We’ve talked about Bruce Lee and his movies in the past. Their impact on martial arts history is undeniable. Today we are going back to the genesis of where Bruce Lee got his start: The Big Boss. This was Lee’s first movie role and was released in 1971 in Hong Kong and later sent over to the United States. The movie features Lee as Cheng Chao-an, an angry young man who has sworn off fighting. Upon starting work at his cousin’s ice factory, Chao-an is forced back into the life of violence.
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If you’ve read my past reviews on Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon, you will know that I don’t just like to give my review. I also enjoy a little bit of trivia from the movies as well. I feel this makes the story of creating the movie almost as fun as the movie itself. So, let’s get us some trivia in before we dive in.
One of the most interesting facts is this movie was the first when Lee worked with Wei Lo and Fist of Fury was his second. Lee and Lo did not get along and stopped working together after Fury. In The Big Boss, the relationship was strained. Lo was a very compulsive gambler and especially loved horse racing. Audio was recorded after the fact for the movie so Lo had the horse races blasted through the speakers during filming which really frustrated Bruce.
Also, in the English dub of the movie, the factory manager gives Chen a week to see how things work out showing that the movie takes place over a seven day period. Things escalated from Chen being a pacifist to murdering the big boss very quickly.
The Good of The Big Boss
As usual, the choreography is top notch. That is what Bruce Lee is about. He used Hollywood to show off his abilities and spread his martial arts message. This movie really put Bruce Lee in the limelight when it comes to that mission. The choreography was top notch and really showcased his skills and the skills that can be given to anyone with the dedication to practice.
The story is simple: Bruce Lee has to defeat the boss after it’s found out he is a major drug distributor. Lee never put as much emphasis on a super deep story. It’s all about the basics in his martial arts films. That leaves little room to mess up and, for the most part, the story was done right.
The Bad: Translating To Western Audiences
The crossover to appeal to western audiences doesn’t quite stick like Fist of Fury and other movies. Let’s address Bruce Lee getting raped first. Literally, he’s raped in this movie. The bosses get him drunk and get a prostitute to seduce Lee for blackmail or to get him on their side. He’s passed out drunk and she has sex with him. That’s rape. There’s this creepy jazz music in the background too. It’s very uncomfortable.
Funnily enough, Bruce Lee is forced to do the walk of shame out of the brothel (which is a real brothel filled with actual prostitutes) and his crush is outside. That was pretty funny in all honesty. What wasn’t funny was when Lee was fighting at the end against the mob and he punches someone through a barn wall and there’s the shape of the person in the wall. That was pretty out of tone for the movie and Lee and Lo apparently disagreed on using this, with Lo obviously getting his way.
Next, the ice company puts drugs and body parts in ice. Ice is clear. How does this even make sense? I don’t know if it was meant to be goofy or not, but it seemed serious.
Lastly, in the final fight, The Big Boss comes out with a bird cage to watch Bruce Lee fight and defeat his minions. It was odd as can be with him just standing there with a bird cage. It’s not like he was a bird lover the entire movie. It was out of the blue and unironically funny.
Overall Rating: 5/10
The Big Boss is held in high regard because it’s a Bruce Lee movie. It set him up for much fame and success later in the future. But, the movie is average at best. Some of the decisions made in the story telling like putting drugs in ice (WHICH IS CLEAR) really makes you laugh at how ridiculous the movie can be.
Of course the movie is worth watching due, especially for fans of Lee. It has awesome choreography and the end of the movie isn’t bad. Fans of Lee will find it easy to look past these mistakes. As a movie, it may be average at best, but as a historical reference for what’s to come and as a choreography work of art, it’s a little better than that.