image To be left reeling

The featured image is from the long-lost version of Eastern Condors. I’m surprised that Jet Li attended the première.

Hong Kong movies are comparable to newspapers in that the most significant ones are always preserved in their original state, whereas the rest are either available online or discarded. Unfortunately, the most famous of movies have reels which have been destroyed or kept by greedy collectors who treat footage like interest in a bank. The most profitable of Hollywood movies are like issues of Rolling Stone. Critically acclaimed Hollywood movies are like issues of Time.

As for Euro films which are the equivalents, they are like issues of National GeographicAs for films which don’t have accolades or mainstream appeal, they are like books i.e. many are available but just as many are out of print – no matter what library that you go to. For example, I would like to know about this missing scene from Carry On Pickpocket.

However, there is an American actor (named Mark King) who doesn’t think that H.K. movies should be compared to books. He worked in H.K. and thought that those movies are comparable to comic books. To a certain degree, he is correct. Even still, comics books are treated with more respect by the publishers. I’m genuinely surprised that no-one ever thought of preserving deleted scenes for video releases or TV documentaries.

Due to the DVD and Blu-Ray era, there are regrets from former employers and employees. When it comes to movies being disposable, Hollywood is to be blamed for the sheer waste that H.K. cinema has produced. The second half of 1984 was when two Hollywood productions (Weird Science and Back to the Future) decided to shift gears after weeks of filming so that they can be remade with different (and more bankable) stars.

In that same period, Sammo Hung decided to scrap Winners and Sinners 2 so that it could be remade as My Lucky Stars (which Lau Kar-Wing had worked on as an assistant director as seen above). The difference was that John Shum was replaced with Stanley Fung (who was a member of the original Winners and Sinners) because the movie needed a snarky straight man. A lot can happen in a year or two years rather. At first glance, Winners and Sinners 2 began filming a year later but it was almost two years later.

The first movie began filming in the spring of 1983 whereas the sequel began filming in the winter of 1984. The first movie had the feel of a ’70s British sitcom. By the time that Sammo scrapped the linear sequel, sweet-natured comedies were becoming passé. It’s kind of like what happened with Cheers. The first two seasons were fairly congenial but the swift inclusion of Frasier Crane in the third season gave it a more dry edge. This was a couple of months before Sammo began filming his sequel.

The below still is part of a deleted scene which was replaced by an adventurous one, where Jackie is tied up in a sack and thrown into the river before being saved by a group of right wingers. In this alternate scene (which was only seen in Japan via cinemas), him and his captured police squad were about to be executed but are then saved by the aforementioned group. The removal of this scene kind of points out how Jackie’s screen image went from being a part of a heroic group in the first movie to being some sort of lone hero in the sequel. Many fans complained about the absence of Sammo and Yuen Biao in part two.

Literally casting them aside, the sequel is better since it’s a riff on the police dynamics that we saw in Police Story. The literal stunt casting was also designed to remind people of Armour of God. Back to Eastern Condors, The pre-production started in July of 1986. Hung started filming in November. Instead of filming in the Philippines, he began in Canada because the first third of the film is set in a U.S. prison. After a month of filming, he spent another month filming the basketball scene. Golden Harvest wanted the maximum length to be 100 minutes, but he had already shot 44 minutes, so something had to give.

What he should have done is assemble a director’s cut to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. The original movie was a perfect balance between plenty of action and a profusion of characterization. In January of 1987, he took his H.K. cast and crew to Bangkok for a month of filming. In February, they went to the Philippines to spend four and a half months there. Despite finishing the movie in the middle of June, he managed to get it edited for a release in July 9.

In contrast, The Millionaire’s Express (1986) took 3 months to prepare and 5 to shoot. Eastern Condors was less successful because, despite the darker material, the audience was deprived of the character-building scenes which permeated the first half of the film (the bonding of The Deer Hunter with the training of Full Metal Jacket). Suspiciously, the truncated version foreshadows two deleted scenes of Bullet in the Head (another war epic). The first scene involves gangsters forcing a character to drink urine. The second involves Russian roulette, like The Deer Hunter, except the lives of the prisoners depend on Vietnamese boys pulling the trigger.

