Bruce Lee vs. The Star Whackers: Game of Death (1978, directed by Robert Clouse)


Billy Lo (played by archival footage of Bruce Lee and two stand-ins) is the world’s biggest film star and the Syndicate (represented by Dean Jagger and Hugh O’Brian) want a piece of the action.  When Billy refuses to allow the Syndicate to take control of his career, the Syndicate responds by threatening both Billy and his girlfriend (Colleen Camp).  After a Syndicate hitman sneaks onto the set of Billy’s latest film and shoots him in the face, Billy allows the world to believe that he’s dead.  Using a variety of disguises, Billy seeks revenge on the Syndicate and all of its assassins, including the 7 foot tall Hakim (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Lee’s original plan for the Game of Death was that it would feature him as a retired martial artist who, in order to save the lives of his family, had to make his way up a five-level pagoda, defeating a different guardian on each floor.  Each guardian would represent a different fighting style and the journey up the pagoda would allow Lee to discuss his beliefs regarding the principles of martial arts.  Serving as both director and star, Lee did during the making of the film, of cerebral edema though some said Lee was either murdered or that he had faked his own death.

Released seven years after his death, the final version Game of Death has little in common with Lee’s original vision.  Only about 11 minutes of footage from the original film was used in the revised version and most of Lee’s philosophical concerns were abandoned for a plot that, today, feels like it could have been lifted from Randy Quaid’s twitter timeline.  (Also, when watching the film today, it’s also impossible to watch the Syndicate’s assassins disguise Billy Lo’s shooting as an on-set accident without being reminded of what would happen to Brandon Lee on the set of The Crow.)  Game of Death opens with footage lifted from Lee’s battle with Chuck Norris at the end of Way of the Dragon and the other fight scenes are full of close-ups of Lee that were obviously lifted from other films.  There’s even a scene in Billy’s dressing room where a cardboard cut-out of Lee’s face has obviously been taped onto a mirror.  After Billy fakes his own death, footage of Bruce Lee’s actual funeral is shown, including a shot of Lee in his coffin.

If you can overlook the ethical issues of making a Bruce Lee film without the actual participation of Bruce Lee, Game of Death is actually a pretty entertaining movie.  Director Robert Clouse had previously directed Enter the Dragon and obviously knew how to direct a fight scene while even stock footage of Bruce Lee has more charisma than the average action star.  Best of all, Bruce Lee battles Kareem Adbul-Jabbar, in an epic scene that Lee himself directed for the original version of Game of Death.  When the 7’2 Kareem Abdul Jabber plants his foot in the middle of Bruce Lee’s chest, Game of Death achieves pop cultural immortality.

Thorny ethical concerns aside, Game of Death proves that Bruce Lee will live forever.

A Movie A Day #327: The Ultimate Warrior (1976, directed by Robert Clouse)


The year is 2012 and New York City, like the rest of the world, has been devastated by energy shortages, wars, and a great plague.  The few survivors now live in isolated communes and are easily victimized by roving gangs of marauders.  (On the plus side, this version of New York City has been spared Bill de Blasio.)  The Baron (Max von Sydow) has managed to keep his people safe by ruling with an iron hand but he knows that it will only be a matter of time until his commune is overrun by the psychotic Carrot (William Smith) and his men.  When a mysterious warrior known only as Carson (Yul Brynner) comes to the commune, the Baron tasks him with a very important mission: help his pregnant daughter (Joanna Miles) escape from New York City and transport both her and some genetically modified seeds to an island in North Carolina.

Despite being an obviously low-budget production, with studio backlots unconvincingly filling in for a deserted New York, The Ultimate Warrior is an entertaining post-apocalyptic action movie.  Yul Brynner was nearly 60 years old when he played Carson but he still had the intense stare that made him so menacing in Westworld and he still looked credible in the fight scenes.  William Smith was one of the best B-movie villains of the 70s and, as usual, Max Von Sydow brought a lot of gravity to his role.  Best known for directing Enter The Dragon, Robert Clouse was an action specialist and the fight scenes in The Ultimate Warrior are both exciting and realistic.  For those looking for a good post-apocalyptic action movie, keep an eye out for The Ultimate Warrior.

Fast & Furious: Bruce Lee in ENTER THE DRAGON (Warner Brothers 1973)


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Haai-ya! The Seventies was the era of kung-fu cinema, and nobody did ’em better than the great Bruce Lee. Probably the biggest martial arts star ever, Lee came to prominence in the USA as Kato in the 60’s series THE GREEN HORNET. He acted and trained Hollywood stars in the art of kung fu, including James Coburn and Steve McQueen. When the kung fu craze hit the screens, Lee’s Hong Kong films THE BIG BOSS and FISTS OF FURY were released here to packed houses. ENTER THE DRAGON was Lee’s first American starring film, and unfortunately his last due to his untimely death shortly after the films’ release.

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The plot’s pretty simple: Shaolin martial arts master Lee is sent to thwart the evil Han, a Shaolin gone rogue, involved with the drug and white slavery trades. Han is the ruler of his own island, and he’s holding a martial-arts tournament there. Americans Roper…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: Enter the Dragon, Drive Angry 3D, The A-Team, Ichi the Killer


Tis November 27, 2015 and all 4 Shots from 4 Films are dedicated to four actors who share the same birth date. A date which all will have now figured out as being November 27. One comes from the Master of the Martial Arts himself, another a veteran character actor, a third who became a prawn and, lastly, the one who made the Glasgow Smile cooler before Heath Ledger.

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

Enter the Dragon (dir. by Robert Clouse)

Enter the Dragon (dir. by Robert Clouse)

That’s Blaxploitaion!: BLACK BELT JONES (Warners 1974)


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Here’s the recipe for the quintessential 70s flick: Take a huge hunk of blaxpolitation, add equal parts kung-fu action, throw in some Mafia type villains. Stick em all in a blender with some generic funk music, and you’ve got BLACK BELT JONES. This movie was made to cash in on all three crazes, and to make a star out of Jim ‘The Dragon’ Kelly, who appeared in director Robert Clouse’s previous kung-fu extravaganza ENTER THE DRAGON, starring the immortal Bruce Lee.  Kelly looked good onscreen, and had all the right martial art moves. Unfortunately, he couldn’t act his way out of a Chinese take-out box. Nobody can in this film except gorgeous Gloria Hendry, who plays Kelly’s kung-fu partner/love interest Sydney.

The plot’s basically just there to hang the action scenes on: Mafia chief Don Stefano tries to grab some land the city of Los Angeles wants for a new civic center. He sends Pinky, the local black gangleader, to…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: Enter the Dragon, Lady Snowblood, Black Belt Jones, Three The Hard Way


Everyone, at some point in his life, has wanted to learn karate.  The films featured below are a big reason why.

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

Enter the Dragon (directed by Robert Clouse, 1973)

Enter the Dragon (directed by Robert Clouse, 1973)

Lady Snowblood (directed by Toshiya Fujita, 1973)

Lady Snowblood (directed by Toshiya Fujita, 1973)

Black Belt Jones (directed by Robert Clouse, 1974)

Black Belt Jones (directed by Robert Clouse, 1974)

Three The Hard Way (directed by Gordon Parks, Jr., 1974)

Three The Hard Way (directed by Gordon Parks, Jr., 1974)