Bruce Lee kung-fu
Trivia Bruce Lee was filming a TV series called Long Street before leaving for Hong Kong to make this picture. Look it up on youtube.com
Also there you'll find the clip of Bruce splitting someone head with a saw. That clip was cut from the movie after the 1971 premiere and has never been reinstated no matter what you read, so that's the closest you'll ever get to seeing it.
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The Big Boss (1971)
27th Oct 06
Bruce gets a job at an ice factory but doesn’t manage to keep his promise to his mother to stay out of trouble.
Has it really been 35 years since this film came out? And is it really 33 years since Bruce Lee unceremoniously left a million martial arts fans in the lurch by upping and dying on us? Well, yes it is, and this The Big Boss is his first big screen starring role.
The plot of this flick is quite straight forward. Basically, Bruce plays Cheng Chao-an, who moves to Thailand to stay with his cousins and get work at a profitable nearby ice factory. But because of a family incident that’s only just touched on, Bruce is sworn to avoid fighting, and he wears a jade necklace around his neck that his mother gave him to remind him of his promise. Inevitably though, things don’t go to plan. Fights seem to break out all the time at the ice factory and it looks like Bruce is going to step up a couple of times, but he’s always saved by his cousin Hsiu Chien (James Tien) who’s pretty handy with his fists himself. Until, that is, in the middle of a scuffle Bruce’s necklace is broken, and he flips. Immediately recognising his potential, the ice factory bosses promote Bruce to foreman.
Then starts the bizarre wilderness period of the movie. You see, two workers (who I think are also Bruce’s cousins) accidentally drop a big block of ice and a load of drugs fall out, so the factory boss has these two guys killed quickly, explaining away their absence the next day to the rest of the workers with the excuse that they’ve probably just gone back to China, or that they’re victims of the drink and gambling thing that seems to be going on a lot around here. Unconvinced they ask their new foreman, Bruce, to go and see the boss, but he gives Bruce the same line. And to make matters worse, to stop Bruce probing any further they decide to take Bruce out on the piss and get him laid with a prostitute. Rather surprisingly, Bruce happily takes them up on their offer.
The next day, when Bruce heads to the factory, none of his cousins are there. When he returns home he finds them all slaughtered. So from here on in the gloves are off and Bruce gets to working kicking everyone’s asses, ending with the Big Boss himself.
So, that’s the story of The Big Boss, but it’s the story behind the scenes that is more interesting. Struggling in Hollywood after only appearing in The Green Hornet, Marlowe and a few episodes of Long Street, and after having his Kung-Fu TV series concept robbed and made into a series starring David Carradine (okay, there’s lots of controversy into how much of Kung-Fu was Bruce’s idea, but I don’t want to go into that) Bruce took a fateful call from a Hong Kong radio station in the middle of the night, and said he’d happily make a kung-fu movie in Hong Kong “If the conditions were right.” Little did Bruce know that in Hong Kong The Green Hornet was actually repackaged as The Kato Show and he was already a star over there. The next morning, Bruce was in talks with Raymond Chow and he was soon on his way back to Hong Kong and international stardom.
The making of The Big Boss went far from smoothly though. First off, Bruce had signed up for a two picture deal with Lo Wei as director, and the two of them really didn’t hit it off. Wei actually is on record as saying that Bruce was no more of a street fighter before The Big Boss and that he taught him everything he knows about screen fighting. That, of course, is highly unlikely considering how much screen fighting Bruce had to do on The Green Hornet. Other reports however suggest that Wei had a half-arsed attitude towards The Big Boss, with many bringing up his fondness for gambling, particularly on race horses. And some of the ideas Wei actually did bring to the film were questionable to say the least, with two in particular Bruce objecting to. The first was the climatic “jump kick joust” between Lee and the Big Boss which apparently Lee thought interrupted the realism of the fight. But by far worse was Wei’s idea that when one of the foremen was to be punched through a wooden wall, he was to leave an outline similar to something in a cartoon. It looks ridiculous and Lee tried his best to change it, but somehow Wei got his idea in the film. Rumour is that Lee and Wei never saw eye to eye again, and when after completing Fist of Fury Bruce was asked if he’d do another film with Wei, he reportedly answered “No way, Lo Wei…” I think that’s pretty funny.
So the truth of the matter is that, for a large part, The Big Boss isn’t that great a film by any means. The acting is wooden, the dialogue stilted and the direction really predictable. But when Bruce finally kicks into action, the film becomes immeasurably better. His jeet kune do philosophy of the intercepting fist utilizing the economy of movement to strike fast with no fixed stances and no particular style is quite extraordinary to see, and must have come as a real shock to the kung-fu fans of the time. This is demonstrated in fact in the first half of the film where, because of his promise, Bruce steps back and lets his co-star James Tien do all the fighting. Tien is an accomplished martial art in his own right, but his moves are very 60s chop-socky, and those early in the film fights are very forgettable. But when Bruce kicks off, firing on all cylinders with a hypnotic intensity, your eyes are glued to the screen, mainly because he moves so fast that you know if you don’t watch closely, you just might miss something brilliant.
And remember, Bruce only did this, Fists of Fury, The Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon and Game of Death (sort of) before he died, so there’s not actually all that much Bruce out there. Unless of course you’re into all that Brucesploitation scene, with Bruce Li, Bruce Lo, Bruce Le, and all that jazz…
Versions The Hong Kong Legends Platinum Edition is available now, with the following features.
* Main Language: Cantonese
* Available Audio Tracks: Stereo, Mono
* Sub Titles: Dutch, English
* Feature length audio commentary by Andrew Staton and Will Johnston
* Further attractions
* Paul Heller - Breaking The West
* Fred Weintraub - A Rising Star
* Tom Kuhn - What Might Have Been
* The History Of The Big Boss a photographic retrospective
* Deleted Scenes Examined the story of the elusive original uncut print
* Bruce Lee biography
* UK Platinum trailer
* UK promotional trailer
* Original theatrical trailer
* Hong Kong promotional trailer
* Uncut 8 mm UK trailer
* Original 35 mm UK title sequence
* Textless 35 mm title sequence
* Original lobby cards