New Game of Death | aka Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death (1975) Review

"New Game of Death" US Theatrical Poster

"New Game of Death" US Theatrical Poster

Director: Lin Pin/Harold B. Swartz
Producer: R. Chow (I doubt it’s Raymond) , Chang Lung
Action Director: Chen Kee
Cast: Bruce Li (aka Ho Chung Tao, James Ho), Ronald Brown, “Big” Jonny Floyd, Mung Ping, Lee Keung

By Joseph Kuby

Funky, funny, fight-filled fun!

I read a few reviews indicating that this film was not only bad but an utterly terrible mess; however even though this is a Bruceploitation movie and one that is quite flawed in some aspects, the film benefits strongly from American involvement (like James Ho’s other film Exit The Dragon, Enter The Tiger).

This is probably one of the few Hong Kong films to be directed by a Westerner, though I can’t think of any other Hong Kong movie where a Westerner was directing (besides Bey Logan’s assistant directorial duties for Gen-Y Cops).

The production values are of a high quality (at least for a Hong Kong movie and considering the time it was made in) so it’s not as cheap as other Bruceploitation movies (besides budgeting for things like props & set design, the cinematography is sublime e.g. when we see interwoven shots of footsteps during a chase sequence). The opening credit sequence is very classy (utilizing magazine covers, newspaper articles and poster images of Bruce Lee) even if it does not reach the same heights of the credit sequences seen in the 1978 version of Game Of Death.

The dubbing isn’t the usual pool of ‘talent’ that’s usually found in this era of martial arts movies of which this film comes from and the soundtrack is of an immensely high quality (some nice raw 70s rock tunes that help to give the film a more edgier & meatier flavour as well as the main theme song which is easily on par with the one used for The Dragon Lives).

The story is quite original and interesting in that James Ho (credited here as Lee Roy Lung rather than his usual alias, Bruce Li) plays a gymnast who film producers want to replace Bruce Lee for his role in Game Of Death after showing him a film-reel of what Bruce had completed (so it’s a film within a film in a certain sense – the aspect of this film of what makes it unique or at least different from other Hong Kong movies at the time).

Hence what we have here is akin to what went on in Exit The Dragon, Enter The Tiger (James Ho playing both Bruce Lee and a fictional character).

The action in this film is quite sub-par with a fair bit of the choreography looking a bit slapdash and Li’s technique looking a bit rudimentary and somewhat perfunctory (despite an impressive kick he performs during a night-time encounter), though he’s a good acrobatic and would slowly improve in future films such as The Chinese Stuntman.

Actually most of the fights in the first 2/3 of the film are only enjoyable if you’re a fan of martial arts or fighting or any kind of action. They’re enjoyable for the whole camp factor of seeing Chinese people fight each other within a contemporary 70s setting complete with funky 70s beats. So, in other words, if you’re a child of the 70s or lived through that decade then this film will provide a devilish 70s treat.

One fight scene in particular seems to have inspired the one in Police Story 2 where Jackie is armed with two sticks whilst taking on hooligans in a playground. James, himself, doesn’t use two sticks but one of his adversaries do before Ho comes to dismantle him of his sticks. I particularly liked the part where Ho had fought using this large sphere-shaped playground object.

As we go towards the end of the film, the fights seem to get better and better culminating in an awesome spin-off of Bruce’s original idea for Game Of Death (a Chinese guy in a catsuit taking on a 7-floored pagoda filled to the brim with martial arts experts).

However, even with the discrephancies that riddle this film (namely an absurd script and obvious outdoor creation in an indoor location {i.e. the pagoda} complete with corners in the ceiling where the “sky” is meant to be), the action scores high marks for its climatic pagoda battle sequence.

On the surface, it looks good enough with all the various combatants from around the world, but the execution is stellar. There are some nice pauses during the action (not as in the posturing of the characters but technically as in camerawork) which are very reminiscent of what John Woo would later put into his action sequences.

Thematically speaking, there were some nice touches besides stylistic ones in the way the finale was staged. For example, the idea of a combatant being driven crazy due to his opponent reappearing in front of his eyes from all directions added a nice bit of psychological depth. Also, I appreciated the realistic nature in regards to how a fighter chose to handle a situation in which his opponent was armed with a weapon.

Usually in martial arts movies there’s this convention where if one person is armed with a person, the other person has to be armed with a weapon (if not the same type of weapon). Now of course it makes sense to arm oneself well in a fight but in these kinds of movies how they manage to counteract a foe’s piece of weaponary always seems contrived and even implausible, especially if you have a protagonist armed with a weapon and he or she was taking on a gang of thugs who are armed with no weapons which (for some strange reason or other) propels the protagonist to feel obliged to get rid of his or her weapon.

