"With any luck, i hope to make Multi level films here - the kind of movies where you can just watch the surface story if you like or you can look deeper into it. Most of the Chinese films to date have been very superficial and one dimensional".
Bruce Lee's original concept for The Game of Death, was to attempt to educate the movie audience. Creating awarness of different types of Martial Art and the advantages each of these may have in certain environments and situations.
Bruce Lee also wanted to place on film his personal expression of Martial Art. jeet Kune Do. he wanted a movie that would resonate on many different levels.
"At present i am working on a script for my next film. I haven't really decided on the title yet, but what i want to show is the necessity to adapt one-self to changing circumstances. The inhability to adapt brings destruction. I already have the first scene in my mind".
"As the film opens, the audience sees a wide expance of snow. Then the camera closes in on a clump of trees while the sounds of a strong gale fill the screen. There is a huge tree in the centre of the screen and it is all covered with thick snow. Suddenly there is a loud snap and a huge branch of the tree falls to the ground. It cannot yield to the force of the snow so it breaks. Then the camera moves to a willow tree, which is bending with the wind. Because it adapts itself to the environment, the willow survives".
"It is this sort of symbolism which i think chinese action films should seek to have. In this way i hope to broaden the scope of action films".
"I would like to evolve in to different roles, but i cannot do so in Southeast Asia. I am already typecast. I am supposed to be the good guy. I can't even be a bit grey, because no producer would let me".
"I want to direct more films. Directing, i feel, is more creative. You really get to produce the result you want. An actor is restricted. He can only do as the director instructs. One must always strive to be better. The sky's the limit".
" A film to end all films ".
Bruce Lee had reputedly become enamoured with the concept of using a Pagoda sequence while scouting locations for an earlier Movie project, "The Silent Flute" in the early 1970's in Goa and Nepal.
The original plot involved Bruce Lee's character, as well as four other martial artists (two of which were played by James Tien and Chieh Yuan), fighting their way through a five-level pagoda, encountering a different challenge on each floor.
The setting of the pagoda was at Beopjusa temple in Songnisan National Park in South Korea. The pagoda, called Palsang-jon, is the only remaining wooden pagoda in South Korea. At the base of the pagoda they fight a small army of poorly-trained lackeys, while inside the pagoda, they encounter a different opponent on each floor, each more challenging than the last.
Although his allies try to help out, they are handily defeated, and Lee must face each of the martial artists in one-on-one combat.
He defeats Filipino martial arts master Dan Inosanto, hapkido master Ji Han Jae, and finally Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who fights with a free and fluid style mirroring Lee's Jeet Kune Do.
Kareem's character has great size and strength in addition to a fighting style as potent as Lee's, he can only be defeated once Lee recognizes his one weakness-an unusual sensitivity to light. Lee smashes the surrounding windows, weakening him with exposure to daylight, and finally manages to kill him.
Although the pagoda was supposed to have five floors, complete scenes were only shot for three of the floors-the "Palace of the Tiger," where Lee faced Inosanto, the "Palace of the Dragon," where he fought Ji Han Jae, and the final floor, where he fought Abdul-Jabbar.
Hapkido master Ing-Sik Whang was slated to play the guardian of the first floor, a master of a kick-oriented style, while Bruce's longtime student Taky Kimura was asked to play the guardian of the second floor, a stylist of praying mantis kung fu. However, no footage has been discovered of these floors.
The goal of the film's plot was to showcase Lee's beliefs regarding the principles of martial arts. As each martial artist is defeated (including Lee's allies), the flaws in their fighting style are revealed.
Some, like Dan Inosanto's character, rely too much on fixed patterns of offensive and defensive techniques, while others lack economy of motion.
Lee defeats his opponents by having a fighting style that involves fluid movement, unpredictability, and an eclectic blend of techniques.
Game of Death project had embarked the Buddist Temple of "Beopjusa", housed in Korea's songison National park as a suitable external location for the Movie. The Popchusa Temple was built in 553 AD and has a 5 five storey Pagoda and a massive 108ft high, single mould bronze statue of the Maitreya Buddha (the largest figure in the orient).
Songnison meaning remote from the Mundane world Mountains, has one of the largest most Magnificent Temple sites in Korea.
Bruce Lee completed over 30 minutes of edited footage for the three completed fight scenes in Game of Death.
The scenes resonate on many different levels portraying Martial Arts in a Hitherto in seen light and producing the most dynamic and graceful examples of hand to hand fighting ever portrayed on screen.
While working in these fight scenes Bruce lee was visited on the set by warner brothers envoy "Fred Weintraub.
Weintraub persuaded Bruce Lee and Raymond Chow to co produce a Hollywood/Hong Kong Movie, that eentually be released as "Enter the Dragon". Bruce Lee had no alternative but to temporarily shelve production of Game of Death.
Following successful completion and post production for"Enter the Dragon" in May 1973. Bruce Lee returned to Game of Death project. He did not film any additional footage instead electing to concentrate on refining the casting and script.
On Friday 20th July 1973, bruce Lee and Raymond Chow had a resturant appointment in Hong Kong's "Hyatt Hotel" with "George Lazenby" and "Betty Ting Pei". Lazenby claims that Bruce had already shown him over 20 mins of footage from Game of Death. The meeting would discuss future roles. Bruce didnt arrive.
He called en route to Ting Pei from Apartment while there, Bruce developed a severe Headache and Ting Pei offered him a painkiller tablet "Equagesic", a from of strong Headache medication.
After taking the pill, Bruce Lee rested but quickly lost consciousness from which he never recovered. Bruce Lee pronounced Dead on arrival at Elizabeth Hospital.
Following his Death, game of Death footage that Bruce Lee had completed remained un - edited and was placed in semi permanent storage in Golden harvest studio vaults.
According to Bruce Lee's original concept in his 12 page story line script, Bruce Lee cast himself as a retired undefeated Martial Art champion by the name of "Hai Tien".
He was approached by members of a Korean underworld to take a lead in a daring raid on a Five Storey Pagoda said to contain valuable treasures on the highest top level.
When Hai Tien refuses, his sister and younger brother are kidnapped by the gang, so he has no option but to take part in the raid.
At a briefing arranged at the gang leaders home, where Hai Tien is introduced to his prospective accomplices in the raid who are all highly advanced Martial Artists. James Tien and Hong Kong Stunt-Man Chieh Yuan.
The Korean gang leader screens a Movie of the Team illustrating the difficulties in and around the Pagoda's surrounding villages.
So Martial Arts mercenaries guard the external Pagoda grounds unarmed.
Inside the Pagoda a lone Martial Art expert guards each level. The team is instructed to fight its way to the top of the Pagoda and retrieve the treasure.
As in Bruce lee's Diagram above there are clearly five floors six if you wish to include the ground level.
The group are led by Bruce Lee who face a number of "stuntmen" who are guarding the exterior of the structure.
At the base of the pagoda they fight a small army of poorly-trained lackeys.
Whilst inside the pagoda, they encounter a different opponent on each floor, each more challenging than the last.
Exterior of Pagoda
Before the first level which was to be guarded by actor Hwang In Sik, the exterior of the pagoda would be guarded by Bolo Yeung a.k.a Yang Sze. Bolo had appeared in Enter the Dragon in the Warner Brothers and Golden Harvest co production blockbuster movie.
Bolo would be guarding the exterior with a number of other karate villains using the art of Shotokan Karate. Bolo appears in the notes Bruce Lee had wrote (below in red).
Bruce Lee reassured Bolo that he would be sure to kill him in his next film - The Game of Death. Un fortunately, ten days after that promise was made, before post production on Enter The Dragon was finished, Bruce lee died aged 32 years old.
Gate to Enlightenment
The first Level was to be guarded by actor Hwang In Sik, portraying a Master from a kicking style of Martial Art. Hwang had appeared opposite Bruce Lee in "The Way of the Dragon".
Temple of the Preying Mantis
For the second level, Bruce lee had chosen elder Jun Fan Gung Fu Instructor Taky Kimura who would utilise Preying mantis Gung Fu with elements of Wing Chun. Taky would guard the Temple of "Preying Mantis".
Sadly, Bruce Lee was unable to film any Pagoda fight scenes involving either of these two men. Although he did send taky Kimura an airline ticket and filmed external screen test footage of Hwang In Sik on location in Hong Kong's territories.
Bruce Lee had shot external footage of Dan Inosanto and Ji Han Jae, in this New Territories location. Stills from this era depict that Bruce Lee himself was present during the filming at the Locale.
Temple of the Tiger
For the Third level, Bruce lee had chosen his senior Instructor from Los Angeles, Dan Inosanto, portraying Filipino Martial Arts.
Dan appears with Bruce in a spectacular Nunchaku versus Nunchaku duel, which is conceptually unique to this Movie.
Temple of Gold
For the fourth level, Bruce Lee had chosen Grand Master Ji han Jae who was a 7 - degree black belt in Hapkido.
Temple of the Unknown
Finally, the guardian of the fifth floor, Bruce Lee had chosen a NBA Basketball player and student Kareem Abdul Jabbar who reached at an incredible 7ft 4in tall, bruce thought this would create a great dynamic in the film.
