Game of Death 2 (aka Tower of Death) Review
Being the sequel to one of the few Hong Kong Movies I actually think is only worth watching for the fight sequences, Game of Death, I sat down to watch the sequel with unusually low expectations. After all, a sequel to a film that itself had to be completed using a variety of doubles for the lead star (Bruce Lee) is an obvious cash-in while childhood memories of being overwhelmingly disappointed with this title had left me non-too interested. My interest did however perk up when I noticed the cult following it had amongst fans of Hong Kong Martial Arts Cinema prior to this DVD release and had I taken the time to do a little research (other than read the back-cover of the DVD!) then I would have discovered that this is a film that is directed by the visionary producer of Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagles Shadow, Ng See Yuen. It also contains fight choreography by the now legendary action-director Yuen Woo-Ping (behind the action in The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to name just two) and features phenomenal Martial Arts skills from two of Hong Kong cinemas most prolific 'bad-guy' actors, Hwang Jang-Lee (Drunken Master) and Lee Hoi-San (Magnificent Butcher) - All of which tells you Game of Death 2 aka Tower of Death turned out to be a pleasant surprise to myself and should please any fan of Traditional Martial Arts Cinema.
Using the English Dubs character names you will find that the Bruce Lee character is again Billy Lo (the same character name as used in Game of Death) and like the original film this character is portrayed using a mixture of previous footage from the Bruce Lee archives and by using doubles. The lead double is again Kim Tai Chung while Yuen Biao takes the reigns when any complex or more acrobatic Martial Arts ensues which is again just like the original film (although a third double was enlisted for the original). Containing a quite frantic opening 30-minutes we discover that Billy Lo is the friend of a fellow Martial Arts Master Chin-Ku (Hwang Jang-Lee) but no sooner do we meet these characters than we discover that Chin-Ku has quite suddenly and mysteriously died. On the trail of his friends death Billy discovers a film that could help him unravel the mystery but is unable to investigate further after he himself dies in a freak accident (that involves some fowl play) at Chin-Ku's funeral! With the Lee character killed off within the first 30-minutes of the film Kim Tai Chung comes back to our screens within seconds as Billy Lo's brother, Bobby Lo, only this time he is free to be seen from any angle rather than the side and back views he was restricted to when playing Billy! Bobby is now on the trail to seek revenge for his brother's death, the first stop along the way is the 'Castle of Death' where we meet an American Kung-Fu Master who sticks to a diet of raw meat and animal's blood! Lewis is the gracious host of the 'Castle of Death' and it is here Bobby learns of the 'Tower of Death' (can you spot the pattern?) that is a secret tower buried underground and is also, not so surprisingly, where Bobby must go to unravel the mystery between his brothers and Chin Ku's deaths.
The story is in all honesty barely passable! On my first sitting I completely lost track of what was going on after the first 40-minutes but because of the bizarre nature of the film it simply did not bother me! The reason the story becomes almost sidelined (for myself anyway!) is because of the portrayal of the Bruce Lee character who is never really killed off despite the obvious onscreen death. Let me explain. From the very start the use of previous Bruce Lee footage is edited into the film in a more than competent manner while the portrayal of the character by Kim Tai Chung is as good as can be expected with the lack of any face-on camera angles. However, the fight choreography from Yuen Woo-Ping, while typically good is also typically Woo-Ping and although he has tried to mimic the Bruce Lee style it often comes off looking more Jackie Chan than Bruce Lee as Billy Lo uses his surroundings and objects in a way we have all become accustomed to with Jackie Chan films. Finally when Billy Lo dies Kim Tai Chung gets to play the Bobby Lo role but due to the constant attempts to mimic Bruce Lee's look and mannerisms and the fact that the fight sequences still contain low level lighting and side/rear camera views because Yuen Biao is still doubling for Kim Tai Chung in the more difficult sections of a fight sequence it never truly feels as though this is a completely different character but rather a single character who stumbles his way through the film!
