Review: Game of Death 2 (1981)

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When I was a wee boy (as opposed to the wee man I am now) my mum rented some videos. One of these films was my first foray into kung fu and Bruce Lee — Game of Death 2. Strange starting point, I know, but it was enough to keep me on the bandwagon for many years to come. To tell the truth, it’s not a great film, so I will have to keep my bias and nostalgia to one side. But as ‘Bruce Lee’ tributes go, it’s a pretty good effort, and at least it’s much better then the mess that was the original Game of Death.

Fortunately this is not only of interest as a Bruce Lee knock-off. A young Yuen Woo Ping handles the choreography. That, paired with an appearance by the ever-acrobatic Yuen Biao, help to elevate this to a pretty solid low-key action flick.

Bruce Lee, or, more accurately, outtake footage of Bruce Lee taken from other films and edited in, ‘returns’ as Billy Lo. Like the first Game of Death, real Bruce Lee footage is spliced with shots of a stand-in to create a ‘seamless’ whole. The director may have fooled some people into thinking it really was Bruce fighting in the dark with his back to camera, but not me (I don’t work at this web site for nothing: we have skills you know). Interestingly enough, Lee’s stand-ins are Kim Tai Chung (who rocks ups later as the hero of the picture — Bobby Lo, Billy’s brother) and Yuen Biao (who takes on the acrobatic duties).

The plot doesn’t really make a whole lot o’ sense, presumably because the director was trying to work the Bruce Lee snippets into a coherent whole. Luckily the filmmakers realised that they just didn’t have enough footage to keep up the pretension for a whole movie. Billy is killed rather early in the film, as he tries to uncover his friend’s mysterious death and ends up mysteriously dead himself.

We are then introduced to Bobby, Billy’s ‘black sheep’ brother, who has the standard revenge flick job of finding out who killed his brother. He is told to travel to Japan where he will meet someone who can help him. When there he meets Lewis (Roy Horan) a strange eccentric who lives in a castle and eats raw meat. This part of the film doesn’t make much sense. In one of the strangest scenes to come out of Hong Kong cinema Bobby is nearly killed in an assassination attempt that involves pointless nudity and a lion attack. Lewis is attacked more successfully (must have been a better assassin) and Bobby now has to find his killer as well: could it be the suspicious one armed servant?

Before his untimely death Lewis did manage to tell Bobby of an underground temple called the tower of death and that’s where Bobby heads next. The film, to its credit, feels less and less ‘Bruce Lee’ as it goes along. Yuen Woo Ping must have grown tired of trying to imitate Lee in the action scenes, and it doesn’t take long before his signature intricate dance-like style of action begins to shine through. The longer the film goes, the sillier it becomes, and the more enjoyable it gets.

The finale of the film is where things get really crazy. After an elevator ride (ah the joys of 80’s special effects) into the belly of the temple, our hero must fight his way down facing a different opponent on each level (just like an upside down version of Bruce’s original proposal for the finale of Game of Death) Why the temple looks like a spaceship nobody knows, although with the minions decked out in silver jumpsuits who’s complaining. The action is again quite good in this part, and there are some impressive acrobatics on display (performed by Biao). Kim also proves himself to be pretty handy with his fists and feet, but the fact that he’s in Bruce’s shadow hampers his performance a bit.

Hwang Jang Lee makes a great bad guy so it’s a pity you only really get to see him at the beginning and the end. As a real life Tae Kwon Do master he really knows how to move well, and it’s almost a pity that as the villain he must lose (just like Basil Rathbone — good fencer, but always, bad guy. Don’t say I don’t throw in useless facts for everybody).

If it weren’t for the Bruce Lee connection this film would probably have been overlooked. In its own right it’s a pretty good action film, but it doesn’t really stand out from the pack, as there were many, many ‘pretty good’ action films made in Hong Kong in the 80’s. Bruce Lee completists will be rewarded, if only by the great transfer and packaging by Hong Kong Legends. The rest of us could probably do without it — that is unless you have a nostalgic fondness that can’t be shaken.

6.5 Less Then Convincing Lions out of 10.
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