Dir: Justin Lin. US. 2007. 93mins.
Following his foray directing the studio assignments Annapolis and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Justin Lin exhibits a warmer, more personal touch with Finishing the Game, a clever though very thin divertissement about filmmaking, Asian cultural stereotypes and the iconic representation of martial arts master Bruce Lee.
In 1973, at the height of his international fame with the Hollywood-financed Enter the Dragon, superstar Lee died of a cerebral hemorrhage, forcing the postponement of his production Game of Death. Lin's movie is a good natured, funky speculative account of the frantic, surreal efforts of the movie's financiers and producers to find a suitable replacement to protect their professional investment.
The funny conceit is 12-minutes of footage involving Lee exist, and they must find a comparable performer to stitch the footage around. Lin goes to extended lengths to disassociate his work from the This is Spinal Tap or For Your Consideration template. By any measure the movie is a spoof, a lark that features a fairly funny and rousing opening 20 minutes, utilizing even the rare Nazi joke that works.
The loose format enables Lin to work in funny, knowing asides as he affectionately reproduces the look and sound of 1970s kung fu movies, for example, the sight of the hilariously mismatched post dubbed dialogue or rudimentary visual effects that yield a sly jolt of recognition.
Lin returned to Sundance, where his first film as the sole director, Better Luck Tomorrow, played in the dramatic competition in 2002. Finishing the Game debuted in the festival's Midnight programme, and that's where the title is likely to be best appreciated, in the off-hours and nocturnal environments among young men, Asian film fans and computer geeks, or those for whom the demands of bracing humour are less rigorous. Cable and DVD are probably the strongest revenues sources.
Represented by Cinetic Media, the movie left Sundance without a domestic distribution pact. Internationally, the lack of identifiable actors significantly limits its theatrical potential.
The tone is less condescending than that found in Christopher Guest's films, like last fall's For Your Consideration or Waiting for Guffman. His set up is clean and funny, the best part of the movie is the opening product support, the tobacco and liquor concerns that financed the project. Lin adopts the audition format and introduces the five lead candidates, the satirical thrusts pirouette on how dissimilar they are from Lee.
The structure underlines the greater difficulty since the problem is the conception and playing of these characters -- the struggling actor with the ridiculous name, Breeze Loo (Lin regular Fan), the provincial square (Sung Kang), the out of his depth doctor (Kraish) or the strangely misguided radical who imagines himself a Chinese racial martyr (Burnett) -- all lack the speed, dexterity and screwball timing necessary to make the visual and situational humour play off each other.
As a production, the movie is capably made though never truly inspiring or inventive. Cinematographer Tom Clancey's visuals have a cramped, undistinguished look. Candi Guterres has some fun with the period production design, the bad art kitsch.
Ultimately comedy is character, and the players here are given one identifiable trait, and they are too one-note and narrowly drawn to achieve any comic distinction. Lin is unable to vary the content or shape the material into unexpected directions. Finishing the Game reverts to familiar, easy targets that carry little weight or substance. The comedy is repetitive and derivative, the filmmakers ostensibly telling every available permutation of the same joke.
Trailing Johnson Productions
Cherry Sky Films