Now this is one I’ve been waiting for. When I was first made aware of the existence of director’s Justin Lin’s ‘Finishing the Game’, I knew this was a film I simply had to see but unfortunately it only played in a few festival circuits and never made it here to the great Midwest in even art theater form, so I was stuck waiting for a DVD release. Why was I so interested in this movie? Bruce Lee’s ‘final film’, the atrocious ‘Game of Death’ is already on its own one of the funniest movies ever made and to see a mockumentary based on that tragedy of cinematic mistakes should, in theory, be even funnier still. In theory.
In 1973 martial arts superstar Bruce Lee tragically journeyed to that big Jeet Kune Do dojo in the sky leaving behinds millions of grieving fans and some spare footage from a movie he never had the chance to finish in ‘Game of Death’. Sitting on that footage for a number of years, studio chief Mr. Kirschenbaum (Sam Bottoms) has decided to perform a search for some Asian actor to act as a stand in for a the remainder of the scenes so that they can actually finish the film. Our documentary follows the pursuits of a few of the hopefuls who wish to land the plum gig of standing in for the legendary Bruce Lee.
Our hopefuls of interest,
there are a countless number of actors who show up for
call, are current action star Breeze Loo (Roger Fan) a
gun who considers himself the de-facto choice for the
role. There is
Colgate Kim (Sung Kang) a big Breeze Loo fan with low
hopes to get this role with the help of his Columbian
Sarghina (Monique Curnan). The decidedly European
looking Tarrick Tyler
(McCaleb Burnett) is a radical Asian actor who certainly
more like his European father than his Chinese mother.
There is Dr.
Raja Moore (Mousa Craish) who has spent the majority of
his life training
for medical school but
has opted out of that ‘dead end’ career for the much more satisfying vocation of martial arts action hero, and lastly Troy Poon (Dustin Nguyen) who is a serious Shakespearean trained actor who isn’t the least bit interested in the role but nonetheless gets it slammed down his throat time and time again.
In true documentary style we follow these characters and learn little bits about their lives as they go through the tryout process. We also get to witness the selection process through the eyes of the first time director Ronny Kirschenbaum (Jake Sandvig) and his aggressive casting director Eloise (Meredith Scott Lynn) and their somewhat unorthodox methods for selecting the next Bruce Lee. Let the games begin.
So one thing that disturbed me about this film was there was scene that took place on a porn set and featured adult film actress Nautica Thorn. What disturbs me is that I knew who Nautica Thorn was though for the life of me I can’t figure out why I am familiar with this woman and the nature of her means of employment. Seriously. Other than that ‘Finishing the Game’ was a fairly funny movie with some inspired comic moments. Just placing your movie in the 1970’s is a Craig Hodges three point shot right there, and with the added bonus of watching some Faux Kung Fu movies AND a Faux 1970’s cop show… Outstanding! However as many of the jokes that landed, more than a few missed the mark completely, giving you that somewhat uneasy feeling a watching a joke flop around on the ground like a dead fish and being able to do nothing to help the poor fella, but batting around .500 is damn good where I come from, unless you're shooting free throws.
In the bigger picture ‘Finishing the Game’ is more of an indictment on the struggles of the Asian American actor, as clearly represented by troubles of Troy Poon to land any job outside of a delivery boy and quite possibly, with the inclusion of Asian adult actress Nautica Thorn and what that girl has to go through to earn an honest buck, the troubles of the Asian American actress as well. To Lin’s credit his screenplay never gets bogged down into preachiness and largely stays focused on the characters and the ridiculous situation that they’re vying to be a part of, but there is the specter of racism is always underneath the narrative with it occasionally rearing its ugly head.
As a director Lin showed much promise with his film ‘Better Luck Tomorrow’ before getting swallowed by the big Hollywood mediocrity machine with him helming of ‘Annapolis’ and ‘The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift’, not that there’s anything wrong with getting swallowed by that machine because I’m betting it pays well and I’d give my brother’s left testicle to be swallowed by that machine, but by his early film success I think more was expected from Justin Lin. Though ‘Finishing the Game’ struggled in some parts I think it’s a picture that shows once again what a promising filmmaker Justin Lin can be, whose next film will probably be a Matthew McConnaughey romantic comedy.