Fox // 1981 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Neil Dorsett (Retired) // June 11th, 2004
Let's get one thing straight right away. Game of Death 2 is a Bruce Lee movie in the same sense that Trail of the Pink Panther is a Peter Sellers movie, or that Plan Nine from Outer Space is a Bela Lugosi movie. Which is to say, it utilizes scanty existing footage of a deceased actor to construct an entire commercial feature film in a gigantic shuck-and-jive act. This film's first half is devoted to the character "played" by Bruce Lee, Billy Lo. Billy spends the bulk of his time as a double filmed from behind, which makes the combat scenes truly bizarre. Momentary inserts of Lee, primarily outtakes from Enter the Dragon, are used to...well, let's be kind and say "establish Billy's character." To be fair, there is a single dialogue between Lee and classic master Roy Chiao (trotted back out to match up to some of those outtakes) that lasts upwards of a minute. Also, the double is occasionally seen from the front, which is disconcerting to say the least. Some have speculated that the double is Yuen Biao, but it's hard to tell as the shots are brief and his face is contorted. Add to that the very traditional awful dub (the only audio option) and the first half of this movie is among the most disjointed presentations of any kind that I've ever seen. On top of that, this movie seems to have a couple of different English titles. It is also known as The New Game of Death and identifies itself on the back cover alternately as Tower of Death. Not to be confused with the article-free version of that title, another film entirely. In addition, Amazon seems to list the title as The Game of Death. Oy.
This movie bears no relationship to Game of Death, other than the use of the lead character's name. It tells an entirely new story motivated only by the death of Lee himself. The extensive footage of Bruce Lee at ages six and fifteen and the similarly lengthy material covering Lee's actual funeral are points of academic interest for true Lee aficionados, but really, a feature? Well, that's the game. Of Death. Two. Speaking of death, after Billy's, the film settles into more comfortable '70s Raymond Chow sort of stride, as Tai Chung Kim (billed as Tong Lung), in the role of Billy's brother Bobby, sets out to avenge his brother's untimely death. Eight years late is still untimely, after all.
Bobby proceeds to fight his way through the requisite horde of nameless assassins, some of whom wear multicolored shiny pirate costumes. Or maybe they're multicolored shiny ninja costumes. Or something. That fight takes place in a James Bond villain-type generator room, the connection to the two primary kung fu master villains being unclear. The movie does show a little bit of sense in bookending itself with appearances of the same master villain, although again, clarity is poor on what his connection to the events leading to Billy's death was exactly. Since Billy seemed to be chased to his doom by an anonymous hit squad at their presumably important father's funeral (an easily doubled fall from a helicopter), nearly anyone standing around looking ominous that day could wind up facing Bobby's fiery vengeance. Presumably his aim is a little more sure than the movie's and the right man is brought to justice at last, if there can be justice for the crime of killing a man who's only alive by virtue of some old footage left over from a watchable movie.
The movie's end credits montage is a pretty neat example of the sort of Warhol-esque photocollage sequences seen occasionally in the late '50s through the early '70s. In particular it reminded me of the closing credits of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, although the visuals are completely different from that. Maybe it was the wistful mood, as this sequence is the movie's final immersion in memories of Lee himself. Between that and the funeral footage, this movie may be worth seeing, as stated, for the true Lee acolyte. Otherwise, I would say that there is little to recommend it. If you want a Hong Kong movie that doesn't make any sense, watch Fantasy Mission Force, which is that way on purpose. Here, it's just the sad result of poor engineering and motivation.
As far as the transfer goes, Game of Death 2 is on shaky ground, though perhaps not as shaky as its raison d'etre. The transfer itself appears to be an adequate older NTSC transfer, dreaded embedded 3:2 pulldown intact of course (ugh), but the source elements are pretty rough. Not only does the transfer appear to be sourced from a theatrical print, but the movie itself is such a hodgepodge that that print itself is incredibly inconsistent. The all-too-brief shots of Lee are often very grainy. Once again the movie settles into a more even stride following Billy's death, as the segments featuring Bobby were shot presumably as a single session with normal (normal by Golden Harvest standards) filmmaking continuity in play. Audio is offered in "original" English only (was Game of Death 2 perhaps prepared only for a western audience? Surely that would be highly unusual) with 5.1 as the only mix option -- available in both Dolby Digital and DTS. The 5.1 mix is lame on the Dolby side, one of those crappy ones that gave people doubts in the beginning about the idea of remixing a movie for surround sound. In particular, the dubbed-in Lee duck calls are laugh-inducing and there's no real low end to enhance. I have no DTS equipment but would stake good money that the tracks are identical, just another way to make it seem like this flick has been gussied up when really it's still some lame import transfer with little alteration.
Raymond Chow is to be pilloried for milking Lee's box office appeal to such lengths, and Fortune Star and 20th Century Fox are to be pilloried for continuing the deception inherent in this movie. The gimmick, as it were, is firmly in place here: the cover says on the top "Bruce Lee, Game of Death 2" and the back says, "Feast your eyes on a mind-blowing display of modern Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do from martial arts legend Bruce Lee." Not "Bruce Lee Death Exploitation, Game of Death 2 with recycled footage not good enough for his real movies." Which I realize is a completely unrealistic solution, so perhaps it might have been better to just leave this one alone. Guilty of bait-and-switch, and otherwise of nonsense and lack of luster, with only a bit of home movie quality and a teaspoon of lunacy in its favor. Skip it.
Review content copyright © 2004 Neil Dorsett; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Original Release Trailer
* New Video Trailer
* Additional 20th Century Fox/Fortune Star Trailers