; Jyutping: Sei5 Mong4 Dik1 Jau4 Hei3) is a 1972 film starring Bruce Lee. It was almost the film Bruce Lee had planned to be the demonstration piece of his martial art Jeet Kune Do. 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 Bruce Lee's original English and Cantonese dialogue, with John Little dubbing Bruce Lee's Hai Tien character as part of the documentary entitled Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey. Most of the footage which was shot is from what was to be the centerpiece of the film, which was to be co-produced (with Raymond Chow), written and directed by Lee.

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 The Game of Death.

After Lee's death, Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse was enlisted to direct additional scenes featuring two stand-ins which, when pieced together with the original footage as well as other footage from earlier in Lee's career, would form a new film (also entitled Game of Death) which was released in 1978, five years after his death, by Golden Harvest.

Original plot [edit][]

The original plot involves Lee playing the role of Hai Tien, a retired champion martial artist who was confronted by the Korean underworld gangs. They tell him the story of a pagoda where guns are prohibited, and under heavy guard by highly skilled martial artists who are protecting something (which is not identified at all in any surviving material) held on its top level. The gang boss wants Hai to be a part of a group whose purpose is to retrieve said item. They would be the second group to try to do so as the first attempt with a previous group had failed. When Hai refuses, his younger sister and brother are kidnapped, forcing him to participate. Hai, as well as four other martial artists (two of which were played by James Tien and Chieh Yuan), then fight their way up a five-level pagoda, encountering a different challenge on each floor. The setting of the pagoda was at Peobjusa temple in Songnisan National Park in South Korea.

The pagoda, called Palsang-jon, is the only remaining wooden pagoda in South Korea. At the base of the pagoda they fight 10 people, all black belts in Karate. While inside the pagoda, they encounter a different opponent on each floor, each more challenging than the last. Although his allies try to help out, they are handily defeated, and Hai must face each of the martial artists in one-on-one combat. He defeats Filipino martial arts master Dan Inosantohapkido master Ji Han Jae, and finally Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who fights with a free and fluid style mirroring Lee's Jeet Kune Do. Because Abdul-Jabbar's character has great size and strength in addition to a fighting style as potent as Lee's, he can only be defeated once Hai recognizes that an unusually high sensitivity to light is his greatest weakness.

Immediately after defeating the giant guardian, Hai turns around and descends the staircase, heading out of the pagoda. Despite all the talk of something awaiting up top of the (now unguarded) flight of stairs, there is no mention of anyone going up to retrieve it. No surviving material explains how this will affect Hai or his captive siblings.

Original production [edit][]

Although the pagoda was supposed to have five floors, complete scenes were only shot for three of the floors: the "Temple of the Tiger," where Lee faced Inosanto; the "Temple of the Dragon", where he fought Ji Han Jae; and the final floor, where he fought Abdul-Jabbar was the "Temple of the Unknown". Hapkido master Hwang In-Shik was slated to play the guardian of the first floor, a master of a kick-oriented style, while Bruce's long time student and good friend Taky Kimura was asked to play the guardian of the second floor, a stylist of praying mantis kung fu.

The goal of the film's plot was to showcase Lee's beliefs regarding the principles of martial arts. As each martial artist is defeated (including Lee's allies), the flaws in their fighting style are revealed. Some, like Dan Inosanto's character, rely too much on fixed patterns of offensive and defensive techniques, while others lack economy of motion. Lee defeats his opponents by having a fighting style that involves fluid movement, unpredictability, and an eclectic blend of techniques. His dialogue often includes comments on their weaknesses.

Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey [edit][]

Several years later, Bruce Lee historian John Little released Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey, a documentary revealing the original footage and storyline of The Game of Death. The documentary also includes a fairly in-depth biography of Lee and leads into the filming of The Game of Death. Fans still believe there is more footage to be found. Originally meant to be a documentary in its own right, now it can be found on the second disc of the 2004 Special Edition DVD release of Enter the Dragon, along with the documentary Bruce Lee: Curse of the Dragon.

Bruce Lee in G.O.D.: Shibōteki Yūgi [edit][]

In 2000, the Japanese film Bruce Lee in G.O.D. 死亡的遊戯 was released on DVD. This film shows Lee's original vision of the film through the existing footage that was shot for the film before he died, interviews, and historical re-enactments of what went on behind the scenes. A "special edition" DVD was released in 2003.

