The Big Boss/Review
From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
As I sit here writing this, today marks the 39th anniversary of the passing of Lee Yun-Fan, better know to the world as Bruce Lee. Even now, nearly 4 decades after his death, his influence can still be found everywhere, from the way he transformed martial arts itself to the movie genre he took global. Writers, directors, actors, athletes, artists, philosophers and musicians all owe a little something to Bruce Lee. As do you and I or anyone else that has ever enjoyed a film where the good guy is an ass kicking machine with a dry sense of humor, a knowing smile and a selection of very fine yellow jumpsuits and white vest tops. The fact is, brothers and sisters, Bruce Lee Changed The World.
On November 27th 1940, in the year of the Dragon, Bruce Lee came into the world in a San Francisco hospital. At three months old his parents moved the family back to Hong Kong and it was there where Lee would start on the path to becoming the icon he is today. As a child Lee was nothing more than a punk who roamed the streets and rooftops of Hong Kong, getting into fights with local gangs. Never one to back down, Lee's head on attitude dismayed his family so much that they decided he needed guidance in martial arts, first from his father who taught him the fundamentals of Wu style T'ai Chi Ch'uan and then, aged 13, from the legendary Ip Man. Aged 18 Lee was shipped off to America after he beat the hell out of the son of a local Triad, this action lead to a rumored contract on his life and a warning from a local police detective that he would have to throw Lee in jail.
America was good for Lee. He studied hard academically and spent just as much time perfecting his martial art abilities, eventually opening his own Martial Arts School in Seattle before expanding to another one in Oakland. Then in 1964 while attending the Long Beach International Karate Championship, Lee's demonstration of the one-inch punch and two-fingered press up caught the attention of William Dozier who invited Lee to an audition for the pilot of "Number One Son". The show never got made but it did lead to his role in The Green Hornet, which only lasted one season and from there Lee's Hollywood career was stop and start but mainly stop. After Lee's idea for a series where a Shaolin Monk traveled the Wild West doing good deeds was "borrowed" and changed into Kung-Fu, he was advised to return to Hong Kong where he was already a huge star (The Green Hornet series was known as The Kato Show over there) to make a feature film. He did and signed a two movie deal with Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest and in 1971 Bruce starred in his first film. That film was The Big Boss.
Lee plays Cheng, a Chinese National who moves to Thailand to live with his Uncle. Though never stated outright why this has happened Cheng has promised his mother that he'll stay out of trouble, leading you to believe that his taste for fighting was the reason he had to leave home, mimicking Bruce's own life. This vow is backed up by a constant reminder in the shape of a necklace he wears at all times. On arrival we find out that Cheng has every intention of keeping said promise when at a roadside food cart a group of local thugs first hassle the female owner, then a young boy selling rice cakes. Cheng's uncle reminds him not to interfere but he needn't have worried as the boy's brother Hsiu Chien (played by the always awesome James Tien) shows up and proceeds to bitch slap the bad guys into the middle of next week. This is useful on two levels as it stops Cheng getting into any trouble and helps the movie along nicely as Chien is the "cousin" that will help him get a job at the local ice factory.
Here is where the main body of the story takes place as the factory is just a front for a drug smuggling operation and the place where many people disappear after asking too many questions or refusing to play along. After one too many bodies go missing the workers riot and to ease the tensions the Big Boss makes Cheng a foreman and throws booze and hookers at him. A good plan that goes bad after one of the prostitutes let slip that people are being murdered and not just vanishing into the night. This causes Cheng to Bruce-out and trash the factory, then the henchmen before turning his attention to the Big Boss himself. As revenge for killing his "family" Bruce beats, kicks, punches and stabs the Big Boss until he is quite, quite dead before handing himself over to the local police.
This movie rocks on so many levels (Well, what did you think I was going to say?). First off, in a movie where Bruce doesn't really Kung-Fu the hell out of anyone until 45 minutes in, it never lacks for action. This is handled quite expertly by James Tien who happily dispatches any number of bad guys the script throws at him. Add to that a riot scene and the one thing this film was never going to lack was an ass kicking count. As for Bruce himself the lack of fighting gives him a chance to flex his acting muscles which he does very well, his comedy timing in particular deserves a mention. For example the way he knocks out two henchmen while still not actually breaking his promise to his mother still makes me laugh to this day. When he eventually does lose his necklace, therefore breaking his vow, he finally goes crazy ape bonkers and the fact that this takes so long is never detrimental to the film because when he does start beating everyone in sight the effect is awe-inspiring and is truely a pleasure to watch. I've always said that you can't call yourself a true fan of Martial Arts Movies until you've seen, or preferably own, all of Bruce Lee's movies and I stand by that. And as film debut's go, The Big Boss is one hell of an introduction to the phenomenon that would become Bruce Lee.