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Bruce Lee’s Death Gave Birth to ‘Bruceploitation’

Bruce Lee’s Death Gave Birth to ‘Bruceploitation’

When Bruce Lee died in 1973, he already made his mark in the martial arts world thanks to his movie roles. Yet his movie Game of Death was only partially complete. So, in the ensuing years, efforts were made to piece together film clips and finish its production.

A major piece Game of Death had going for it is Lee’s finished work. Anyone who took on the incredible challenge of finishing Game of Death could work with this film. But Game of Death would not be released until 1978. Between 1973 and 1978, movie studios and directors wanted to take advantage of the “kung fu” craze hitting America.

This led studios to develop their own Bruce Lee-style of movies. In essence, this became the era of “Bruceploitation.” A rush of martial arts and kung fu films made their way into movie theaters. People would even go so far as to change their “on-screen” names. Why? They wanted recognition that put them somewhere in the Lee stratosphere.

Looking back on this time, it can feel kind of eerie and sick. People looking to earn some bucks and doing so on movies reflecting Lee’s style would put out creep vibes.

Bruce Lee Movie Finished By Robert Clouse

So, who would step up to finish Game of Death? Robert Clouse, the director behind Lee’s Enter the Dragon. Clouse had what original film there was available to them. Plus, he used stand-ins to some extent that would appear to be Lee. Clouse filmed scenes where the stad-ins happened to be bigger than Lee was in height.

But he got these stand-ins to hide in shadows or cover their faces. This way, they could dress a la Lee but moviegoers would not make out their faces.

In the end, Game of Death‘s main character dies. Clouse made the decision to use actual footage of Lee’s memorial service in the film. At other points, footage from other Lee movies was placed in here. The film stock would change color tone a times, proving to be less than smooth.

After working on it, Clouse finally released his version of Game of Death in 1978. The movie only had 11 minutes of original Bruce Lee footage in there. It proved to be a choppy mess of a film. One sequence, though, that did get saved was Lee’s fight with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Lee and Abdul-Jabbar were friends, with the former UCLA star practicing his martial arts skills on others, according to Collider.

That fight scene, along with Lee’s clash with Chuck Norris, have been indelibly implanted in people’s brains for years.

Film Sets Present Lee’s Original Movie Footage Intact

Is that the end of the story of Lee’s Game of Death? Hardly. A five-film set from The Criterion Collection packaged Lee’s movies. They also include the Game of Death Redux. It is a 40-minute film made up of just original Lee footage in it. In Great Britain, Arrow Video put out a collection of Lee movies, too. They also had The Final Game of Death included, too. This has two hours of original footage Lee filmed.

Hollywood movies borrowed some of Lee’s ideas and changed them to fit their own needs. In Kill Bill Vol. 1, Uma Thurman’s yellow jumpsuit is almost identically like the one Lee wore in Game of Death. They are paying homage to Lee’s work.

To this day, moviegoers have fallen in love with Bruce Lee’s on-screen presence. “Bruceploitation” movies became the norm, and not the rule, in the years after Lee’s death. It’s good to see other movie directors, though, respectfully pay their respects to Lee’s work.