To put your head around the context, the boys are working with the captors. John Woo would retaliate by adapting a scene from Pedicab Driver (1989) for the ending of The Killer (1989). To understand how this could happen, bear in mind that The Killer was released on June 6 whereas Pedicab Driver was released on February 4. The scene that was adapted was the last moment between two lovers. 10 years later, I noticed this because I saw Pedicab Driver before The Killer. At any rate, Oliver Stone went as far to declare Eastern Condors as the beginning of a new wave in H.K. cinema. For this great director to compliment this movie is profound because he served in the Vietnam war (Eastern Condors takes place after the war). Sammo’s military masterpiece has been marketed as a mixture of The Dirty Dozen and Rambo.

Eastern Condors would influence Jackie Chan’s Operation Condor. Jackie was also keen to rival Pedicab Driver with the similarly-set Mr. Canton and Lady Rose. This wasn’t the first time that Chan was keen to rival Hung. Armour of God had a vehicle chase which was obviously designed to outshine the one in Wheels on Meals; this is because The Millionaire’s Express was Hung’s attempt to outclass Project A. Back to Eastern Condors, it was disappointing for many fans that the Taiwanese version didn’t contain more footage as is the norm for H.K. movies (this is like how the Japanese versions of albums have more songs).

The removed scenes of Project A (which had less income but more recoup) were reinstalled for a DVD edition. If Sammo had been a famous director in Hollywood then we would have unearthed footage of his movies. Like how the missing reels of Project A took 30 years to be seen (30th anniversary special), what’s left of Bruce’s Game of Death had been shown as a short film as part of a U.K. special edition DVD where it received long-overdue fanfare. Still, money-grubbing collectors spoiled the experience (this wasn’t the case when the original version of the teahouse house fight in Drunken Master II was scrapped).

Many fans still want to see the scene where Chieh Yuan attacks Dan Inosanto with a big log. It’s not so much lost as stolen. My guess is that a 50th anniversary special will warrant feverish fanfare. Like some Lee fans, I believe that Bruce filmed the first floor with Whang Ing-Sik et al. There are jaw-droppingly ignored signs of this.

First of all, Bruce had filmed a series of fight scenes which were meant to be used for a projector reel that himself and his assisting fighters watch (think back to when Lee is informed of his mission in Enter the Dragon). Second and foremost, there are a few stills of the log attack which proves that someone out there is withholding Game of Death footage.

While some may dismiss these as publicity photos, note that the first time that we see Inosanto as a pagoda guardian in the Clouse cut is when he’s sitting in his chair unlike what we see in neither version of the short film (which are basically fan edits). Thirdly, Bruce had a tendency to not shave if he wasn’t filming. If you look at photos of him in June of 1973, he was shaven.

He also shaved in July as can be seen in his final televised interview and even in the mortuary photo. A question has been raised as to how long that it would have taken for the film to be made. The Big Boss took 6 weeks to be filmed. Ditto for Fist of Fury whereas The Way of the Dragon took short of 2 months (one should be noting that Bruce’s fight with Chuck Norris took 3 days to complete).

The clapperboard dates in the 1972 production footage show that Game of Death was past the halfway mark in completion, given that he postponed on December 20 because location scouting was underway for Enter the Dragon. People like to talk about how Bruce was overworked, but there are H.K. movie stars and even directors who traverse between two film sets. It’s just such a shame that he couldn’t work Game of Death into his schedule.

Other reasons for stopping filming were the deaths of James Lee (an American friend) and Yip Man (the first combat tutor that Bruce studied from). According to the September 15 issue of New Nation in 1972, Bruce began filming it. In the December 10 issue of New Nation in 1974, a spokesman claimed that he shot most of the fights. Linda reiterated this in The Man Only I Knew

This is where we have to do the math. Like the Shaw Brothers before him, Bruce realized that H.K. movies had the potential to have schedules akin to TV. The fight with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took one week to film because he was due to train for the NBA in a short period of time. Inosanto took 2 weeks to complete his scene (the weapons added an extra layer of intricacy). In 1977, The Straits Times were told by Clouse (in the 16 July issue) that Bruce shot about 3,048 metres of film (111 minutes if you include out-takes).

Clouse did such a bad job of completing it that Yuen Woo-Ping did a better job of compensating for his father’s absence from The Magnificent Butcher. However, Clouse signing up to sit in Bruce’s directorial chair wasn’t the biggest mistake that anyone ever made in that movie. That honour goes to Colleen Camp who chose to co-star in the film instead of playing the main female character in National Lampoon’s Animal House. To be fair on her, she didn’t realize how little actual footage of Lee would be used in the final edit.