None of this really matters though because the film makes up for any shortcomings in the plot via its completely outrageous set of characters and the bizarre locations they encounter. From a Safari park ride to a Bond-esque villains base every scene feels like it belongs to another movie (and indeed some do belong to other movies!) while the wry looks from Kim Tai Chung in the Bobby Lo persona and superior reaction shots will always raise a smile as will Roy Horan's performance as Lewis where he looks as though he is acting with the expectation that he will receive a wonderfully over the top English dub! Other comedic (although not deliberate I must add) highlights include the Lion attack which will provide many laughs to Hong Kong movie aficionados who will just marvel at the sheer level of special effects available to Hong Kong filmmakers of that day and age! Add to this mix a superb musical score that only heightens the laughs on offer and this becomes a truly fun film that is polished off with a fine selection of high quality martial arts displays all of which feature that trademark intricacy that we expect from Woo-Ping and all of which are superbly carried out by the various stars. To conclude what is a very positive review I must warn you that this film is one of those that technically is quite bad, but for the reasons already explained it becomes a lot of fun to watch and has certainly maintained my interest repeatedly over the swift 83-minute running time in a way the original (also often lauded for being so bad its good) never did.
This Hong Kong Legends DVD is Region 2 & 4 Encoded.
Presented at its original 2:35:1 Aspect Ratio with Anamorphic Enhancement this is another generally outstanding effort from the team at Hong Kong Legends. Like other recent releases of films from this era (Encounters of the Spooky Kind) the HKL team have acquired another almost spotless print that contains high detail levels throughout and almost perfect colour rendition and near spot on black levels. The only slight disappointment comes in the form of some not so solid black levels early in the film, some annoying picture fluctuation/shimmering in the backgrounds that occurs briefly on several occasions while a few short sequences stand out due to a large amount of grain and more general picture degradation (which is in direct contrast to the rest of the movies presentation). Other obvious problems come with the different source material used to edit this film together, in particular the brief clips from the earlier Bruce Lee titles (Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon) stand out where-as the scenes directly lifted from Enter the Dragon fit in quite well. Another slight problem with the source that has nothing to do with the DVD transfer is how on a few occasions the picture focus rapidly changes as presumably the camera operator is experimenting rather than following directions!
DVD-Rom Owners please note that when obtaining screenshots for this review I noticed a vertical pink line on the left hand side of the image that was present through Chapters 2, 3 and 4. This picture fault is not noticeable on a Television due to overscan bars.
In the build up to this DVD release I had read consistently that Game of Death 2 featured a superb English Dub that was absolutely hilarious and just had to be heard. On these grounds I went against all of my basic principles and for the first sitting I viewed Game of Death 2 with the English Dub and while I did not appreciate the English Dub as much as my fellow fans I certainly enjoyed it more than most as it is a perfectly acceptable English Dub that worked quite well. In particular Kim Tai Chung's character was well cast with a voice that matched his often sly expressions while Roy Horan's dubbing artist did an equally inspired job, best of all though is the alternative musical score that is considerably different to the Cantonese version while maintaining the same bizarre and quite humorous style. After experiencing the Cantonese Audio track I found that neither were particularly better suited to the film due to the overall quality of the English Dub so for a refreshing change I shall simply recommend you sample both tracks, although personal preference for myself means the Cantonese Dub will get more repeated use. Technically both tracks are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround format and are both perfectly adequate for a film of this age. Voices are clearly presented via the centre speaker while the superb musical scores on both Audio tracks consume the room via both the front and rear speakers proving once again that a DD5.1 remix is not essential to your viewing pleasure on films of this vintage. The included optional subtitles (English and Dutch) are as ever superbly presented with an easy on the eye font and are flawless in both grammar and spelling.