Cast [edit][]

Filmed cast [edit][]

Unfilmed cast [edit][]

Intended cast [edit][]

Game of Death (1978) [edit][]

Game of Death (1978)
Traditional Chinese 死亡遊戲
Simplified Chinese 死亡游戏
Game of Death

Game of Death Movie Poster

Traditional 死亡遊戲
Simplified 死亡游戏
Mandarin Sǐwáng Yóuxì
Cantonese Sei5 Mong4 Jau4 Hei3
Directed by Robert Clouse
Produced by Raymond Chow
Written by Jan Spears (Clouse/Chow)
Starring Bruce Lee

Kim Tai-jong Yuen Biao Gig Young Dean Jagger Colleen Camp Robert Wall Hugh O'Brian Dan Inosanto Mel Novak Sammo Hung Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Han-Jae Ji Casanova Wong

Music by John Barry

Joseph Koo

Cinematography Ho Lan Shan

Godfrey A. Godar

Editing by Alan Pattillo
Studio Golden Harvest
Distributed by Golden Harvest (HK)

Columbia Pictures Dimension Films(US)

Release date(s) *March 23, 1978(Hong Kong)
Running time 103 minutes (Int'l cut)

94 minutes (HK cut) 125 minutes (HK premiere)

Country Hong Kong
Language Cantonese


Box office HK$3,436,169

Game of Death (traditional Chinese: 死亡遊戲; simplified Chinese: 死亡游戏; Mandarin Pinyin: Sǐwáng Yóuxì; Jyutping: Sei5 Mong4 Jau4 Hei3) is a 1978 Hong Kong martial arts action crimethriller film co-written (under the pseudonym Jan Spears with Raymond Chow) and directed by Robert Clouse and starring Bruce LeeKim Tai-jongYuen BiaoGig YoungDean Jagger,Colleen CampRobert WallHugh O'BrianDan InosantoMel NovakSammo HungKareem Abdul-JabbarHan-Jae Ji, and Casanova Wong.

Plot [edit][]

The 1978 version uses portions of the original footage married to an entirely new plot involving a new character, Billy Lo,(盧比利) struggling against a racketeering "syndicate" after gaining international success as a martial arts movie star. When Billy refuses to be intimidated by syndicate henchman Steiner (Hugh O'Brian) and his gangs of thugs, syndicate owner Dr. Land (Dean Jagger) orders his assassination to serve as an example to others.

Disguised as a stuntman, Land's assassin Stick (Mel Novak) sneaks onto the set of Billy's new film, and shoots Billy during filming. A fragment of the bullet passes through Billy's face, leaving him alive but in need of plastic surgery which alters his facial features. Billy takes the opportunity to fake his death and disguise himself, exacting revenge against those who wronged him one at a time. When the syndicate threatens and kidnaps his fiancée, Ann Morris (Colleen Camp), Billy is forced to come out of hiding in order to save her. In the revised film, Bruce Lee's fight scenes inside the pagoda are assumed to take place in the upper floors of the Red Pepper restaurant, where Dr. Land and his thugs have laid an ambush. In the end Billy survives the ambush, rescues Ann, and destroys each of the main mobsters one-by-one.

Cast [edit][]

Production [edit][]

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 byYuen Biao and taekwondo master Tai Chung Kim and was voiced by Chris Kent. The plot of the film allowed Kim and Biao 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 recognizable due to the difference in film quality between the old and new footage.

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. In order 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 movie, 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 honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, including Dean Jagger, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Hugh O'Brian, and Gig Young.

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 green house 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 Lo's arrest, and it did not feature the Ji Han Jae fight - this is the version commonly found in Chinese.

Theme song [edit][]

"Game of Death" (死亡遊戲)

The American score was composed by John Barry.

Reception [edit][]

The film was successful at the Hong Kong box office grossing HK$3,436,169, but was not well received. Criticism of the revised version included the inclusion of scenes that could be considered in bad taste, such as the incorporation of footage of Lee's actual funeral. Another scene, often pointed out by critics of the film, involved a shot of Kim looking at himself in the mirror, with an obvious cardboard cut-out of Lee's face pasted onto the mirror's surface.

The action directed by Sammo Hung for the scenes with the Bruce Lee lookalikes and the footage that Bruce Lee shot for the original footage with the final three fights helped to alleviate the movie's problems. Apart from the cheesy techniques used to disguise the fact that Bruce Lee was being played by stand-ins, the movie enjoyed respectable production values.

Bey Logan points out a few logic issues with the 1978 movie. In order for the henchmen to remain low key, they should be wearing more casual clothes instead of the multicolored tracksuits seen at various parts of the film. But as a rationale, this explains why Bruce Lee wears the yellow tracksuit. Also in the fight between Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul, the scene near the vase in Logan's opinion appears to look choppy along with the short fight with Hugh O' Brian. Perhaps the most important thing on the first half of the english version, Bruce's fight sequence has been taken down to a more realistic level and unlike previous films, he's seen to be beaten down instead of making short work of these henchmen.

However despite those major flaws, for the western audiences, the story narrative is easier to follow through compared to his earlier films like "The Big Boss", "Fist of Fury" and "Way of the Dragon". Compare to the Hong Kong films, it has western characters and the story structure is more straightforward than the Hong Kong structure which has action, but the story's humor and drama might not work for the people in the west like the US and the UK.

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports the film as holding an overall 75% approval rating based on 8 reviews, of these six were fresh and two were rotten.