Bruce didn’t complete the film because of filming so many publicity photos. This does seem strange when you consider the lack of photos for other major league stars until you start to realize that Enter the Dragon had a myriad of stills so as to make the H.K. credit sequence more animated than the somewhat standard style of the U.S. cut. In 1975, Linda wrote for South China Morning Post that (after his U.S. movie) he did his usual rounds of TV appearances, interviews, meetings with producers and filming. Inosanto, who remembers Whang being flown over for filming, was under the impression that the film was half-completed. Kim Tai-Jung (who filled in for Bruce in Game of Death) claimed that he was shown the majority of the movie (including non-action scenes) prior to working on Clouse’s redux.

Doug Palmer (one of Lee’s students) claimed that it was mostly in the can. Lam Ching-Ying (stuntman) told Bey Logan that Bruce had filmed two thirds. Hugh O’Brian and Zebra Pan weren’t involved, so they assumed that Bruce only shot a third. The Artport version would have been 40 minutes long when including the log bit, so that means the final running time (if taken literally) would have been two hours long. There is no way that this would be permitted since The Big Boss had enough deleted scenes that it got cut down to 100 minutes (albeit I’m grateful that the finished product isn’t rare like the illegal sequel).

He was so methodical about undertaking Game of Death that he calculated how many rolls of film which were needed. He was bound to have known what the final running time would be (something that Sammo should have learned for films like The Millionaire’s Express).

Films are like plays in that they have three acts, so it would have been economical to have each act last for 33 minutes. He was OCD enough to appreciate the value of evenness. What’s available to us lacks the tightness that he was renowned for, so I can imagine him tightening the footage to the extent that the three final floors would have comprised of 28 minutes.

George Lazenby cited this number when explaining how Bruce treated him to a private screening so as to see how the last three Pagoda fights flowed. The number of floors is akin to a three act play. Out of the Lee league, most people aren’t aware that what we are treated to is essentially a rough cut that was meant to be pared down. What you intend to film isn’t always what is meant to be kept. You shoot more than you need so that you can maintain a sense of continuity from shot to shot. Also, it gives you freedom in what edit points that you can choose. In that respect, John Little’s cut is better.

The voice acting is accurate whereas the music is better (not cheap-sounding like in Bullet in the Head as pictured above). So who knows how much more is being withheld by (or from) the G.H. studio? By comparison, the S.B.archives are cut and dried. It’s literally the case that editors cut and dry unwanted footage, so not a single soul stopped them from stealing. Regardless of who was cutting and drying, there is one more piece of evidence that is damning. Ng See-Yuen was approached by Raymond Chow to make a movie under the promise that there was unreleased extensive footage of Game of Death.

Bruce filmed all of the pre-Pagoda footage (the shots of him in the countryside while wearing a suit or being topless were just publicity photos). Casting aside reels that fall into the category of same difference, the reason to undertake such a task would be if there was earth-shatteringly new reels (such as Simon Yam’s bottle smash during Bullet in the Head as seen above).

I suspect that Ray was chickening out by wanting to hold onto it for unsuspecting generations who wouldn’t be as skeptical about expecting new footage. Even if Ray showed Ng what was left, it’s hard to find an understandable context outside of a documentary. Clearly, it would have been difficult to incorporate the footage in Clouse’s 1978 release because Bruce’s four allies could be easily seen in any given shot. Even if there was enough solo shots to pass it off as an intimate duel, there is the issue of the running time to consider.

The running time, as it is now, is slightly longer than Enter the Dragon (which was only 99 minutes after several scenes were taken out). Also, the other fights were more distinctive in that Bruce was taking on artists specialized in Eskrima, Hapkido and Jeet Kune Do. Therefore, advertisers had unique selling points to work with. The Western fans should remember that, for a long time, the H.K. audience were deprived of seeing the Hapkido floor.

As for Tower of Death, a.k.a. Game of Death II, it was nothing more than an excuse to make use of some deleted scenes from Enter the Dragon (there would have been more scenes but Ng See-Yuen put his foot down). It may as well have been retitled Enter the Dragon IIIn one issue of Golden Movie News (a G.H. magazine), it was claimed that Bruce shot 7,000 feet of film (one hour and 17 minutes) for Game of Death.

Noting Clouse’s above testimony, this can’t include the bloopers and the usable takes which differentiated Little’s cut from the Art Port cut, because the tally would have been feature-length. What frustrates me the most is that Bruce still could have completed it while having Clouse film all of the non-Lee shots in Enter the Dragon. The fights which didn’t feature Lee were bound to come up short even with him as the choreographer.

