Hilarious in its utter ridiculousness, Game of Death II (Si wang ta, 1981), is a very entertaining kung-fu thriller inspired by the commercial prospects of a few unused scraps of Bruce Lee footage. Lee had died eight years earlier, right after completing Enter the Dragon (1973). Before starring in that film, Lee had begun work on another movie, whose half-shot climax served as the basis for 1978's Game of Death. This in-name-only sequel has nothing to do with either the '78 film nor Lee's original concept for that footage, but it shares Game of Death's amusingly crass commercialism and bad taste.
The story has expert martial artist Billy Lo (Bruce Lee, sort of) dismayed that brother Bobby (Tong Lung, aka Tai Chung Kim) is neglecting his studies and spending all his time looking at porn. Meanwhile a friend of Billy's, Kung Fu master Chin Ku (Huong Cheng-Li, aka Jang Lee Hwang), dies under mysterious circumstances. Billy is sent to Japan to find May, Chin Ku's daughter, now a singer at a club in the Ginza. (Much of the film was really shot in Japan, probably a nod to Lee's huge popularity there.)
Later, at Chin Ku's funeral, a helicopter appears out of nowhere and with its dangling steel claw snatches the kung fu master's coffin. Billy latches on to the helicopter, but is shot with a dart and falls to his death. So much for Billy.
Bobby, shocked back into reality by his brother's death, is determined to get revenge. He's soon off to Japan himself, where he learns a sadistic foreigner/martial artist, Lewis (Roy Horan), had associated with Chin Ku in the days before the latter's death. Bobby visits Lewis's palatial estate, determined to uncover the secret of the "palace of death."
Anyone expecting a bona fide Bruce Lee movie is in for a disappointment. Lee's character is only in the picture for the first 30 minutes, and most of the footage of Lee consists of outtakes from Enter the Dragon, most obviously a scene with monk Roy Chaio (or Chiao) which was later reinserted into that film for its much-touted reissue.
Mostly though, close-ups and tight medium shots of Lee are inter-cut with doubles standing in during expository scenes (from the back, these doubles look more like Jackie Chan than Lee), and not very good look-alikes for the handful of action scenes. Information on just who did what is sketchy, but it appears that Tong Lung also doubled for Lee much of the time, while Yuen Biao/Woo-ping Yuen (later the famed fight choreographer on The Matrix films and Kill Bill) handled some of the more acrobatic moves. One fight scene in a greenhouse, none of it with the real Lee, appears lifted from Game of Death. Nevertheless, Bruce Lee is top-billed and alone receives credit for his character.
Other footage of Lee turns up during this first act, including black and white, SuperScope'd clips from at least two Hong Kong movies Lee appeared in during the 1940s and '50s. It's fun to see these, but they have nothing to do with the story; indeed, titles plainly identify "Bruce Lee at Age 6," and "Bruce Lee at Age 15" which jar the viewer right out of the story, such as it is. As with the first Game of Death, there's also footage of Lee's actual funeral, including incredibly tasteless shots peering into Lee's open casket.
The ingenuity of integrating all these bits of film is amusing, but after Billy meets his untimely end, and the story falls to brother Bobby, Game of Death II really kicks into a beguiling state of kung fu delirium. Lewis, one of two super-villains in the picture, in tradition of Enter the Dragon's Master Han, is a marvel of absurdity. In attempting to make the character seem all-powerful and sadistic, the filmmakers only succeed in making Lewis look supremely silly. He walks around with a tiny pet monkey on his shoulder, but the poor critter seems done in by heatstroke, and rather than perch ominously on Lewis's shoulder lies limp like a tiny corpse with his little red ass facing the camera. Dressed in a very '70s jogging suit, Lewis tries to impress Bobby by showing off his trained peacocks (!) and pride of lions, scenes obviously shot at some drive-thru animal park. In one scene, Lewis is enjoying breakfast: a giant leg of raw venison and a tall glass of blood, at one pointing dunking a chunk of meat into the brew as if it were a doughnut.
From here the picture only gets sillier, if that's possible, as Lewis attempts to pump Bobby for information by sending scanky blonde Angel (Miranda Austin) to seduce then murder him, as a lazy sax warbles on the soundtrack. Their rendezvous is interrupted by the appearance of one of Lewis's killer cats, now played by a man in a costume that's much less realistic than Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion.
The big climax is a series of high-energy fights in a super-scientific underground lair, a cross between the opium plant/headquarters in Enter the Dragon and Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. By this point the story makes no sense at all -- Who was the masked avenger at Lewis's place? Whatever happened to Chin Ku's daughter? -- but who cares? If you've made it this far, you have the same appetite for occasional mindless fun as this reviewer.
Video & Audio
Shot in CinemaScope, Game of Death II is presented in its original aspect ratio and given 16:9 anamorphic enhancement. Like most Hong Kong titles from this period, the film elements are a tad worn, but many would argue that this only adds to the grindhouse atmosphere of the picture. There are two audio options: "Original English 5.1 Dolby" and "Original English DTS." Suffice to say this Cantonese production was originally none of these things. English subtitles are offered, but unfortunately not the original mono Cantonese track. The faux stereo audio is super-aggressive, which will delight some and annoy others. It has its novelty value but ultimately is distracting at times, often calling attention to itself rather than serving the film.
The only real extra is an original trailer with English audio and text, with Bruce Lee making "one last dramatic curtain call." (But greedy producers brought the long-dead actor back yet again, as a ghost in 1985's No Retreat, No Surrender.) A "new" trailer for the film, as well as four other "trailers" for other Fox releases, are simply newly-created ads, not real theatrical previews.
Game of Death II is great escapist fun, even though Bruce Lee's top-billing is a major cheat. It plays more like the Enter the Dragon parody in Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) than a legitimate sequel to Game of Death. Of course, in Kentucky Fried Movie, the laughs were intended. Still, one has to admire Game of Death II's wonderful sense of abandon; few films today would have the willingness to be so unapologetically loony.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf -- The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. He is presently writing a new book on Japanese cinema for Taschen.