Bruce Lee

Film (1978)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 November, 2011, 12:00am


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Game of Death
Bruce Lee, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Director: Robert Clouse/Bruce Lee

The recent announcement that Seattle was planning to open a Bruce Lee museum before Hong Kong was almost shocking, highlighting once again our city's strange lack of interest in our home-grown talent.

In truth, Lee's legacy is mostly based on one US production: Enter the Dragon. But things could have been different. Before he was offered his big Hollywood role, the star was in the middle of a Golden Harvest production that was meant to be his Hong Kong masterpiece: Game of Death, a classic kung fu epic that would showcase his many beliefs in the principles of martial arts.

The film would follow Hai Tien (played by Lee), a retired martial arts champion whose siblings are kidnapped by an underworld gang. They force Hai to once again don his iconic yellow jumpsuit (later re-popularised in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films) to retrieve a precious item on the top level of a pagoda. On each of the pagoda's five levels, Hai faces a different style of challenger, played by various martial arts masters and NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

More than 100 minutes of the film were shot before production was paused for Lee to journey Stateside, and his untimely death meant the film would never resume. Instead, Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse stepped in to complete it - with results that were anything but respectful.

Using just 11 minutes of fight footage and creating a new, revenge-driven, plot about martial arts movie star Billy Lo who fakes his death through plastic surgery, Clouse spent five years piecing together the film using stand-ins, archived footage and even cardboard cutouts.

Through no fault of Lee's, Game of Death became a mortifying cash-in on his legacy. Fans and those involved in the film said that some of Lee's best work was lost in the archives. It took 27 years after his death to find them.

In 2000, two documentaries surfaced on the film, each offering 40 minutes of reassembled footage based on Lee's notes.

The results were astounding: here was Lee at the top of his game, facing off against a variety of martial arts methods and proving the superiority of his fluid jeet kune do style in every instance. Here was Lee acting, choreographing and directing, a maverick filmmaker and artist who could have taken both the East and West by storm.

Fans still argue that there exists more of Lee's original Game of Death somewhere in Golden Harvest's archive - the fact that both documentaries offer slightly different footage is used as testament. It may not be enough to piece together a complete film, but it certainly could be one that could eclipse the available film.

And if nothing else, it may even get Hongkongers excited enough to rename Chek Lap Kok as Bruce Lee Airport - or at least open a museum dedicated to one of our city's best-known sons.