There was a report in SCMP circa December 1971 that his next movie after Fist of Fury was going to be shot in H.K. and Korea. This implies that Game of Death wasn’t such a rush job after all, since filming didn’t start till August, 1972. Galaxy Pictorial (another G.H. mag) reported in October of that year about Bruce having already filmed the opening scene. Finishing Enter the Dragon made Bruce want to move to Seattle for good.

This means that he would have scrapped Game of Death in favour of a Hollywood remake (there is a reason why he spoke English in the footage). Another 1972 issue of Golden Movie News revealed that Bruce had planned to do two versions – one for the Mandarin market whereas the other would be for the Western one. After all, Bruce considered remaking The Way of the Dragon as a sequel in San Francisco for the U.S. audience.

Game of Death was a motion-pictured storyboard that showed Fred Weintraub what would happen if Bruce was to climb the pagoda with James Coburn, Steve McQueen, Chuck Norris and Robert Wall. In October 1972, Fred told the H.K. press that Warner Brothers were going to handle the global distribution. Under these circumstances, W.B. could have easily bought Concord so that it became a W.B. subsidiary as opposed to a G.H. one.

One could conclude that Game of Death ended up as a smokescreen to convince Ray that Bruce wouldn’t abandon him after making his first U.S. movie. I don’t pay much heed into the team-up with Lazenby on The Shrine of Ultimate Bliss since G. H. was going to be jilted by Bruce (who humoured Ray about George so as to avoid being snuffed out by the Triads who put a price on his head).

Bruce shouldn’t have threatened Ray like Jackie in a deleted scene from Project A II. Considering that Bruce intended Game of Death to be as multi-levelled as the propaga that he was traversing, one could rightly assume that his assistants are eliminated in order of who has the least star power. This would mean that Coburn would have been a shoo-in for Chieh Yuan’s role which leaves McQueen gunning for Tien’s role (a rival of Bruce’s character).

This makes sense since Bruce always positioned himself as Steve’s rival (the final wish that Bruce had was for Enter the Dragon to outgross Steve’s Papillon). As for who gets top billing on the poster, it would be displayed in order of the floors that they get knocked down on. As a result, Lazenby would have been redeemed for ditching the Bond franchise (it’s not like he was dismissed for demanding a higher quota).

Tiana Alexandra would have more likely played Bruce’s sister because he fancied her to the extent that he kept a file of her photos (in a way that’s reminiscent of the below deleted scene in Bullet in the Head). For the sake of commercialism, Bruce’s wife would have been played by Sophia Loren so as to satisfy Carlo Ponti’s desire to work with the two stars. Bruce had a desire to work with Polly Shang Kwan (a butch beauty) on a future project, so she could have played the Hapkido master in the temple of gold (which would’ve resembled something like the below photo).

This isn’t wishful thinking, because Polly (alongside Sam Hui) visited Bruce on the set of Game of Death during breaks in filming Lo Wei’s Back Alley Princess. This is more plausible given that he considered Angela Mao as a second choice for the G.H. version in case that Ji Han-Jae rejected his request. While Ji is criticized by Lee fanatics for not picking up his choreography, he got a hang of Hung’s in Hapkido. Speaking of Ji, the Chinese character on the sign is dragon instead of gold. When the three survivors step onto Ji’s floor, it is apparent that James Tien and Chieh Yuan recognize him.

This can also be seen when Ji laughs at Chieh because he knows that he lacks skill, so he is toying with him. Ji doesn’t have dialogue which acknowledges that there is a mutual recognition because even Bruce was aware that exposition is something to be avoided. Ji embellishes his status with a gold belt as a remembrance of the nondescript treasure that is at the top of the pagoda. Chieh is wearing a Hapkido uniform, and there is a reason why.

It was his way of telling the guardian that he deserves a free pass, which is why he is never stopped by the gold guardian when he goes up the staircase. Bruce would have hired Ann Winton to play the guardian on the first floor (which was to be named as Gate to Enlightenment). The first reason would be because of When Taekwondo Strikes (a 1973 gem that was first released in the West as Sting of the Dragon Masters), whose set that Bruce visited (it was him who pitched the project for Jhoon Rhee).

The second reason is that a pretty white woman would help sell the film. Not only does it work from a feminist perspective but from a sexist point-of-view i.e. if you can’t beat the best female fighters then you can’t beat the best male ones. This casting strategy makes more sense than Carter Wong’s claim that he was going to be one of Bruce’s four assistants (the below meeting with Bruce must have gone to his head). He is clearly riding the coattails. If Bruce wanted him that much then he would have him play Yuan’s role, which makes sense given that Carter’s nickname is watermelon because he looks good but is stiff.

Sammo was always going to play one of the assistants because Bruce liked him enough that he cast him in Enter the Dragon despite Sammo being too busy to play Yuan’s role (they had a temporary falling out). It would have made more sense to cast Carter in Enter the Dragon because Bruce looks all the more scrawny when next to Sammo. Since Bruce intended for a Westerner to assist Hai Tien (the main character) and the three members of the Korean mob, we were more likely to see Jim Kelly in Game of Death than Carter.

There is more weight to this than what seems to be a joke made in passing. In Volume 2, number 1 of an underground magazine called Badazz Mofo (about Blaxploitation films), Jim confirmed in an interview where he talked a great deal about his relationship with Bruce. On page 21, Jim claims that before he returned to America, he was invited by Bruce to co-star in his next film. Had Game of Death been completed, Godfrey Ho would never have been convinced to make movies involving mismatching footage of differing styles. Back to the actress also known as Ann Winter, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold would have been more successful had S.B. realized that they should have a white actress. After all, look at what happened to The Bod Squad (a Kung Fu sexploitation classic).

Enter the Dragon clearly benefited from adding a white performer to the black and Chinese ones. This would have been seen as an inspirational precursor to Charlie’s Angels, complete with a DVD re-release titled Charlie’s Devils (especially since Charlie was the name afforded to the Vietcong by the U.S. soldiers). In Enter the Dragon, Mei Ling had a fight scene which was removed from the final cut. The artistic and commercial success of the Game of Death remake would have inspired the cineaste Wachowskis to have Bruce play Morpheus to Brandon Lee’s Neo in The Matrix (which was also produced by Warner Brothers).

Bruce being bald would have been perfect since it would be a way for him to regain the clout that David Carradine got from playing a monk. Maybe the Wachowskis could have got Bruce to train his daughter (Shannon Lee) so that she could play Trinity. The romance would have to be removed but, then again, it would have been refreshing to have asexual protagonists.

As a Jet Li fan, I find it disappointing that we will never see the original version of High RiskLet’s face it – it seems weird that Wong Jing seemingly never made fun of Jackie’s singing career or outtakes montages. There were two stills of deleted scenes which can no longer be seen on the internet. They were originally on the French Jet Li website which vanished.

The first still takes place in a police station because Chingmy Yau has a police sketch of Jet Li, who is awkwardly sitting next to her because of getting some dogs to go after her and her cameraman. The second still depicts Jacky Cheung in bed with a plaster on his nose. He’s wearing pajamas as he looks down in panic at his groin. Jet is leaning over with his head facing him but with his eyes also down at Jacky’s crotch. The insinuation is that Cheung is panicking about the size of his manhood after the men’s room encounter with Billy Chow.

As for other H.K. movies which have long lost deleted scenes, there’s the explosion of a living room in Stephen Chow’s From Beijing With Love (1994) and Yuen Biao being tied to a crucifix which he is facing while being mocked by Fan Mei-Sheng in Dreadnaught. In Yes Madam, Michelle Yeoh had Kung Fu duels which differed from the modern style of the movie. Chuck claimed that he appeared in a few more scenes than what is shown in The Way of the Dragon. One scene involved him attacking one of the waiters.

This explains why we don’t see the waiter as one of the survivors at the graveyard. There are two missing waiters – Wu Ngan is waiting in the car to drive Bruce to the airport whereas Robert Chan is long gone. The California-bound remake would definitely have Malisa Longo playing the hooker because Bruce had rapport with her.

In an Italian interview, she claimed that their affair lasted till September, 1972 (when Game of Death began filming). He ended the affair because he couldn’t risk gossip affecting his H.K. homelife. She agreed since she was on the verge of mainstream stardom in her home country. Despite her film role being small, her commitment to him was three weeks because he always wanted her available. In Italy, they did cha-cha dancing at a bar and dined at a Chinese restaurant.

After the movie, they would have the occasional phone call. Before he died, she signed a three picture deal with S.B. One of the movies was to star him as her partner. After he died, she received a phone call from her Chinese friend. His version of Bruce’s death was a plaguing one that left her reeling (sort of like the below deleted scene from Bullet in the Head by John Woo).

It’s kind of sad when the only thing that remains of a deleted scene is a lobby card or a still in general.


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