After trying to make a name in Hollywood with the TV series The Green Hornet
with mixed results, young actor and martial artist Bruce Lee
traveled back to Hong Kong where his popularity as Kato was very high. There he met Raymond Chow and received the chance to star a film about martial arts. Tang Shan Da Xiong
, or The Big Boss
(known in the U.S. as Fists of Fury
, in which case it is not to be confused with his later film Fist Of Fury
), was the final result and the movie that started Lee's career and his way to becoming a legend of celluloid.
Cheng (Lee) is a Chinese man from Guangdong who has moved to Thailand with the help of his uncle. Prior to the start of the film, Cheng took an oath of non-violence at the behest of his mother. He becomes acquanited with his extensive family of cousins and soon comes to be very close to them, especially the sweet but vulnerable Chiao Mei (Maria Yi), with whom he develops a romance. Alas; getting a job at the ice factory where his cousins work; one day a block of ice is broken to reveal a bag of heroin inside. It turns out the ice factory is a front for a drug operation. The boss of the factory, Hsiao Mi, offers the workers (two of Cheng's cousins) who discovered the heroin a bribe to keep quiet. When they refuse it, he has them killed. Cheng and the remaining cousins start conducting an investigation. Hsiao tries to dissuade Cheng by promoting him to a foreman, but when this fails, he has the remainder of the family (sans Chiao) murdered. Cheng discovers them dead, and goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge
Directed by Wei Lo (who would also discover Jackie Chan
), The Big Boss
was a breath of fresh air to martial arts films as it showed a flawed hero in a modern setting. The story (by Wei Lo and Bruce Lee) was very well developed and filled with suspense and action, and in a bold move for an action film, the main character remains almost inactive for the first half as Cheng must avoid violence due to his oath. The film not only launched Lee's career to the stratosphere; it influenced his own film-making style and the way future martial arts movies were done.
Wei Lo's usually restrained style was also influenced by his young actor's abilities; The Big Boss
can be seen as his transition to a more explosive way of film-making that would be completed in Fist of Fury
and the subsequent Jackie Chan films. The natural and raw look of the film added to the high dose of graphic violence (it is probably the goriest film in Lee's career, and consequently the most cut and censored) give the movie a harsh, gritty realism that adds to its charm.
As many have already said (and will continue saying without a doubt), Lee was a very charming actor whose presence filled the screen and owned it completely. That statement is proved here as we see him not as a killing machine, but as a common man who just wants to live peacefully, giving us many scenes of Cheng enjoying his new found family and struggling with his own vices. Lee's performance is very natural although one could say that he was basically playing himself.
To summarize, this is a watershed martial arts film both in terms of its star and the genre as a whole; and is essential viewing for anyone interested in either.
This film provides examples of:
- Actual Pacifist: Cheng has sworn off violence when the film starts. But when he gets pushed too far, he snaps. HARD. He goes from "wouldn't hurt a fly" to "your remains won't fit on a toothpick."
- Affably Evil: Hsiao Mi first offers his workers membership in his cartel after they discover they're smuggling drugs. It's only after they politely refuse that he kills them. See What an Idiot.
- All There in the Manual: Books written around the time of the film's release reveal that Cheng's vow of pacifism stems from his mother wanting him to continue the family line.
- Big Bad: Hsiao Mi
- Characters Dropping Like Flies: All of Cheng's cousins except Chiao Mei are dead by the end of the film.
- Decoy Protagonist: The film opens with Cheng being something of a common Audience Surrogate who isn't allowed to fight and is awkward in city life. While Hsiu Chien is handsome, confident, protects the weak, lends money and can fight... too bad he's Too Cool to Live.
- Downer Ending: Bruce Lee's character is arrested at the end for the dozen or so murders he commits in avenging his family's death.
- Excuse Me While I Multitask: Bruce Lee eats snacks and kicks some asses at the same time.
- Faux Affably Evil: The titular Big Boss is extremely congenial and the kind of boss most employers would envy. Except, well, not really.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Happens in one scene when Cheng's cousins get dismembered by the saw used to cut the ice blocks with when refusing Hisao Mi's offer.
- Funny Bruce Lee Noises: Averted in all versions except the oft ill-received Cantonese redub, which inserted stock cries from his other films.
- Hong Kong Dub: The older export dub based on the Mandarin version.
- Kissing Cousins: They never kiss on-screen but Cheng and Chiao have feelings for each other
- Impact Silhouette: Cheng punches one of his opponents through a wall, leaving a man-shaped hole in it.
- Infant Immortality: Averted with Cheng's little cousin
- Lip Lock: Taken to an extreme with the heavily revised English dub, which takes every opportunity to make the lip movements match even if the dialogue bares little resemblance to what was said originally.
- Market-Based Title: The film was originally going to be retitled The Chinese Connection for the American market in order to cash in on the success of The French Connection (as both films' plots involved drug trafficking). Unfortunately the American distributor screwed up by accidentally switching the title with that of Fist of Fury (in singular), which was meant to be called Fists of Fury in America. For awhile, The Big Boss was known as Fists of Fury in America, while Fist of Fury was The Chinese Connection, until later re-releases restored the original titles.
- If the above paragraph confused you; it basically says that film A was supposed to get title C and film B was supposed to get title D, but because of a mix-up, film A got titled D and film B got title C instead.
- Missing Episode: Several scenes were removed from the film during the 1972 Hong Kong Movie Censorship Crackdown and are thought to be lost, due to being literally removed (cut and spliced) from the film reel that was used to make copies from this point onwards. Other prints of the film are said to exist with the scenes intact (and one such print was even shown in London in 1979), but have not been seen. Even if they could be released, copyright issues mean it is unlikely we'll see them.
- Mook-Face Turn: A few of Hsiao Mi's girls end up helping Cheng instead because of the way Hsiao Mi treats them.
- Ms. Fanservice: After Bruce Lee's character gets drunk post the party, a comfort girl is sent to, er, provide him some entertainment. The camera gives her a medium close-up enough to allow her disrobe...
- Never One Murder: For the first half of the movie, the villains cover up their murders by murdering anyone who notices. They eventually realize they'll have to use more subtle tactics.
- Parrot Exposition:
"That was dope."
"Huh? Dope in ice?"
- Posthumous Character: Old Wang.
- Reality Ensues: The last twenty minutes has Lee kicking ass, taking names, and killing people with his fists of fury! He's arrested in the end by police once the Big Bad is dead.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Cheng goes on one upon finding his family murdered.
- Supporting Protagonist: Hsiu Chien until he gets killed by the Boss's henchmen
- Shirtless Scene: Lee gets one towards the end.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The Ice Factory manager just disappears from the film after Cheng visits Hsiao Mi's house. What really happened is that Tso Chen, the actor who played the manager, and the film's assistant director, had a falling out with Lo Wei supposedly.