Big Boss with Bruce LeeThis is the movie that shot Bruce into the mainstream and put him on the path to become the one of the greatest martial arts actors (not to mention martial artist) of our time.

The movie kicks off with Bruce’s character Cheng arriving in Thailand to work at a local ice factory with his relatives.  After a warm welcome he get’s a job, and starts working.  Shortly after he begins, some of the workers go missing after a meeting with ‘the big boss’, never to be seen again.

After asking a lot of questions Hsu Chien (James Tien), a bit of a local hero figure who goes around beating up bullies (as described in the film), approaches the boss to find out whats going on.

The next morning they discover he too hasn’t returned.  This is when things start to heat up as a fight breaks out at the factory. Things continue to escalate, and suspicion turns into frustration until Cheng is made foreman after sorting out the fight after using some of outstanding Kung Fu.

From there he and his family plan to figure out what happened to their family members, and bring the big boss to justice.

Bruce’s first leading role in an action film

As I mentioned earlier, this movie made Bruce an icon in Hong Kong.  He was the hottest thing around and everyone wanted to see more.  Despite the very standard ‘formula’ style story line, Bruce’s acting and tremendous onscreen martial arts abilities boosted his onscreen presence to a level most other Hong Kong actors could only dream of.

Bruce Lee as Cheng

This presence affected the audience in a huge way, with Bruce being raised up onto the shoulders of the audience as they chanted his name after the premiere – not bad for someone who was not well known until that night.

Aside from Bruce’s presence, this movie is very Hong Kong 1970’s.  A group of Chinese people are getting bullied, and a hero steps in to sort them out.  This hero was originally supposed to be Cousin Hsu Chien (James Tien) until the crew realized Bruce’s talents – hence they made his character the star of the film.

The Promise

When Cheng arrives in Thailand, he is wearing a Jade necklace as a reminder the he promised his mother that he wouldn’t fight.  This was an excellent tool for helping people to understand Cheng’s personality and abilities.

The promise not to fight makes it obvious that Cheng not only likes to fight  a lot, but fight well.  But the real message behind this I feel is that he is trying to transcend his violent background, and heed the advice of his mother.  Moving to a new country, getting a new start all shows this priority as evident.

Cheng attacks

But the breaking of the Jade necklace also shows that this desire is no longer important as the situation is too serious, and he simply must use the skills he has to step in and stand up for his family and his nationality.

As race was a big issue for Bruce and all Chinese people (especially back in those days in Hong Kong) back in the 70’s, it was important that the small Chinese family in a foreign land do not allow themselves to be treated any less than equal.

This desire for equality soon turns torevenge after his family is slaughtered as Cheng sets out to tae downthe Big Boss despite the fact he can simply go home and avoid the whole situation. Justice must be served!

Cheng’s Weaknesses

As Cheng is a nice guy and genuinely tries to go about everything in a proper manner, approaching the bosses politely and not being demanding – he ends up getting himself into a bit of trouble.

Big Boss

Although this (on the surface) seems like a bad quality for a main character, it really demonstrates his naive nature in his new surroundings.

When having dinner with the manager (when he should be seeing the police), he is fed the same lie the manager and boss gave all the other workers, and he simply nods and agrees.

What I find funny is afterwards they get him really drunk and he stumbles on home with a prostitute.  When he wakes up in the brothel the next morning, he runs into Mei (the lady love interest for Bruce) and is quite ashamed as he runs off – all very different for Bruce Lee movies!

This event causes his family to basically disown him, turning away from him when he speaks, creating the sense of isolation for his character.

You’re alway s given the sense that Cheng is somewhat of a loner, going his own path and fending for himself – a theme that’s a little more Bruce Lee.  Finding and helping yourself to become a better person (just without the copious amounts of booze and prostitution)

Bruce Lee in the final fight scene of The Big Boss

The Martial Arts

This is the highlight of the movie – Bruce’s masterful display of martial arts and choreography – however it’s a bit short of his usual (future) standard.

In this movie, Bruce had less control as he was still a ‘nobody’ in the martial arts movie business.  You’ll see some laughable moves like ridiculous jumps that have Cheng leaping fences and groups of people clearing a height of at least 10 feet (thank you invisible trampoline!), a little bit of ‘foot dance’ (two fighters fighting with their legs alone for a small period of time), and even a shot of someone being punched through a wall.  This punch through the wall is hilarious as after the man falls through, a perfect cut out of his body appears instead of big rough hole – hilarious!

Bruce Lee

A lot of these unrealistic shots are very ‘before Bruce’ and old fashioned.  You’ll see in movies Bruce made after this that his level of control over the choreography had most of this nonsense removed (still a few bits here and there), and replaced with technical and sharp martial arts action with probably the most qualified martial arts actor in history.

Apart from this the fights were exciting, and best put in a documentary on Bruce:

“Bruce exploded onto the screen with an animal savagery previously unseen in a martial arts film”

Amen to that! Bruce revved up the tempo and made the fights raw and exciting.  Not to his future level, but still an awesome display his mastery of the arts.

The Big Boss with Bruce Lee

Do I recommend this Movie?

It can get a little cheap and nasty, but ultimately this movie is awesome!  It’s historical status as Bruce’s first leading role in an action film, and a pivotal point in Kung Fu and martial arts cinema makes it not only recommended – but mandatory damn it!

If this film were never released, martial arts movies would be a whole different game these days, so it’s something every martial arts movie fan should see.

Find it On Blu-Ray –

Region A (US & Canada)
Bruce Lee Legacy Collection (4 BluRay/ 7 DVD) [Blu-ray]

On DVD –

Region 1 (US & Canada)
The Big Boss on DVD

Region 2 (UK, Europe, etc)
The Big Boss on DVD

Region 4 (Australia, New Zealand, etc)
The Big Boss on DVD 

More info on DVD & Blu Ray regions here

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