While Money in the Bank is typically one of WWE‘s most anticipated Pay-Per-View events of the year, the 2020 edition of Money in the Bank has looked to ramp up the drama of the Money in the Bank Ladder Match with the addition of two new stipulations. The first stipulation requires the men’s and women’s superstars competing for the coveted Money in the Bank briefcase to “climb the corporate ladder” by battling their way from the ground floor of WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, all the way up to the building’s roof, where the briefcase — and requisite ladders needed to reach the briefcase — will be waiting. The second stipulation is that both the men’s and women’s Money in the Bank matches will be taking place simultaneously, with six male and six female competitors all looking to be the first to brawl their way up to the roof.
These two new wrinkles to the Money in the Bank format are guaranteed to make this weekend’s PPV a memorable entry in the history of the event. They also seem to have drawn inspiration from an unusual source — the films of legendary martial artist Bruce Lee.
The concept of contestants having to battle their way to the top of a building in an epic display of their fighting prowess is very similar to the plot of Bruce Lee’s final movie Game of Death, which was released posthumously in 1978. Though the theatrical release of the film had to use a number of workarounds to complete the film after Lee’s untimely passing, Lee was able to complete filming of nearly 40 minutes worth of usable material, and his creative vision for the film was well documented before his death. Lee intended Game of Death to be the ultimate expression of his martial arts philosophies, and while WWE’s version is likely to feature less philosophizing and more bodyslamming, Lee’s influence on the new match format is hard to deny.
Lee’s original conception for Game of Death is fairly straightforward: Lee’s character, a martial arts champion, is forced to battle his way to the top of a gangster’s pagoda, floor by floor, in order to save his kidnapped family members. Each of the pagoda’s five floors is guarded by a champion of a different style of martial arts that Lee will have to defeat in order to reach the roof and save his family. As one of the forerunners to modern MMA, Lee intended the plot to serve as a demonstration of the flexibility of his Jeet Kune Do martial arts style/philosophy, with Lee’s character needing to adapt to the fighting style of each floor’s champion.
While two of the planned fight sequences weren’t filmed before Lee’s death, Lee did film fight scenes against Hapkido master Ji Han-Jae, Filipino Eskrima master (and Lee’s good friend/student) Dan Inosanto, and NBA legend/Airplane star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, also a friend and student of Lee’s. The film is probably most remembered for the amazing fight between the 5’8 Lee and the 7’2 Abdul-Jabbar, who played the “boss fight” guardian on the pagoda’s fifth floor, as well as the iconic black-and-yellow jumpsuit Lee wore that inspired Uma Thurman’s look in Kill Bill Volume 1.
Game of Death‘s influence can also be seen in another martial arts movie with a number of parallels to WWE’s “climb the corporate ladder” gimmick, the 2005 Tony Jaa film Tom-Yum-Goong, released in America under the English title The Protector. The film stars Tony Jaa as one of the caretakers of the King of Thailand’s elephants. He must journey to Australia to rescue his charges after they’re stolen by gangsters running a restaurant that secretly caters to wealthy clients seeking to dine on exotic animals.
While the film has a number of stand-out fight scenes, including a couple with former WWE wrestler (and Undertaker protege) Nathan Jones, the film’s most iconic scene features Jaa battling his way through scores of bad guys to reach the top floor of the illegal restaurant where his elephants are being held. The four minute scene is all filmed in a single take without any cuts, making it one of the longest continuous fight scenes in movie history and earning its own parody on Robot Chicken. While WWE’s version isn’t likely to be completed in one take, it could look to draw inspiration from Jaa’s chaotic battle to reach the top floor in The Protector.
Given WWE’s ties to the shoot-fighting world of MMA and its recent move towards producing cinematic matches like The Undertaker’s Boneyard Match and Bray Wyatt’s Firefly Fun House match, it only seems natural for WWE to look for inspiration in the world of martial arts movies. With plenty of WWE stars like The Rock, John Cena, Dave Bautista, Bill Goldberg, and now Roman Reigns and Becky Lynch taking action roles in big Hollywood film productions (and that’s not even counting the dozen or so The Marine movies The Miz has made), it makes sense for WWE creative to draw ideas from action films as it looks to freshen up its signature matches.
As WWE continues its experiments with more cinematic filming styles in its pre-taped matches, it could continue to mine additional movie genres for match ideas moving forward. With this Sunday’s Money in the Bank match having the potential to come off like an off-the-wall, frenetic combination of Bruce Lee, Tony Jaa, and the “burly brawl” scene from The Matrix Reloaded, it could just be the beginning of the next evolution in WWE’s efforts to blur the line between the action its superstars perform inside the wrestling ring, and the action Hollywood megastars perform up on the silver screen.
With WWE continuing to evolve its take on cinematic matches, it looks to have drawn inspiration from Bruce Lee for this year's Money in the Bank.