|Vintage Pulp||Apr 15 2010|
Mining dead artists for profit is a well-established (if ethically dubious) tradition. Ernest Hemingway somehow kept publishing novels after his suicide. Tupac Shakur released more albums after he was shot to death than when he was alive. And Game of Death, for which you see the Japanese promo art above, hit theaters after Bruce Lee died unexpectedly during filming. The film's producers, who had been left with a large cash outlay and no star, cobbled together a disjointed finished product using doubles and old footage, and when the end result was unveiled to the world, everyone from Lee’s family to his die-hard fans labeled it a blight on Lee’s legacy. But we take a different view. Lee wasn’t famous because he was an actor—he was famous because he was a visual artist. His acting was always secondary, merely a convenient medium of delivery for his martial arts. Like a dead musician whose final few great songs are released on a disc filled out by mediocre live recordings and outtakes, Game of Death’s Lee footage should be judged apart from the film as a whole. Seen in that light, you’ll be able to appreciate the fact that Lee is sublime in his last few choreographed fights, even if the filler material surrounding him is a mess. From what we’ve read, Lee’s original concept for this movie was ambitious, interweaving bits of philosophy and spirituality into a violent quest for higher consciousness in both life and martial arts. Had the project been finished, it probably would have been the greatest martial arts epic ever made. But even if the film never reached such lofty heights, we can still enjoy Lee’s last moments working in the craft he loved. Game of Death premiered today in Japan in 1978. More rare promo art below.