At some point over the last decade—maybe the day after That '70s Show premiered—filling the screen with retro décor, costumes, and hairstyles stopped being funny in and of itself. But apparently no one sent the memo to writer-director Justin Lin, whose mockumentary Finishing The Game draws most of its humor from "check out how ridiculous that afro looks" visual cues. Based very loosely on the real-life attempt to build a feature-length movie around the 12 minutes of footage Bruce Lee shot for The Game Of Death before he died, Finishing The Game follows a group of hopefuls through the casting process to become Lee's replacement. Asian actors, martial artists, and amateurs of all shapes and sizes answer the call, and get processed through a Hollywood system that doesn't know what to do with "yellow types."
Lin's portrait of the low-budget B-movie business plays more strongly than his spoof of badly dubbed kung fu flicks and his riff on '70s fashion. The ratty production offices and the passive-aggressive optimism of casting agent Meredith Scott Lynn capture that peculiar Hollywood combination of positivity and pathos. In one key scene, Lynn defines star power as, "Who would you fuck sober?" In another key scene and image, the hopes of a roomful of auditioners gets reduced to a list of those who've made the cut, typed onto a single sheet of paper, attached to a whiteboard with masking tape.
But Finishing The Game doesn't get anywhere that Hollywood Shuffle didn't go to first, even if it has its own set of specific complaints about how show business treats Asians. (One classically trained actor has a résumé packed with TV and movie roles, most of which are listed as "Chinese food delivery boy.") And going the mockumentary route prevents Lin from taking more than a superficial approach to his two main characters: A cut-rate Bruce Lee imitator played by Roger Fan, and a boyish, drawling Fan fan played by Sung Kang. There's a much richer movie hiding in Finishing The Game, having to do with loss of cultural identity, and how when it comes down to a choice between honoring ancestors and following dreams, those dead folks always lose.