Enter the Game of Death
"Even worse than Bruce Li's "New Game of Death," and trust me, that's saying something."
Enter the Game of Death (1978/1981)
AKA: The King of Kung Fu
Director: Joseph Velasco, To Lo Po
Cast: Bruce Le, Bolo Yeung, Li Hai Sheng
Running Time: 90 min.
Plot: Bruce Le seemingly fights everyone in the world in this exploitative knock-off of Bruce Lee's "Game of Death," which has nothing to do with the original other than the famous yellow-and-black tracksuit.
JOSEPH KUBY'S REVIEW: Guilty Exploitation Pleasure!
Enter The Game Of Death (a.k.a. King Of Kung Fu) is really a bad film though one that's highly enjoyable for Bruce Lee/martial arts/action/Hong Kong movie aficionados! (there's plenty of references to films such as Fist Of Fury, Enter The Dragon and Game Of Death for those who care to decipher them such as the sub-plot from ETD about having the Bruce character agreeing to do a secret mission because of his female relative being attacked by would-be rapists)
Guaranteed, it's not really as good as some of the Bruce Li movies (e.g. The Chinese Stuntman, The Gold Connection a.k.a. Iron Dragon Strikes Back, The Lama Avengers a.k.a. The Three Avengers) nor is at as good as the official Game Of Death movies, but nonetheless Enter The Game Of Death has its moments and then some!
The film is probably most interesting for utilizing the same location Bruce Lee had intended for his unfilmed magnum opus/tour de force masterpiece Game Of Death (which had also been used to good effect in the John Liu actioner Wu Tang Magic Kick a.k.a. The Mars Villa).
Bruce Le, at first, looks nothing like Bruce Lee (he appears in the opening credit sequence like an older Chinese version of Haley Joel Osmond) then as the film progresses there's certain scenes, shots or rather frames that make you think or even say 'Is that Brucie?!' especially during the last fight Le has with Bolo and during his second to last fight scene with this black guy (in particular the beginning of the second slo-mo shot where he performs this kick and if you look carefully his face seems to resemble that of Lee's).
Bruce Le may lack the acting skills and presence of Bruce Lee (not to mention immaculate performance of martial arts technique) but he manages to capture some of the movements and even the physique of Bruce Lee (physique-wise, he resembles the way Bruce looked when he did Enter The Dragon) even though his facial expressions are over the top (though perhaps not as much as Dragon Lee's).
After reading the other Joe's review, it's very easy to see why the film has a slipshod nature as there's little consistency in the film's story (only a very basic plot which is vaguely linear).
The worst example of this consistency (or lack thereof) is the one concerning Bolo Yeung who switches between Japanese & Chinese costumes and is working for both a Chinese boss and a Japanese one without no narrative recourse. This is especially confusing when it's seen at the beginning of the film when both bosses appear to be in allegiance with one another. A sub-plot would have been nice to explain such a rapid inconsistent moment of storytelling.
Speaking of allegiances, it's never told comprehensively much less convincingly how Lisa (who faintly looks like Chingmy Yau Suk Ching - former starlet of Wong Jing) had become a double-spy for both the Chinese and Germans (this film is set prior to the World War II despite the fashions of Bruce Le and the Westerners he fights) and it's never really been stated why she tries to convince Bruce to join both causes (I guess to keep her cover but again it's not clear so as to make the viewer sure of what's happening).
Also, when talking about female characters with strange motivations, Bruce's cousin (for whom he's avenging) asks for help after being raped but then moments later bites her tongue to commit suicide!... why bother to call for help in the first place? I know there's this adage of making the audience guess and to figure things out for themselves but this is just ridiculously lazy, inane and virtually insane.
Henceforth, as a result, this movie is the best (or worst - depending on which way you look at it) example of making a film where there is no genuine motivation but to set up a series of fight scenes.
At least in some of the lesser examples of the genre, there's a fairly substantial reason or reasonable excuse as to why the fights are there but this lacks logic (especially for the first encounter between Bruce Le and Bolo Yeung).
Also there's a tournament sequence (that has a nice documentary feel to it) which even though features characters from the main storyline, it's not been properly established as to why Bolo is fighting contenders in the ring. No explanation has been given afterwards, either.
The opening credit sequence features a funny and almost self-mocking portrait of its star Bruce Le which has two funky themes playing throughout (the last one which sounds like a retro version of the James Bond theme which I don't think was ever used in any of the 70s Bond movies or even the Dr. No inspired Enter The Dragon - a missed opportunity for the latter, would have made it seem less of a rip-off of the former as the usage of the music cue would imply that the similarities were intentional, almost referential).
This credit sequence is strange because when the screen pauses each time a credit pops up, a virtually different music cue pops up (seemingly from different films altogether e.g. Drunken Master and The Hot, The Cool & The Vicious); distractingly, some of the same cues are used to encompass the credits towards the ending duration of the credit sequence.
For the last half of the film, music cues have been ripped off from Enter The Dragon. But for some reason, it never seems all that out of place or shamelessly derivative given the nature of the film (I guess it would have been sloppy if this had been done in a film where there hadn't been such an exploitative nature and if it didn't have so many references towards Bruce Lee).
The score features a strange airplane-esque soundtrack (I don't mean Airplane the movie but the actual vehicle itself) which encompasses some of the slow motion segments of the fight scenes, not only is it overdone in their singular segments but just when they're repeated in other fights.
What made me give this film a 4 rather than a 1 or no rating at all, is that the film is great cheeky fun and the fight scenes are surprisingly very good (especially the pagoda sequence) and are worth a rental alone. Nice use of weaponary and different exponents of different styles.
The snake fist exponent who fights with cobras is a nice tongue-in-cheek inventive touch and the best fight has to be the nunchaku duel which only has 50% of the talent Bruce & Dan had when they shot their nunchaku duel in the real Game Of Death.
My favourite fight is the one where Bruce takes on these Westerners in the forest as he's going for a jog - the choreography is crisp but the unintentional humour of the whole affair (courtesy of the dubbing and Le's reactions) is priceless and worthy of rewinds.
The only bad thing about the fight scenes is that it's obvious when the audio changes from the English dub to the Chinese one as the war cries sound more authentic and the sounds have a more crisper and fresh-sounding quality to them.
Of course this film doesn't have the level of depth and symbolic metaphors which was a part of Bruce's intended vision for his version of Game Of Death, nor does it have the Kubrick standard of perfectionist filmmaking, subtlety and pacing which Bruce would have brought to the finished version of Game Of Death.
What's also noticeable is that rather than Bruce Le climbing onto tougher levels, he graduates through easier ones (the only explanation I can think of is that the filmmakers reasoned that if you wanted to protect something you'd have the toughest fighter on the bottom floor so that IF any intruder had actually passed the first floor then they wouldn't be able to defeat the most tedious of fighters due to the sheer energy spent on the first floor).
Another reason to seek this film is that it serves as a historical document - not just as a retro reminder of the times but of how widely known the Game Of Death project was even before John Little had found the script notes and extra footage that he was to use for his documentary 'Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey'.
For instance, the way Lee Hoi San (famous Kung Fu actor who also appeared as one of the temple guardians in Tower Of Death) had blocked the entrance for Bruce to pass onto the next floor is eerily reminiscent of Kareem's refusal in the footage the real Bruce had shot.
Also just like Chi Hon Joi, one of the exponents in the pagoda is also lying down on a bed. This should serve as a reminder as to why John Woo and Jackie Chan never use storyboards when they make movies.
Overall, good fun if you don't take it too seriously. As a piece of trivia, the Game Of Death style rip-off called The New Game Of Death (a.k.a. Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game Of Death) has a theme song called King Of Kung Fu (which, if you remember, was the alternative title for this movie).
JOSEPH KUBY'S RATING: 4/10
JOE909'S REVIEW: This movie proves yet again that Bruce Le sucks, and was the worst "fake Bruce" of them all. Even Dragon Lee had some charm, compared to him. The reason behind Le's loathsomeness is the audacious levels of "action" he and his producers packed into each of his movies; plot, character development, and even dialog were cast aside whenever possible and replaced by unending kung-fu battles. At least Bruce Le was a good martial artist, with some impressive kicks, but the guy just looks too goofy with his overdone "Bruce Lee" expressions and mannerisms.
The film kicks off with an opening credits sequence which features Le on a blank set, wearing a GoD tracksuit, kicking apart large vases and other inanimate objects. During this some funky music plays that sounds like Kool and the Gang. The credits declare "SUPER STARRING Bruce Le," and immediately we know we're in for an exploitative beating.
Reports vary on this flick. Supposedly it was originally going to feature a bunch of clips of Bruce Lee, from his movies, a la "Tower of Death," even including a bunch of unreleased stuff from Bruce's original "Game of Death" footage. Filming began around 1978, with Le acting as Bruce's stand-in. But then apparently Linda Lee/Raymond Chow threatened to sue, and the film was dropped, only to be revived in 1981 by Filipino producer Joseph Velasco, who remade most of the movie and cast Le solely in the lead. This goes to explain why Enter the Game of Death seems so incoherent; characters who were previously shown to be dead will suddenly reappear, and some characters and sets seem to change through the film, giving the impression that this thing was shot over a long span of time.
Whatever the story behind the movie, the only thing that really matters is that it blows. Literally, one fight follows the next, and you have no idea what in the hell is going on. From what I can understand, it's set in the 1930s, and the Germans and Japanese are planning to do something to China, and it all hinges on a secret document that's been captured by someone. What this document contains is anyone's guess. All of us have seen movies where the plot is nothing more than an excuse to set up the next action sequence, and Enter the Game of Death is the pinnacle (or should I say nadir) of such movies. It comes off as if it's been written by a bunch of kids who've watched three straight years of low-grade Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
To give you an idea of the pointlessness behind the fights, Le is introduced to us as he's taking a leisurely jog through the forest. He stops his jog and proceeds to beat up an innocent tree. Bruce abruptly cuts off this impromptu sparring session, creeps behind a few trees as he goes into a "Bruce Lee" scowl. Then a group of sword-wielders materialize out of the foliage and attack him. Why? It's never explained. Bolo (he of "Enter the Dragon" and "Bloodsport" fame) is one of the attackers, and Bruce beats him up.
Bruce takes off, and the very next scene features Bolo fighting a bunch of inferior martial artists in a tournament (kids, never follow one action scene with another). But guess who Bolo's final opponent is? Why, it's Bruce Le! The guy we just saw kick his ass! And Bruce kicks his ass again! So when does this fight happen? Before the confrontation in the forest? After it? Never explained.
After this tournament, Bruce is offered a job as a bodyguard for a Chinese official who's a turncoat, working for the Japanese. Bruce denies the offer, and the official warns him that he'd better watch himself. Bruce leaves, and sure enough, gets attacked by this guy's thugs! Bruce beats them up and runs off with Linda, the Chinese assistant of a German official. She tries to recruit him for the German cause, whatever that is. Bruce turns her down, and she returns forlornly to her employer, who decides that Bruce better be taken care of. Man, this complicated plot is making my head hurt. I hope there's another action scene, soon.
Next we see Bruce jogging in the woods again, wearing the Game of Death tracksuit! Several scenes begin like this, with Le just jogging through the woods. Maybe he's training for, oh, I don't know, a fight or something. Sure enough, he's attacked again, by another group of thugs who come out of the woodwork. Bruce beats the tar out of them, including a black fighter who shows off some fancy kicks.
After this we actually get a few minutes of action-free dialog, which I guess technically construes "plot advancement." Bruce learns that Linda is really a double-agent for a group of Chinese patriots, who want Bruce to help them fight the Germans and Japanese, and rescue the document. Bruce refuses, claiming that he's a free agent. A Chinese guy accuses Bruce of being heartless. Bruce scoffs and runs away. Next we get to see Le laying in bed, reminiscing over how his beloved cousin was murdered by the Japanese. "I hate the damn Japs so much!" Bruce reminds himself, which inspires him to in fact joining the patriots' cause.
So, boringly-long story short, Bruce pulls on his tracksuit again and raids a pagoda with three of the Chinese patriots. The pagoda, of course, hides the secret document everyone's looking for, but no one seems to know what in the hell this document is all about. Bruce's pals get sidetracked outside the pagoda, fighting a bunch of stooges. Bruce sneaks inside by himself, going solo against the bizarre temple guardians.
On the first floor, Bruce takes on a Shaolin monk who uses butterfly swords and small metal balls, which he throws with deadly accuracy. This is the same monk from "Tower of Death," the one who guarded the second level. Bruce fights him for a while, and the funny thing is, even though this is just the first guardian, Bruce has a harder time beating him than any of the following guardians. Bruce maybe takes a punch or two but he doesn't get hurt at all, and kills the monk with a savage blow.
The second floor features a guy with a wild beard and crazy, fake hair who hangs out with a bunch of snakes. He also does snake style, of course. Le dodges a few snakes while beating the guy up. Then in what I assume the producers intended to be a "horrifying" moment, the guy bites off a snake's head and shoots the blood at Le. This scene is hilarious due to the confused expressions Le shows off while the guy's doing this. Le looks like a robot, he doesn't even look real. Anyway, Bruce kills the guardian and proceeds upstairs.
The third floor's guarded by another guy wearing a wig, and a fake white beard. He uses nunchucks, and this of course gives Le the opportunity to reveal his own yellow Śchucks, which previously must've been hidden up his ass or something. Le slams this guy around without breaking a sweat, despite the fact that he's just been in two life-or-death battles, as well as having fought around twenty guys in the previous thirty minutes of the movie.
On the fourth floor, Le faces two guys: Black Tiger and White Tiger. He takes them on one at a time; White Tiger (old, fat, dressed in white, and white-haired) reclines on a bed while Black Tiger (younger, kinda fat, dressed in black, black-haired) tries to fight Bruce with some unimpressive kung-fu. Bruce kills both of them easily, but by this time you'll be dusting your furniture due to boredom, so you won't even notice. This scene IS interesting in that it proves that somehow, word leaked out about Bruce's REAL "Game of Death." In Bruce's original story, as shown in "Warrior's Journey," Ji Han Jae flips on a red light on the fourth floor of the pagoda, and warns Bruce that the red light means death. White Tiger warns Bruce Le the same thing in this movie, even turning on a red light. So, given that the dialog Bruce wrote for "Game of Death" wasn't discovered until the Ś90s, and that this movie was made in the very early Ś80s, how did the producers know that this line of dialog was in Bruce's original?
Finally, the top floor. Le JUST MISSES a Japanese agent who rushes off with the secret document, thereby rendering the entire pagoda raid pointless. So Bruce is left to fight the final guardian, another fat Chinese guy who's dressed like a mountain man or something. Bruce gets cut a few times in the process. Here the producers give us more bang for the Bruceploitation buck, combining the GoD tracksuit with the "bleeding claw marks" look from the final battle in "Enter the Dragon." Bruce beats the guy to death in another boring match.
Bruce goes back outside, helps his pals finish off the stooges they've presumably been fighting for the past several minutes. Then Bruce goes on to fight the Chinese turncoat's stooges, Bolo, the black fighter he took on earlier, the Japanese official (who, it turns out, is the same guy who killed Bruce's cousin), and finally, the German official. Bruce fights ALL of these guys on his own. Keep in mind, this is directly after his raid on the pagoda! Yet he shows no signs of physical exhaustion, and he's barely broken a sweat. Even Bruce Lee himself looks like he's about to collapse, after his fight with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's character in the "Game of Death" footage.
This is one of the reasons Bruce Le's movies suck so much; he's presented as such a superhuman fighter that you care less than nothing for him. And it also doesn't help that these fights happen back to back, which is a total beating on the viewer. Parts of the fight with the black guy are even drawn out via slow-motion! How much did the producers expect their audience to take?
This is a long review, which isn't justified by such a poor movie. Basically I'm just trying to prevent others from making the mistake I made; namely, watching the damn thing. This one only comes recommended if 1). You want to see all of the "Game of Death" rip-offs, 2). You're collecting Bruceploitation flicks, or 3). You have lost the will to live.
Speaking of the GoD rip-offs, this one's easily the worst. Even worse than Bruce Li's "New Game of Death," and trust me, that's saying something.
JOE909'S RATING: 2/10 (1 extra point for the sheer stubbornness of it all)