Jabbar represents an Unknown style of unarmed combat symbolising the highest level of Martial Arts. This was the essence of Bruce Lee's own Philosophy of Martial Arts, Jeet Kune Do.
Jabbars character would however have an achilles heel, - photo sensitivity to Light.
Bruce Lee's character would tear panes from the Pagoda windows to gain momentory advantage over his opponent and enable defeat.
Bruce Lee's character in the game of Death is dressed in a one piece yellow track suit symbolising No Affiliation with any style of Martial Art.
The Master of Jeet Kune Do, Bruce Lee's character despises the system of traditional Martial Arts and adapts to whatever he encounters. His character is like Water, flowing to whatever the deadly surroundings are.
Many of the other Martial Artists in "Game Of Death" wore traditional Martial Arts costumes, while Bruce wears the opposite famous yellow and black tracksuit, which is to show "Imagination rising above tradition".
Bruce Lee's character believes that the Martial Artist has to be better than the Martial Tradition. Bruce brings two weapons along with him. A pair of yellow "Nunchakus" and a "Bako", which is a thin bamboo stick.
James is the pretty city boy who sports his everyday clothing on the mission.
As a great Martial Artist who has a great background in Kung Fu and different types of Street Fighting, there is still a downfall to this man. He still goes by the Martial Tradition.
Like, Bruce said "A man has to be flexible and adaptable, otherwise he will be destroyed". But James usually goes his own way and has enough self-pride not to listen to Bruce's important advice.
Chieh is the totally opposite of Bruce's character. If Bruce was "Water", Chieh was "Stone". As we all know, "Water" flows through practically anything, but "Stone" has it's limits.
Chieh is dressed in his traditional dark karate outfit, unlike Bruce's modern day yellow and black tracksuit.
Chieh's character is the emotional, worried fighter that has his doubts and is full of negative thoughts thoughout this mission.
(Rumour#1) A street fighting expert who knows no Martial Arts whatsoever. Even though this guy has his way with using his street smarts to survive, it will be useless on this deadly island.
He is also a very good marks man with his guns, but don't forget, you can't get anywhere near the island because there are metal searchers (like one's at the airports).
So that means, no knives, no guns or any other deadly weapons.
(Rumour#2) Another expert just like Chieh Yuan, this American fighter won't stay away from the Traditional way of fighting. Although, this fighter is one of the America's best.
He still has to question himself, is he good enough to face what is waiting for him on the deadly island?
This is not any American Karate Tournament, this is a deadly Game where you either win or lose.
How does the raid party arrive at the pagoda?
Bruce Lee's Script notes have it that the raid party are driven there by bus; see the lower section of the below image marked in red.
(Source: Bruce Lee's script notes, as presented in A Warrior's Journey.P.89. Author John Little).
Why did Kareem Abdul Jabbar wear sunglasses?
His character was photosensitive; shafts of light through broken panes in the pagoda walls contribute greatly to his eventual defeat in his battle with a weary Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee's script notes also refer to Jabbar's upper level guardian as "Mantis"; two different shots of Kareem's eyes lend weight to the possibility of the character being some sort of creature.
(Source: A Warrior's Journey.P.225 - 226,260.Author, John Little).
Sammo Hung in Game of Death?
Sammo reportedly waited for the call to play his part in Game of Death. but he never came. Having decided he'd waited long enough, he began working on a film only for Bruce Lee to contact him to say he was ready to shoot scenes.
Sammo's hands were tied and as a direct result the two men fell out for a while. Eventually patching things up, Sammo and Bruce Lee appeared together in the opening sequences of Enter The Dragon.
(Source: Sammo Hung interview - Jade Screen Vol.1 issue #2,P.7.Author:Richard Cooper).
The leading lady?
Thoughout transcripts of Bruce Lee's Game Of Death notes there are references to Nora Miao's role as Bruce Lee's sister; these are made up of pre-pagoda scenes that also feature James Tien, a child and a "Big Boss" type figure.
For example of this,see the source above of the script notes from the raid party again marked in red.
I'd say Bruce Lee's own notes are difficult to refute where casting is corncerned. Nora Miao was one of Bruce Lee's leading ladies of choice and her inclusion seems obvious.
Note the picture of Nora Miao with Bruce Lee holding the Nunchaku he uses in the film, a picture I speculate was taken around the time of Game Of Death's production.
It's difficult for me to grasp why Betty Ting Pei would be in the "sister" role,having never been cast in a Bruce Lee film prior to this. True she may have been on-set when Way Of The Dragon and Fist Of The Unicorn were in production but if she had time to be there and was so-valued as ans actress why didn't Bruce Lee incorporate her into those films, let alone Game Of Death.