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New Game of Death
  Year: 1975
Bruce Li is not the Man in New Game of Death
  Director: Lin Pin, Harold B. Swartz  
  Producer: Chang Lung-Gen, Su Man Tsai Hon  
  Writer: Lau Kar-Leung  
  Cast: Bruce Li (Ho Chung-Tao), Lung Fei, Man Ping, Mao Shan, Robert Kerver, Ronald Brown, Johnny Floyd, Kuslai, Sandus  
  The Skinny: For Bruce Lee fans, New Game of Death is probably equivalent to a slap in the face. For fans of cheap production values, ho-hum fighting, and plenty of unintentional humor, this "Bruceploitation" film is like a gift from heaven. Either way, it stinks.  
Review by
     Without a doubt, Bruce Lee was a legend in his own time, sadly leaving us with only a handful of films to remember him by. In response to his shocking death in 1973, filmmakers from all over Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China sought to discover "The Next Bruce Lee" to fill the legendary martial artist's very big shoes. Some producers, however, took the task a bit too literally, and they started casting a whole slew of Bruce Lee imitators in low-budget chopsocky flicks to take advantage of the international thirst for more Bruce Lee-styled kung fu flicks. As a result, the tacky phenomenon known as "Bruceploitation" was born, and actors with such sound-alike names as Bruce Li, Bruce Le, Dragon Lee, and Bruce Liang (The Beast in Kung Fu Hustle) started having careers in Chinese cinema. New Game of Death - also known as Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death - is one such film. The fine folks at Intercontinental Video Limited have given this Bruceploitation flick a full restoration as a part of their Shaw Bros line, and it admittedly looks more vibrant than it probably did when it was first released in theaters way back in 1975. But as we all know, looks aren't everything, now are they?
     In New Game of Death, Bruce Li (aka Ho Chung-Tao) plays a gymnast who gets the opportunity of a lifetime. After fending off some random bullies who attack him for no reason whatsoever, a suitably impressed movie producer offers him the chance to complete the real Bruce Lee's last project, The Game of Death . Comically enough, however, the film that the producer then proceeds to screen for our hero is nothing at all like Lee's Game of Death, but is instead an all-new story starring Bruce Li, who is ostensibly portraying Bruce Lee, who is, in turn, playing a brand new character in this alleged movie-within-a-movie. Understand? To tell the truth, it doesn't actually matter.
     The unfinished movie in question is basically a slapped-together story about a missing box filled with lots of cash, a requisite damsel in distress, and a final battle atop the Seven Star Tower, a huge pagoda filled to the brim with assassins galore. Trust me, that last part sounds a lot better than it is. Sure, Li disposes of two generic Asian thugs, a katana-wielding Japanese samurai, a Korean pole fighter, a hairy white guy in short shorts, an Indian nunchaku master, and a scrawny Muhammad Ali wannabe with a pair of distracting man boobs in the finale, but the fight scenes throughout the film are fairly boring if not laughably bad. One amusing bit occurs during the climax when Li moves so fast that he practically teleports via camera trickery, essentially driving his opponent insane. Or blind. It's really unclear. Speaking of unintentional laughs, perhaps the funniest aspect is the fact that the main bad guy challenges Li to battle his way to the top of the tower and fight each of his men one at a time - FOR NO DISCERNIBLE REASON AT ALL! Couldn't he, I don't know, just kill Li off with the sheer number of men under his command?
     Oh, and if you're wondering about the outcome of the frame story in which Bruce Li watches this supposedly unfinished movie, well, it's totally forgotten by story's end. Even more curious, the film is actually complete, which leads one to wonder whether this prologue was concocted after the fact and added merely to stretch out an already fairly short running time.
     Whatever the case, there's no getting around the fact that New Game of Death is an atrociously bad movie. The production values are horrible, as the interior of the pagoda is clearly an indoor set, redressed each time Li ascends to the next level. The landscape seen just outside the pagoda window is obviously a 2-D painting that wouldn't look out of place in a high school theatre production. From a filmmaking standpoint, the directors seem to have fallen in love with some jarring editing techniques, as scenes abruptly cut from one moment to the next with little regard for continuity. The most unintentionally funny moment of this kind occurs when Li receives a phone call, and he is suddenly shown from multiple angles, all edited together in repetitive, rapid-fire succession meant for extra dramatic emphasis. But instead of a sense of drama, all it invokes are a few snorts of laughter.
     A Bruceploitation film is perhaps only as good as its leading man, and Bruce Li does come across as a likable screen presence. But as a Bruce Lee copycat, he clearly has a much different style than the man he is imitating. Li doesn't move nearly as fast as the real deal, and his overall attempt at mimicry seems halfhearted, if not superficial. It also doesn't help that he spends the entirety of the picture with a terrible haircut and dressed in a version of Lee's fabled yellow tracksuit that's a few sizes too big for him.
     As a cultural oddity, IVL's edition of New Game of Death might be worth a gander, if for no other reason than to watch a genuine Bruceploitation in all its cheesy glory - complete with a clear picture and the original Mandarin language to boot. Those who are interested in this strange cultural phenomenon would do well to purchase this bizarre film, but others looking for more genuinely entertaining martial arts entertainment, would be better served by sampling the films that feature the master himself - not his legion of imitators. (Calvin McMillin 2007)


DVD (Hong Kong)
Intercontinental Video Limited (IVL)
Region 3 NTSC
Mandarin Language Tracks
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
Various Extras

images courtesy of Intercontinental Video, Ltd. Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen