When is a film not a film? Just ask the creators of Game of Death. Billy Lo is a martial arts movie star who realises that his life is in danger and so decides to fake his own death to find out exactly who is trying to kill him.
That's the basic premise of Game of Death and for the uninitiated, although this is billed as a Bruce Lee film, do not be fooled. There are a number of versions of Game of Death out there with various running times, but the great man himself only appears via stock footage.
Released five years after his untimely death, Game of Death has a combination of at least three other actors filling the role of Lo unless the filmmakers could fit in a close up of Lee's face. As a result, it's pretty jarring and noticeable that the main character is not being played by Lee but by wannabes who can't hold a candle to the memory of the inimitable martial arts superstar.
Being nearly forty years old, the film has been seen by most fans of Asian cinema and action films in general and it gets another re-release alongside the movies that matter of The Way of the Dragon, Fist of Fury and The Big Boss.
The fact is that when Lee is not on screen, you miss his charisma and presence, and as it's for the majority of the running time here, you can really tell that this is merely a cash in on Lee's memory. The final twenty minutes, when Lo has to battle his way upstairs to Dr Land, who is the main bad guy, is where Lee finally shows up and the action ramps up. Every level is like a new boss battle in a computer game and Lee mugs it up for the camera, exuding all the star power that was snuffed out.
It's all there in those final scenes, the stuff we came to see. The iconic yellow and black jumpsuit; Lee's playfulness visually coming through as he prepares for each battle, including perhaps the strangest fight ever put on celluloid as he comes up against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the real life basketball player who was over seven feet tall. The problem is that everything that came before is but a pale imitation.
Game of Death could have been a great movie, but they should have left the legend of Lee alone.
GAME OF DEATH / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: ROBERT CLOUSE, BRUCE LEE / SCREENPLAY: ROBERT CLOUSE / STARRING: BRUCE LEE, GIG YOUNG, COLLEN CAMP, ROBERT WALL, KAREEM ADBUL-JABBAR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW