AKA: Finishing The Game of Death
Director: Justin Lin
Writer: Josh Diamond
Cast: James Franco, Roger Fan, Sung Kang, Dustin Nguyen, McCaleb Burnett, MC Hammer, Ron Jeremy, Bella Thorne
Running Time: 88 min.
This is essentially a mockumentary which asks, “What if the greedy bastards who owned his footage actually wanted to realize Bruce Lee’s original vision for ‘Game of Death’, and shoot it the way it was intended?” Thus, a casting call is made for Asian-American actors who can fill Bruce’s shoes. The contenders include a pretty boy b-actor, a Vietnamese refugee, a wash-out who was mostly known for one-note characters, a Chuck Norris-type who’s actually part-Chinese and an advocate for Asian causes, and a goofy dope who rarely takes the initiative.
“Finishing the Game” goes for more than just Hollywood’s portrayal of Asians in film. It also covers their treatment in this country, sometimes in a vicious and ironic way, sometimes in a straight-forward way. What makes it all work is that Lin tries to have fun with the material. He doesn’t fall into the trap of lecturing or talking down to the audience; he simply points it out in an easy-going, albeit matter-of-fact, way. (I guess the closest similar approach I can think of, when I watch this film, is “The Boondocks”.)
The actors are believable, and yet unique, in their appearance and approach. It’s refreshing to see Asians who actually look and talk like Asians you might know, and not the “One ethnic group fits all” mentality which led to the recent casting decisions for “Memoirs of a Geisha”. Of course, the downside is that they look more like people you’d know, if you’ve lived in L.A., so you might not “get” them as well otherwise. Still, their performances are decent enough, that it doesn’t matter if you know them, because you can still relate to them on an impersonal level.
Plus, it also helps to have some familiarity with the martial arts movie scene of that time; but you can also simply accept it all as 70s kitsch-like much of Boogie Nights. My only gripe is that the story gets a little too melodramatic, as one of the aspiring actors, Cole Kim (Sung Kang), takes his relationship issues a little too seriously, and that slows down the momentum of the film. Still, it leads to a great climax, so it’s worth it to be patient.
When I attended the weekend premiere in L.A., I found out that ‘Game was shot in 19 days, but it hardly looks like it, possibly because Lin was able to get some free sets and clothes from “You, Me, and Dupree”. In spite of success, he still finds it tough to pitch non-white casting choices to producers, which is why he prefers the indie route. Lin also feels there’s a world of difference between Asian film and Asian-American film in terms of professionalism and success. However, he is happy that he’s been able to break down Hollywood’s perceived barriers for what is considered “appealing”.
Ningen’s Rating: 7.5/10 if you get bored with Cole Kim’s girl troubles, 8.5 if you think it enhances the story.