|Available at Amazon.com|
Unless your name is Christopher Guest, producing a Mockumentary can be a tricky situation. Sure, there have been many of them made over the years by other filmmakers, but most of them are little more than cult films, and most of those are really worse than that. Sure, you get the occasional Borat, but for the most part the genre gets very little serious attention. Unfortunately, Justin Lin’s Finishing the Game: The Search for a New Bruce Lee is one of those movies that probably won’t get past cult status, because it’s actually funny enough to earn mainstream appeal.
Lin, the director of Better Luck Tomorrow, has crafted a fun little flick that seems to earn back some the indie cred he may have lost in the last few years after directing big budget schlock like Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift and Annapolis. Finishing the Game tells a fictional version of the true-life story of filmmakers who tried unsuccessfully to fill the shoes of Bruce Lee by completing Game of Death after Bruce has finished filming 12 usable minutes. Focusing his movie on a handful of acting hopefuls and those in charge of casting, the picture manages to satirize an era where Bruce Lee clones popped up everywhere, few of which had the qualifications to fill the legend’s shadow.
The film’s strongest focus is on two of the hopefuls, Kung Fu movie star wannabe Breeze Loo (Roger Fan) and the hopelessly likable Cole Kim (Sung Kang). Lin throws in hilarious introductory scenes for both of these characters, especially the footage of one of Loo’s “films”, entitled Fist of Fuhrer, in which his Bruce Lee-esque character must fight a band of Nazi ninjas. The sequence is about as funny as one of the trailers from Grindhouse, with degraded picture and terrible dubbing doing a nice job of recalling ’70s fight flicks.
Cole Kim gets an equally funny introduction, showing up for a casting call which ends being an adult film, complete with cameos from many adult film stars, including Ron Jeremy. The scene sets you up for the type of easy going character that Kim is, but also lets you see how he’s kind of always destined for failure. Also accompanying him is his fiancé/manager Saraghina Rivas (Monique Curnen), and the sequence also establishes their bickering sort of relationship, which comes to be very important to the picture’s climactic scene.
While the movie sticks with these two characters, it’s pretty much solid gold. Roger Fan’s Loo is a grade-A prima donna, despite the fact that he never actually does any of his own fighting on screen. Fan’s scenes keep the laughs coming with his posturing and terrible acting, and an interview with his adoptive parents is a scream. On the other end of the spectrum Sung Kang’s earnest portrayal of Cole Kim is able to actually tug at your heartstrings, while still delivering some good laughs. His initial screening for Game of Death has him delivering the line “You’ve offended me, you’ve offended my family,” but he’s just so happy to be there that he can’t help but smile the whole time, and the result is kind of hysterical.
Where the film goes awry is when it focuses on other characters, mostly McCaleb Burnett as Tarrick Tyler, a half Asian actor and poet, who is actually as Caucasian as one can be. The big problem with the character is he’s just a one joke character that keeps being repeated over and over again. He’s a white dude that thinks he’s Asian, and he’s trying out for Bruce Lee. That’s really the gist of the character and the joke really starts to fall flat after a while.
Other characters kind of come and go in the picture, and never really get developed like they should. This would include Mousa Kraish’s Raja Moore, a Hindu medical doctor who wants to live out his double dream of being a movie star and a ninja, and Dustin Nguyen’s Troy Poon, a former TV star looking to break out of his usual roles as delivery boys in sitcoms. All of these characters, as well as Cole Kim, actually bring a surprising amount of pathos in their scenes, but other than Kim it never seems like Lin really focuses enough on them to fully mine their potential in the movie.
Still, even with its problems Finishing the Game: The Search for a New Bruce Lee is an entertaining, breezy comedy that’s over before you know it. With two terrific leads, some really funny cameos, and a couple of knockout sequences the movie should please fans of the Mockumentary genre, as well as give a kick to fans of Bruce Lee and Martial Arts pics of the era. The movie is at least more successful than the actual Game of Death ended up being, but that’s really not saying much either.
The print on this film seems good, but the movie is purposely degraded, ala Grindhouse, to try and capture that 70’s feel. On that level, the movie looks surprisingly legitimate. The sound on the movie is quite good though, making good use of the 5.1 Dolby Digital Track.
Audio Commentary by Director Justin Lin, Writer Josh Diamond & Composer Brian Tyler – This is a pretty talkative commentary track, with the trio never really taking a break from tidbits about the different actors and how the project came together.
On-Set Mayhem – This section of the extras is broken down into three different little Featurettes, “Breeze Loo & Cole Kim,” “Tarrick Tyler & Troy Poon,” and “Cole Kim Porn Scene.” Each of these is just a few minutes long, but gives a decent insight into the production of the movie. Roger Fan and Sung Kang both look like their having the time of their lives on the set, and Roger Fan even gives a proclamation that the Fist of Fuhrer scene is the greatest thing he’s ever done. The “Porn Scene” Featurette is also funny, chronicling how all of the extras for the scene apparently cancelled on the day of filming, and the crew had to scramble to get real porn stars to fill their um…shoes.
Deleted Scenes w/Optional Commentary – There’s some decent stuff here, especially an entire subplot where an Asian serial killer is on the loose and the bad press threatens to shut the whole production down.
Far East Movement “Satisfaction” Music Video
Finishing the Game is a decent little flick with a lot of chuckles and a few big laughs. There are some really solid performances here and the unexpected amount of pathos here makes for some really good storytelling. The DVD itself could user some more extras, but what’s here is good and makes this flick at least worth a rental.
IFC Films presents Finishing the Game: The Search for a New Bruce Lee. Directed by Justin Lin. Starring Roger Fan, Sung Kang, Dustin Nguyen, and Mousa Kraish. Written by Josh Diamond and Justin Lin. Running time: 84 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: May 20, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.