Finishing the Game (2007) dir. Justin Lin
Starring: Roger Fan, Sung Kang, Joseph McQueen, Josh Diamond, Sam Bottoms
"Game of Death", starring Bruce Lee is one of Hollywood's most curious stories. Prior to shooting "Enter the Dragon" Lee had filmed a portion of "Game of Death", but when "Enter the Dragon" was offered to him, Lee left mid-production. Of course, Bruce Lee died after shooting "Enter the Dragon" and thus, "Game of Death" was never finished. But in 1978, Hollywood capitalized on the immense popularity of Bruce Lee and finished the film using only 11mins of original footage and filming new scenes with new actors and a stand-in for Lee.
Now Justin Lin ("Better Luck Tomorrow" and "Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift") has embellished this ridiculous but true story into a comic mockumentary dramatizing how the re-casting process for Bruce Lee could have gone. Unfortunately despite good intentions, the film falls flat and generates little, if any, laughs.
The film starts by introducing the performers who are vying for the coveted role. We get to know a bunch of off-the-wall pathetic characters via mock-interviews, mock verite footage and mock archival footage. There’s a white guy who thinks he’s Chinese, an egomaniac Bruce Lee competitor named Breeze Lou, a doctor turned kung-fu action star and many others.
Most of the attempted humour is derived from the dead-pan patheticness of their self importance. None of the characters realize the depravity of attempting to ride the coattails of a dead celebrity. Other than the deadpan device, the situations are a series of gags which fail to hit the mark. Early on a lengthy dialogue about who the ego-maniac casting agent and the hack director would fuck of the actors auditioning stops the already dull film dead in it's tracks. It never recovers.
Lin also attempts to generate humour from the over-exposure tacky 70’s kitsch. But timing is everything in comedy and Lin is way too late with his concept. Freeze frames, pastel colours, split screen transitions were used first and with much greater ironic effect in "Boogie Nights”. Even the faded and grainy faux-archival footage was already done by the Grindhouse films. If this film had been made before the recent Christopher Guest films, before "Boogie Nights" and before "Grindhouse", the film would have been innovative and original. Ironically, it just feels dated now.
It's a shame, because there's a interesting story to be told about the typecasting and lack of opportunity for Asian actors in Hollywood. Lin incorporates this as a thematic subplot, but behind the non-laughs, it's all lost.
"Finishing the Game" is available on DVD in Canada from Alliance Films.