The Big Boss a.k.a. Fists Of Fury a.k.a. Tang shan da xiong (1971): Breakdown by Kain424
Bruce Lee finds out his boss is a drug-smuggling asshole and a murderer. Lee then proceeds to kill everyone involved.
This is Bruce Lee’s first starring role, and one can already see the qualities that made him a star. He is very expressive and certainly carries his scenes with a natural charisma. He performs his fight scenes adeptly and even though I think he’s been surpassed, both in terms of physicality and skill, it’s easy to see how he became the prototype for martial arts stars to some.
On a side note, I think it’s sad that Lee never became a huge American star. He appeared briefly in Marlowe, two years earlier, and was pretty much the best thing about that picture. American studios have a long history of failing to utilize Asian stars, and it pretty much began with Bruce Lee.
The Big Boss is actually a pretty standard affair. Workers at an ice factory are disappearing and Lee discovers that it’s all been done to cover up a drug-smuggling operation. The film makers don’t bother playing up the mystery aspect of the plot, but instead focus on the fighting.
In the end, this turns out to be a good thing, as the fights are easily the highlight of the film. The fights teeter-totter between being violent and realistic to cartoonish and over-the-top (at one point, Lee punches a guy through a wall, leaving a perfect silhouette-shaped hole).
If the fights are unbalanced, then the editing will also leave you scratching your head. There are so many version of this film to be found, I find it difficult to mention certain scenes, knowing full well that they may not be in someone else’s version. Some versions have edited out much of the violence and nudity. There are English-dubbed versions, and even a Chinese version I found doesn’t have Bruce Lee’s original voice track. Add to this mess the fact that many versions call the film Fists Of Fury (not to be confused with Lee’s next film, Fist Of Fury) and you’ve got a movie begging to be mistaken for something else. Interested Action fans beware.
The villain in this one does something I’ve noticed that seems to happen in several 70s films: he uses his mansion’s yard to train. I don’t know what the obsession was with having the main baddie training with a group of guys in his front yard was, but I think The Big Boss might have been the first film to do this. If so, kudos.
Still, other than as an introduction to Mr. Lee, I am not sure that I would recommend this to anyone other than big martial arts fans. Enter The Dragon is better in every respect, be it fighting, story, or even the dialog and acting. And, once again to reiterate, you risk grabbing a heavily edited version when you look for this one. I’d say leave it to the completists.
[HOW BAD-ASS IS THE MAIN CHARACTER?]
Bruce Lee is Cheng Chao-an
He has what appears to be a 15 foot vertical jump, can destroy a man’s internal organs (thus killing him) with a single blow, and can deflect thrown knives with his feet! Yeah, he’s a mean customer.
[THE BODY COUNT: AROUND 25-30]
This film, unedited, is extremely violent. Everyone’s getting stabbed, chopped, beaten, and cut to pieces. All of this generous amounts of glorious red stuff. It’s pretty surprising that they got away with what they did given the time period in which this was filmed.
The bodies pile up, with Lee killing 15 people and the bad guys killing nearly every other cast member in the film. Most of these deaths are shown onscreen as well; if they aren’t then the mangled corpses (even that of a child’s) are shown afterward.
[MOST SATISFYING DEATH]
I’m gonna have to go with the final death of the film. After a prolonged, Kung Fu battle, the baddie tries to throw a knife at Lee. Bruce, who at this time is lying on his back on the ground, deflects the knife with his foot, sending the blade back into the would-be killer’s torso. That’s not enough. Lee leaps up, and drives his hands through the villain’s chest, letting him bleed out all over his training lawn.
[DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO]
There’s not a lot going on here other than a few funny moments. Lee wakes up in a whorehouse and flees like he’s never seen a woman naked before. Also, when Lee discovers that his coworkers have all been murdered, he picks one guy and hugs and caresses his corpse… I’m still not sure what that was all about.
[EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY]
There are three main women characters in this film. One runs a snackfood stand, one’s a whore, and the other does all the cleaning and cooking for the male characters and, when she’s not doing that, she’s flirting with Lee or crying. There are more women featured in this movie, but they are, literally, all whores in a bordello.
[EPIC MOMENT AND BEST ONE-LINER]
After Lee has killed the main antagonist, it’s still not enough. The guy dies and falls into a heap of former douche-baggery, then Lee climbs onto the corpse and begins beating it with his fists as dark clouds swarm overhead. This scene goes on for quite some time, to its inevitable conclusion: Lee collapsing onto the beaten pulp of what once was his foe.
Lee’s not much for one-liners in this film, but there is moment where he finally decides to kick some ass and beats up four or five guys and looks at all other takers and challenges: “You wanna fight someone? Fight me!”
It’s cooler than it sounds.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Sometimes you have to do the wrong thing to get the right thing done. And Bruce Lee is a mean mother-fucker.
[THE CHECKLIST: 09 outta 25]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[ ] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[ ] Crotch Attack
[ ] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[ ] Giant Explosion(s)
[ ] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[ ] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[ ] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[X] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[X] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[ ] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[ ] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[ ] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[X] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[ ] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[ ] Vehicle Chase(s)
[X] Vigilante Justice
Too Easy: A Splitting Headache
The Big Boss (1971) © Golden Harvest Company