In this movie we see James take on an Indian martial arts expert armed with a nunchaku but rather than seeing James magically reveal a nunchaku, he instead chooses to find a way to dislocate the Indian of his weapon which then sees the Indian’s attempts to fight Li with his nunchaku being used against him.

This is then taken to larger proportions when Ho finds himself forced to take on the main villain who’s armed with a long whip. At first he attempts to use the nunchaku but then has to fight single-handed before using the nunchaku again. But even without this much-needed and much-welcome touch of realism, a nunchaku-vs-whip battle is ingenious (especially seeing as how whips aren’t commonly used in martial arts/action movies besides for torturous reasons) and presents a challenge that is actually challenging rather than a simple task disguised as an obstacle; we really get that sense that the foe will win.

Like with most Bruceploitation movies, there’s a fair share of humour (most of it seemingly unintentional) that will have punters rolling in the aisles. For instance this encounter with this black henchman (of whom the UK DVD cover states is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar throwing in a cameo appearance) and another one which sees Ho take on a group of gangsters (including two laughably unconvincing Caucasian thugs, one of them who looks like a cross between Robin Williams {in his younger days} and Henry Enfield {British comic} – probably the latter moreso).

Eerily enough, the actress who plays Bruce Lee’s* girlfriend looks like a Chinese Barbra Streisand; only thing missing from this is a few music numbers courtesy of this uncanny lookalike and a Kris Kristofferson, Ryan O’Neal or even Barry Gibb lookalike and this would be classifed as a Barbsploitation flick!

The DVD release for this film features the best presentation I’ve ever seen for a Bruceploitation flick – excellent visual and audio quality. Though unfortunately like other martial arts films that get released on DVD, the extras are exaggerated (there is no interview with the director, which is a shame as I – like many other people – would like to know what goes on inside the head of someone who directs an entry in the Bruceploitation genre).

*Within the context of the storyline. Not Bruce Lee of course or my accidental way of referring to Ho Chung Tao as Bruce Lee (ala that scene from Exit The Dragon, Enter The Tiger).

Joseph Kuby’s Rating: 7/10


By Joe909

This is one weird movie, due to some very heavy editing. Like most old-school kung-fu movies, New Game of Death is also known by another name: Goodbye Bruce Lee. But here it has been edited and changed around. Goodbye Bruce Lee was a psuedo-documentary in which Bruce Li was introduced as the man who would complete Bruce Lee’s uncompleted movie Game of Death. There was even a short interview with Kareem Abdul Jabbar at the beginning, as well as some shots of Li working the high-bar, giving us a peek at his acrobatic skills. Then, mid-course through this documentary, a “movie” began, in which Li fought some crooks and eventually rescued his fiancée, who was held in a martial artist-filled pagoda.

This edit of Goodbye Bruce Lee features all of that, save for the Jabbar interview and the original narration, which have both been removed. Now it is made to resemble just a regular movie, and not a documentary at all. However, the editing has left it very odd. For example, it still begins with Li working the high-bar. But instead of narration explaining who this man is, the theme music (a very Blaxploitation sounding song called “King of Kung Fu”) just plays relentlessly, without a lick of informational narration. Then Li is taken to a producer’s office, where he’s told that he’s been chosen to complete Bruce Lee’s movie Game of Death. Li agrees, and the producers have him and his girlfriend sit down in a projection room, so they can show him “the portion of the movie that Bruce finished.” The projectionist starts the movie and from there on we’re into the New Game of Death. There is no more mention of Bruce Li and his girlfriend there in the projection room. Sound confusing? It is.

As for the movie itself, it’s confusing too. I think this is mostly due to the English dubbing. Back when this was released (mid ’70s), I think US distributors just tried to get the dialog to match the movements of the actors’ mouths; they weren’t so worried about accurately-translated dialog. And that really shows in this movie. Several times it’s very obvious that the dialog has nothing to do with what’s going on.

And as for the fighting, well it isn’t that great. Bruce Li (at least at this point in his career) was no Bruce Lee. As if you didn’t already know that. There are some saving graces, though: the pagoda guardians are fairly interesting in a campy way, and Li does the best with what he’s been given in this film.

Two scenes that had me laughing: Li’s brother discovers that his apartment has been trashed, as the opening chords of the James Bond theme blast on the soundtrack. And two, Li steps into a room, wearing ordinary clothes, and, mere seconds later, steps back out, wearing the yellow and black tracksuit the real Bruce Lee made famous (though Bruce Li’s version has a friggin’ turtleneck, for some reason).

New Game of Death is subpar, a quickie that was churned out to make a fast buck, chock-full of lame kung-fu and lots of camp. No comparison to the Bruce Li movies that followed. Anyway, my advice: rent the movie if you want to see it, but don’t do anything crazy like buying it. For the die-hard Bruce Li/Game of Death aficionado only.

Joe909’s Rating: 3/10

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