Title: The Big Boss (1971)
Director: Wei Lo, Chia Hsiang Wu
Starring: Bruce Lee, James Tien
I recently acquired a Bruce Lee boxed set called “The Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection” and have been catching up on some Bruce Lee films that I had never seen. This boxed set includes Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Game of Death I and II and the film I’ll be reviewing today: The Big Boss. Bruce Lee films can be a mixed bunch; some are excellent, like Fist of Fury which still remains my favorite of the Bruce Lee flicks that I have seen. Some of them are so-so like Way of the Dragon, which is only cool because of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris’s climactic fight sequence in the Roman Coliseum. And some are downright embarrassing, like the god awful Game of Death, which features very little of Bruce Lee because he died before he could finish it. I was beginning to think that maybe Id seen all the good ones, and that only the bad ones were left. That is until I saw The Big Boss. It’s one of his best films ever!
Cheng Chao An (Bruce Lee) has just recently moved from China to Thailand with his cousins and is looking to get himself a job. Lucky for him and his cousins, they get a job at the local ice factory. During their tenure there, one of Cheng’s cousins (Brother Hsiu) discovers that the ice plant is actually a big front for drug smuggling. When Brother Hsiu is offered the opportunity to get in on the drug smuggling action and denies, he is killed. Cheng and the rest of the cousins don’t know that he has been killed and begin to ask around for him. When Cheng realizes what has happened, he starts going up the ladder until he finally comes face to face with the titular “Big Boss”, the leader of the drug smugglers! This Big Boss must pay! His Big Boss face will have to meet with Bruce Lee’s Big Fist in a Big Freaking Way! It’s a blood bath of epic proportions!
The Big Boss was Bruce Lee’s first starring role. He’d done smaller films, playing secondary characters, and even some television (he even appeared on that campy Batman T.V. show from the 70s!) but The Big Boss was the first film where he had top billing. Of course, after the world got a taste of what Bruce Lee was capable of, he became a star almost over night. The Big Boss became the biggest money maker in Hong Kong, only to be topped by his following film, Fist of Fury. These two films deserved their success, for both of them are the best of Bruce Lee’s filmology, in my humble opinion. They show that raw, angry, deadly side of Bruce Lee. On both of these films, Bruce Lee demonstrates a level of fury and anger that you just can’t see on any other one of his films. It’s this intensity, this hatred; you have to see it to understand it.
But speaking of Bruce Lee’s intense on screen persona; on The Big Boss, he is deadlier then ever! This is the Bruce Lee film with the biggest body count. On this movie you kill his family…you die! Often times, Bruce Lee uses different martial arts weapons to kick ass. He usually ends up using his famous nunchucks. But on The Big Boss, he doesn’t use them at all. Instead, his weapons of choice on this film are knives! On this movie Bruce Lee slices, dices and stabs his way through the bad guys! And it’s not an off camera thing, Lee literally stabs people to death on numerous occasions! We even get some blood spraying up after one of the stabs, which is something Id never seen on any Bruce Lee film, usually his kills are deadly yet bloodless. I think it’s safe to say that this is Bruce Lee most violent film, at least in terms of graphic violence. In fact, this movie was so graphic with its violence that it was heavily edited in China. They had to excise a couple of the too gruesome for the movie screen sequences. There’s a scene where Lee stabs a villain…with his fingers!!
Obviously, this is purely a revenge film, where Lee has to avenge the death of his family. I believe the body count for Bruce Lee on this movie is somewhere between 13 and 15, depending if you count to possible drownings. The bad guys are pretty deadly as well, they kill a heck of a lot of people, which is really what gets Bruce Lee’s character angered. When that rage is released, you are in for a treat! There’s this one scene where Lee enters the Big Boss’s mansion, and he enters eating a bag of chips for some reason. After he evades a whole bunch of deadly rabid dogs that literally jump at him from all directions, he kicks a couple of hoodlum’s asses and then continues eating his chips, as if nothing had just happened; which I thought was absolutely hilarious.
The martial arts choreography on this movie is really good only when Bruce Lee is in the fight. When this film got started, it was originally made to star James Tien, but Bruce Lee’s performance wowed the producers so they decided to switch the main character to Lee. So, Lee doesn’t do much fighting until somewhere around half of the film. When he finally gets his chance to kick some ass, that’s when the movie shifts into high gear. Sometimes, the martial arts moves border on unrealistic by having characters jump to unrealistic heights. For example, whenever Lee wants to go into a house, he doesn’t open the gates, he effortlessly jumps over them. Fortunately, most of the fights are kept pretty realistic.
Without a doubt, one of Lee’s best films. Its no wonder that after this one, he shot straight to the top and became such a huge star. If you’re in the mood to see where Lee started and if your in the mood to see some vicious martial arts action, The Big Boss is the way to go.
Rating: 5 out of 5