On July 20, 1973, actor and martial arts expert Bruce Lee died. He was only 32-years-old. At the time of his death, he was working on a film called "The Game of Death."
This independent film is the story of the makers of that movie trying to find a replacement for the deceased actor. The film premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. It was showcased at almost every Asian film festival this side of the Atlantic, and it got a limited run in less than a dozen cities last fall.
All that means is that no one on Delmarva, and half the country, got the opportunity to see this film. Even those seriously interested in Asian cinema, or who are Asian themselves, had no clue of this movie's existence. IFC on Demand briefly provided it, but soon took it away. Its DVD release was met with little fanfare. I doubt there was much, if any TV ads.
This is a shame because this is a fantastic comedy. The film is a completely fictional, totally fake account of how the movie studio producing "The Game of Death" tried to find a replacement for Bruce Lee, a stand-in basically so they could complete the film, even though only 12 minutes of it had been shot up until that point. In actuality, the real movie had about 40 minutes shot.
Yet, this film is made like its a real 1970s PBS documentary giving us an honest account. It's more reminiscent of "This is Spinal Tap (1984) or "Waiting for Guffman (1996). It's a fake, or mock documentary, a mockumentary. It's a spoof that challenges the presence of Asians in Hollywood movies and television programs, as well as the nature of Hollywood itself.
Director Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) centers the film on the casting process. The faux director of Bruce Lee's defunct film, Ronney Kurtainbaum, is a young guy, perhaps too young to be directing this picture. He's pampered and arrogant, and perhaps slightly gay. He feels snobbish enough to invoke Godard and Eisenstein when talking about his Bruce Lee flick going on without its star. Yet, clearly the only reason he has this job is because his father, Martey, is the president of the company.
Eloise, the casting director, played by Meredith Scott Lynn, is hilarious, as she bases her casting decisions on which she would have sex with. She has a very superficial and vapid sensibility when it comes to movie-making and she's unashamed to show it. She has no care or concern about whether or not the actor is talented, but mostly whether or not he looks good and can speak his lines with some kind of emotion.
The casting process goes down in three rounds. In the first round, Eloise asks all the actors who are auditioning to raise their hand if they've ever had any Shakespearean background or experience in film or on stage. For a room full of Asians, a good number lift their arms. She then immediately dismisses them. Heaven forbid, we should have good, quality Shakespearean actors!
Before we even get to that point, however, writer-director Justin Lin introduces us to the five guys who are the main auditioning to be the next Bruce Lee, or what they think is the next Bruce Lee. Again, they're really just stand-ins, gloried stunt doubles, two of which aren't even Chinese.
One is Raja, who looks like he's more Middle Eastern or perhaps Hindu. Raja is not an actor, per se. He's a doctor who works with actors as patients. He did do stunt double work for an actor named Breeze Loo.
Who is Breeze Loo? Breeze Loo is the star of "Fist of Fuhrer," not a real movie, but a movie within this movie. Breeze Loo is an obvious Bruce Lee wannabe, or a copycat. It's funny because Breeze Loo walks around always calling other people cat. He claims to have never seen a single Bruce Lee film, a possible lie because in an excerpt from "Fist of Fuhrer" Loo looks and acts exactly like Bruce Lee, except he never does his stunt work and he wears a blue jumpsuit instead of a yellow one.
Loo doesn't care about Bruce Lee, or the fact that he even died. All he cares about is his image and making himself the center of attention. He thinks he's a big celebrity, a bigger celebrity than he really is. Even if he wasn't almost completely talentless, he wouldn't be as big a celebrity as he would want. Asian actors don't get that kind of clout. Bruce Lee was more of an anomaly.
And, director Justin Lin makes us feel that. Besides George Takei, from "Star Trek," who makes a cameo here, what other big name Asian actors can you think of that had the same clout as Bruce Lee in that time period? Today, more and more Asian actors are making in-roads in Hollywood. The new Jackie Chan and Jet Li film will be coming out on DVD soon, so there have been some improvements. Some are still typecast or pigeonholed, as all minorities sometimes are.
However, the movie isn't really about the racism against the Chinese as one of the auditioning actors, Tarrick Tyler, continues to talk about. Tyler is a spoken word artist who believes the Chinese are being railroaded even to this day. He believes that he and other Chinese should stand together in a yellow brotherhood. Problem is... Tyler isn't Asian at all.
Lin makes this piece a ridiculous piece that makes you laugh more at the silliness of the Hollywod process, as well as idiosyncrasies of certain people. He mines a wide range of diverse Asian actors from all various background and points of view, and just lets them play and fight each other in good form and fashion. With guest appearances by Ron Jeremy and MC Hammer, this is one of the funniest films of the year.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated R for nudity and language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 24 mins.