Colourway Corral: ‘Kill Bill’ Keeps Getting Its Revenge
If its affectionately dubbed colourway name didn’t already give it away, the ‘Kill Bill’ makeup is one of the sneaker industry’s most pop culturally fuelled colourways in history. It all began in 1978 – when the late Bruce Lee would grace screens with a version of the Onitsuka Tiger Tai Chi in yellow and black in Game of Death. Decades later, in 2003, Uma Thurman would pay homage to Bruce Lee in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, solidifying the shoe’s underlying importance at the intersection of film and footwear. Over the years, the ‘Kill Bill’ or ‘Game of Death’ has surfaced across varying brands as both a lifestyle and performance sneaker. Let’s take a look at some of the best here.
Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66
Out of all of Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66 colourways, one has been more popular than them all: the ‘Kill Bill’. In addition to its reasonable price point and easy-to-wear capabilities, its pop culture connection has undoubtedly helped it achieve cult status. Speaking of which, one of its biggest claims to fame is thanks to many people thinking Uma Thurman wore the silhouette in Kill Bill. In fact, she wore the Tai Chi. Right now, Sotheby’s are auctioning off a 2003 edition one-of-3400 pair priced at $2000.
ASICS GEL Saga (2013)
Over the years, ASICS has endeavoured to keep the ‘Kill Bill’ colourway in the family, including on this ASICS GEL Saga from 2013. Looking like it came straight off the movie set itself, the all-yellow uppers are dressed in bright yellow across various materials, naturally contrasted with the bold, black stripes that complete the assignment. These GEL-Sagas even feature red speckles on the midsoles, recalling the gruesome, bloody nature of the film.
ASICS ‘Welcome to the Dojo’ Pack (2018)
In 2018, ASICS would once again tap the ‘Kill Bill’ legacy to create the ‘Welcome to the Dojo’ pack across three models, including the GEL-Diablo, the GEL-Lyte, and GEL-Quantum 360. With each calling out the colourway in three different designs, the trio also included a complementing range of matching t-shirts, jackets and pants – all of which wouldn’t look out of place alongside the jumpsuits worn by Lee or Thurman. Although this pack didn’t directly pay homage to Game of Death, its connection to martial arts is undeniable.
Bad Bunny x adidas Response CL (2022)
Just because the ‘Kill Bill’ colourway originated with Onitsuka Tiger, nothing was to say it wouldn’t be picked up by competing brands (if anything, you could probably say this confirms its significance). Case in point: adidas, who borrowed the palette for their Response CL, coming in as one of the most recent creations to carry on the OG’s fierce legacy. Not officially dubbed as such, the strategy was perhaps to give some clout to one of adidas’ lesser-hyped models and Bad Bunny collaborations. Of course, yellow and black cover the shoes, along with a small amount of red also featuring.
Nike Zoom Kobe 5 ‘Bruce Lee’ (2010)
The one that kicked it off on the performance basketball side. In 2010, the ‘Bruce Lee’ colourway took the basketball world by storm, and on this shoe, the Game of Death influence comes through via the Del Sol and Black heat-bonded upper, which also utilises Flywire for containment. The red scratch marks are taken from the final fight scene in ,Enter the Dragon and are seen on the lateral side of the sneaker, which became the sneaker’s signature look for the colourway. More ‘Bruce Lee’ colourways arrived on the Nike Kobe 9 EM and Nike Kobe 11, and in 2020, a Protro (Performance Retro) version of the Nike Zoom Kobe 5 returned in both the regular ‘Bruce Lee’ colourway and a white ‘Bruce Lee Alternate’ colourway.
Nike Kyrie 3 and 6 ‘Bruce Lee’ (2017–2020)
Kobe Bryant made an impact on the generation of hoopers to come up under him, and Kyrie Irving was no different. Once Irving got his signature line with the Swoosh, the Bruce Lee-themed colourway started to make its way out of the woodwork again – beginning with the Nike Kyrie 2 PE he wore against Kobe and the Lakers. The Nike Kyrie 3 was next, which featured a Tour Yellow upper alongside black detailing and red slash marks that connect aesthetically to Kyrie and Kobe’s logo on the tongue. The Kyrie 3 received an inverted red ‘Bruce Lee’ colourway, a sample that never hit retail and was seen on court against the Celtics in 2021.
Skip forward some years, and a few ‘Bruce Lee’ colourways returned on the Nike Kyrie 6 – one in red similar to the Kyrie 3 sample mentioned earlier and a black and white colourway with Del Sol and red accents. The signature slash marks are stitched over the lateral Swoosh with the co-blended logo appearing on the tongue.
Honourable mention goes out to the takedown iteration that also got the Bruce Lee makeover: the Nike Kyrie Flytrap 2.
UA Curry Flow 8 (2021)
In solidarity with the Asian-American communities targeted by hate crimes, Steph Curry wore a custom pair of his signature Under Armour Curry Flow 8s. Done by Kreative Custom Kicks, the release’s yellow upper featured Bruce Lee on the left shoe and him and his family on the right, alongside the quote, ‘Under the heavens, there is only family.’ After wearing the shoes on court, Curry signed and donated the sneakers to be auctioned off, sending proceeds to the Bruce Lee Foundation in support of victims of Asian-American violence.
Anta KT6 (2020)
Klay Thompson’s sixth signature sneaker with ANTA got a Bruce Lee-themed colourway that dropped exclusively in Asia in 2020. The yellow upper features black accents with the midfoot strap pulling a famous quote from Lee, ‘Water can flow or crash. Be water, my friends.’ printed on the medial side.
Li Ning Way of Wade 9 and All City V2 BOA (2022)
Li-Ning’s signature line for Dwyane Wade got in on the action via an official colab with the Bruce Lee estate. The Way of Wade 9 featured a yellow shroud with Bruce Lee’s face appearing throughout the upper with Li-Ning branding appearing in red, along with the scratch marks on the medial side. Another sneaker was in the collection in the All City V2 BOA, using the same hues as the WoW 9 with a ‘Be Water’ tag seen on the lateral heel.
BAIT x Reebok Hurrikaze (2018)
BAIT are no stranger to three-way colabs, and they teamed up with Reebok and the Bruce Lee estate on the Reebok Hurrikaze in 2018. Yellow and black make up the upper, with Bruce Lee’s name stamped on the lateral side near the signature zig-zag seen in black. Lee in ‘Game of Death’ is pictured in the insole with the heel featuring a silhouette of the Little Dragon performing a flying kick.
Game of Death-inspired CLOT x Nike Clotez (2023)
When you think about it, it’s pretty bizarre timing that the Game of Death-inspired CLOT x Nike ‘Clotez’ came to light following the resurfacing of the whole Onitsuka Tiger Corsair vs Nike Cortez debacle, but here we are. Nonetheless, this confirms that the colourway is still as relevant as ever in 2023.
All controversy aside, this latest ‘Clotez’ is the second colourway for the new 3-in-1 silhouette, initially seen in white and black. Inspired by Yin-Yang philosophy, the Clotez was designed with the help of Hong Kong artist Harry Wong, who conceived the Air Max design, ‘Kung Fu Soul’. Exploring the idea of the tai chi diagram (also known as the Yin-Yang symbol’), the ‘Clotez’ can be worn multiple ways, as a sneaker or a slip-on.