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Bruce Lee Passed Away While Filming 'Game Of Death' - And That’s Only The Beginning Of The Story

Updated January 28, 2019 36.2k views12 items

Movies that come out after one of the main actors passes are either seen as a respectful sendoff or an affront. Heath Ledger's and James Dean's final films fall into the former category, and Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon could have as well. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out to be the martial artist's last film.

Hong Kong studio Golden Harvest pushed Lee's incomplete film Game of Death through production and released it five years after his passing. Since he had only filmed about 40 minutes of the movie, the filmmakers got creative in their attempts to turn a few fight scenes into a feature-length picture. 

Lee's quick movements, unique choreography, and very own Jeet Kune Do won him fans all over the world. His philosophy and zen teachings inspired people, and led fans to seek out little known Bruce Lee facts, elevating him to the level of a legend.

After Lee passed, filmmakers were quick to take advantage of his name. By using recycled footage, scenes personally shot by Lee, and some questionable tactics, filmmakers brought a new Bruce Lee movie to the screen after he was gone. Years later, some fans still wonder if Lee would have approved.

  • Most Of The Film Utilizes A Bruce Lee Double

    Since Bruce Lee only completed about 40 minutes of filming, the filmmakers enlisted a stand-in to pose as Lee throughout the majority of the movie. To hide the fact that the actor is not Lee, filmmakers purposely lit sets poorly, filmed the double from behind, and shot with wide angles to make his face less visible.

    The double also used disguises to create a faux Lee, such as a fake mustache and beard, giant sunglasses, and at one point, a motorcycle helmet with a dark visor.

    One movie reviewer noted Lee's character changes his voice at least five times throughout the film. Adding to the cheapness of using a poor double, the actor randomly changes into the film's famous yellow jumpsuit to match Lee's costume in his completed scenes, but no explanation for this is given.

  • Filmmakers Used A Bruce Lee Photo Cutout In One Shot

    Video: YouTube

    What do you do when your lead actor has passed on, you've used up all the footage left over from his other films, and the stand-in with the big sunglasses isn't fooling anyone? If you're the filmmakers behind Lee's infamous posthumous release, you use a cardboard cutout of the star.

    In one scene, a photograph of Lee's face is layered over the actor in the scene. If you watch the video, you can see the obvious and cringe-inducing coverup around the 1:05 mark. Good thing the filmmakers only used this trick once.  

  • The Film Uses Real Footage From Bruce Lee's Funeral

    In the movie, Bruce Lee's character, Billy Lo, is the victim of a targeted strike carried out by gangsters. To go undercover and save his girlfriend, Lo convinces everyone he didn't survive. This allowed the filmmakers to explain why "Bruce Lee" doesn't look like himself, but also gave them another way of bringing the real Lee back into the film - with actual footage from his burial service.

    The movie shows Lee's casket, mourners, and even a closeup of the deceased Lee's face in a very twisted cameo. Whether this adds anything to the film is a matter of personal opinion, but many Lee fans believe the movie was only created to make money off the actor, and this footage serves as a metaphorical roundhouse kick to the face.

  • The Filmmakers Recycled Shots From Other Bruce Lee Movies

    Perhaps because they realized they'd only be able to get away with so many shots of Bruce Lee's stand-in, the filmmakers mined his other films for footage. Some shots come from the finished frames of other Lee movies, such as a stunt which originally appeared at the end of The Chinese Connection.

    They also took reaction shots of Lee from his other movies so his real face can occasionally be seen in closeups sprinkled throughout the film.