In another feature packed Special Edition, Hong Kong Legends begin the proceedings with a bang in the form of a superb Audio Commentary from HKL regular Bey Logan who is joined by the films co-star Roy Horan (Lewis). These two make for a great team as Horan matches Logans style and is clearly spoken, has a huge amount of interesting (and surprising) stories to tell about his real life master Hwang Jang Lee alongside several other interesting stories from behind-the-scenes on the film. Logan offers up his typically large array of information in great style and just to prove even he can get things wrong is corrected by Horan on occasion (but not often!). Any brief faults in Logans information is quickly forgotten as you realise you are having as much fun listening to this commentary as the participants were recording it and if that is not enough then Logan offers up some superb impressions of both Bruce Lee and Roy Horan to appease the audiences desire for more! This is a first class Commentary track that will serve you for many repeated listens as it offers great entertainment value and such further nuggets of information as Logan confirming my own discoveries when he admits that he too does not have a clue what is going on in the film!
Moving on you will find 4 Deleted Scenes, all of which are presented in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen and in English Language only as these scenes were only present on the International Cut of the film (known as Tower of Death. The first three Deleted Scenes are nothing more than montages of Bruce Lee footage and as such are not particularly enticing and in the case of the second scene are in quite poor taste. The first Deleted Scene comes when Billy Lo is speaking with the Abbot about his brother and is titled Childhood Memories. It shows footage from Lee's child acting days and even includes the age he was when the films were made! The second Deleted Scene comes when Bobby Lo learns his brother had died and is a Funeral Montage showing clips from Bruce Lee's actual public funeral. The final Deleted Scene montage clip is an Alternative Credit Sequence that actually lists the actors in the film (including Bruce Lee as Billy Lo!) with some more clips and still photographs of Bruce Lee. The fourth Deleted Scene is the Greenhouse Fight that you may have also seen on the Game of Death Platinum Edition as it was a scene included in the Cantonese Print of that film, but this time it is shown in its English Dub form as this disc features the Cantonese rather than the International cut of Game of Death 2!. Featuring Casanova Wong squaring up against Billy Lo this is a very impressive fight sequence that is sadly not included in the film but is at least available for you to view in this section of the disc.
For this release we are blessed with two all new interviews that as of yet have not featured on any other Hong Kong Legends release! First up is Roy Horan who tells us his extremely interesting life story which includes discussion on the various training regimes for the martial arts he has studied, the famous actors and directors he has met and also regales us with some stories from the making of Game of Death 2 (some of which you may have already heard on the Audio Commentary). This is an excellent interview that never slows down throughout its 22-minute running time thanks to Horan's enthusiastic manner. Our second interviewee is Cassanova Wong who while not in the Cantonese print of the film does feature in the International Print and can be found demonstrating his unique skills in the Deleted Scenes section in the Greenhouse Fight scene. Speaking in his native language (HKL have of course provided high quality English subtitles) Cassanova talks in general about his life including discussion on his training in Tae Kwondo, how he got into Hong Kong films and his thoughts on Sammo Hung, the man who discovered him and gave him brief roles in both Game of Death and Iron Fisted Monk to start his career in Hong Kong. To conclude this interview Cassanova offers us his thoughts on the legend, Bruce Lee, which proves to be the end to another highly informative interview that more than warrants 16-minutes of your time.
Coming to the end of the special features we also find static text based biographies for Director Ng See Yuen and Co-Star Hwang Jang Lee, both of which are a slightly low on information in comparison to what we have come to expect from HKL (even for Static Biographies) but still offer up more background information than most discs manage. The Picture Gallery is typically weak but does appear to contain a few Lobby Cards although this is still not enough to make this more than a watch once extra feature. Finally you will find the Trailer Gallery which includes the Original Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer and the HKL Promotional Trailer for Game of Death 2. Both are presented in 2:35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen as are the further four Bruce Lee Promotional Trailers for The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon and Game of Death.
Despite the films obvious plot based flaws this still proves to be an absolute riot to watch and as such should at least be given a rental by any interested parties. Of course fans should have no qualms about picking up what is by far the best release this film has ever seen thanks to this superior Hong Kong Legends release.