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The Big Boss
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The Big Boss (1971)

The man lives: Bruce Lee in The Big Boss.
Chinese: 唐山大兄  
AKA: Fists of Fury (U.S. Title)  
Year: 1971  
Director: Lo Wei  
Producer: Raymond Chow  
Action: Bruce Lee, Han Ying-Chieh
Cast: Bruce Lee, Maria Yi, Han Ying Chieh, Tony Liu, Nora Miao, James Tien Chun
The Skinny: Bruce Lee's first Hong Kong film as an adult remains an enjoyable old-school martial arts flick in no small part due to the enduring charisma of its iconic leading man.
Review by

Riding high on the overseas success of the cancelled Green Hornet television series (re-titled "The Kato Show" in Hong Kong), Bruce Lee was finally given his big Hong Kong Cinema break by Golden Harvest head honcho Raymond Chow. After outbidding the Shaw Brothers for the actor’s services, the famous producer cast the promising young Lee in the 1971 production, The Big Boss. No one, including Bruce Lee himself, could have predicted the film's massive success.

Known to most American fans as Fists of Fury, this Lo Wei-directed film centers on a young, “fresh off the boat” brawler named Cheng Chow-An (Bruce Lee), who has just moved to Thailand. For Cheng, the change of scenery from Guandong seems to have less to do with bonding with his expatriate cousins, and more to do with staying out of trouble. We learn early in the film that Cheng has promised his aging mother that his fighting days are through. He even has a good-luck pendant he wears around his neck to remind him of his solemn oath.

And for at least half of the film, Cheng keeps his promise. Even though he has plenty of opportunities, Cheng abstains from fighting. With the help of his cousins, he gets a job at the local ice factory. For the most part, things seem to be going relatively well until several of Cheng's coworkers mysteriously disappear. Unbeknownst to our hero, the ice factory is really just a cover for trafficking illicit drugs. Even worse, all of Cheng’s pals are dead (Note to self: If anyone ever offers you cash to join a drug ring, say “yes” first - THEN report said offenders to the police). When Cheng’s noble cousin Hsu Chien (James Tien) goes missing, tensions flare at the ice factory, and it isn’t long before a fight breaks out between the Chinese workers and the Thai management. With his pals bullied beyond reason, Cheng finds he has no other choice but to fight. And fight he does.

Recognizing Cheng as a viable threat to his emerging dope enterprise, Hsiao Mi - the "big boss" of the title - chooses to make him an unwitting ally. In a clever move, Hsiao Mi promotes Cheng from low-level grunt to foreman and even tempts him with an assortment of vices, namely, booze and a hooker. Needless to say, Cheng's sudden, all-too-chummy relationship with the big boss man alienates both his family members and his coworkers. These people, once Cheng’s staunchest supporters, now see him as nothing more than a traitor. Things quickly take a turn for the worse, resulting in some major casualties and the abduction of Cheng’s innocent cousin, Chiao Mei (Maria Yi). Will Cheng discover the truth and finally vanquish the Big Boss with a hefty helping of ass-kickings? If you are remotely familiar with Bruce Lee, you’ll know the answer to that one.

The Big Boss may not be a fantastic piece of cinema, but it's certainly an entertaining installment in the Bruce Lee canon and definitely one well worth seeing. Without Bruce Lee, it’s just another run-of-the-mill, 70s-era chopsocky flick. But even with minimal dialogue, Lee is enduringly charismatic throughout, enlivening the proceedings even during moments when he isn’t showing off those impressive martial arts skills. Lee makes for a likeable leading man, and his willingness to act goofy only enhances his on-screen persona.

In fact, the whole conceit about Cheng promising his mother that he’ll “never fight again” is executed quite brilliantly. Although it’s not a particularly original idea, the way in which the film builds around that particular plot device actually does create a palpable sense of anticipation. The sequence in which Lee’s character finally breaks down and decides to fight is both exhilarating and hilarious. For many viewers, the latter reaction will likely occur in large part due to a) the flimsiness of the reason behind Cheng’s change of heart and b) the amazing speed in which that transformation finally occurs. As with many of his performances, Bruce Lee is a lot like a coiled rattlesnake in this film, and when he strikes, it’s a marvel to watch. (Calvin McMillin 2002/2008)


• The original director Wu Chia-Hsiang abandoned the film early in production, complaining about the low budget.
The Big Boss was the highest grossing film in HK cinema history until it was displaced by Lee’s second major film, Fist of Fury.
The Big Boss has three different soundtracks, one for each language (Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. The Cantonese score borrows liberally from Pink Floyd.


Region 1 NTSC
20th Century Fox
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese, Mandarin, and English Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
Interview with Tung Wei, Still Gallery, Movie Trailers

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image courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Video Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen