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Bruce Lee's The Big Boss (Appreciation Thread)

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Bruce Lee's The Big Boss (AKA Fists of Fury) Review/Essay - 1971

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I first saw The Big Boss when I was nine years old. My older cousin, who had introduced me to the image of Bruce Lee a few years prior, supplied me with a detailed synopsis of the film. Like him, I was genuinely enthralled. Unlike him, having been born the year the film premiered, I had not experienced the Bruce Lee zeitgeist of the early 70’s, and, at that point, had only had real (reel) time with Lee in ‘Game of Death' (1978). For the better part of two years, I had idolized my hero mostly through still photographs and campfire lore. Because of this, he'd inherited an additional mythical quality. Fortunately, I came up in the era of home theater, and was, eventually, provided with the opportunity to witness this 'artifact' that no longer played in cinema houses. As I slid in the VHS tape, I recall the distinct feeling that I imagine might not have been too dissimilar to the one Indiana Jones must have felt upon discovering the Holy Grail. I had lived with the idea of what this film was for a child’s eternity, and felt I had a pretty good handle on what to expect. What I wasn't prepared for was how much the film itself would feel   almost exactly as I had imagined it. For this reason, amongst others, ‘Boss’ will always be extra special to me.

What makes the film so compelling? Unquestionably, the sheer magnitude of Lee’s screen presence – a fact that wasn't lost on producer Raymond Chow, who promptly downplayed the lead role initially intended for James Tien. Upon closer inspection, though, ‘Boss’ possesses a primitive spontaneity and textural rawness that gives it a tangible and visceral quality, not unlike  Martin Scorsese’s  Taxi Driver or Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. From the opening shot where Lee’s character, Cheng Chao Ahn, arrives at the Pak Chong dock, right through to the evocative finale when he’s hauled off by Thai police, there’s a certain sense of reality taking shape. One almost gets the feeling that this story could be unfolding in real time somewhere, which keeps the viewing experience kinetic and alive.

Cheng is a young man from mainland China who travels to Thailand for work and the hope of prosperity. His newfound home offers him the opportunity to both join his extended family as well as redirect his life through the hard work of manual labor - a trade not uncommon to most Chinese expats. Though it's never directly stated in the film, his pilgrimage is partially the result of his rebellious and temperamental nature back home (much like Bruce Lee 's move  to the US twelve years earlier). Due to his new surroundings, Cheng’s demeanor is both respectful and, oftentimes, painstakingly shy, but there’s an innate innocence to him, represented by the jade locket given to him by his mother. And the more we spend time with him, the more we witness the gradual loss of that innocence, which sets the stage for what will, essentially, be his right of passage into adulthood. Interestingly enough, while Cheng is a highly skilled martial artist and harbors a fascination with combat, it's this inherent innocence that suggests he may never have been exposed to the real horrors of violence. Indeed, his understanding of it, seems to, at best, be rooted and relegated to schoolyard skirmishes and contests of strength.
 
But from the very start, there's a pervasive sense of conflict in the air, and it walks beside him, innocuous and seductive. It’s there: upon arrival when he and his Uncle witness thugs harassing a young lady that works at the ice stand; when he’s introduced to the manager of the ice factory who casually tells him to “ get along with the other workers, no fights”; when he accidently breaks the block of ice and one of the henchmen sprints over and unleashes a  hard haymaker across his face; and when he witnesses his cousin, Hsu Chien, fighting off a few casino rascals who are irked by a good deed done for a neighbor. In one of the films many deleted scenes, there's a particularly poignant piece of dialogue that foreshadows Cheng’s eventual path. It occurs immediately following the aforementioned roadside encounter that Cheng and Hsu Chien have with the casino locals. The missing footage picks up with Cheng and Hsu continuing down the road, making their way home. They detour through an alleyway, and find themselves besieged by one of the remaining thugs, who proceeds to push a burning rickshaw cart towards them. Barely escaping (by leaping over a wall in unison), Hsu turns to Cheng and comments on the lengths that some men will go to obtain vengeance – unconsciously informing our hero (and the audience) of his own destiny. The scene was most likely omitted to due to pacing issues, but in the process, theme and character study suffer.
That said, as previously noted, we get numerous glimpses of Cheng's courtship with conflict, although it's always checked at the door - defused before it ignites. The set up works perfectly, as Cheng, essentially, comes to understand himself through his capacity for violence, which is both uncompromisingly brutal and significantly purifying. In an abstract way, the violence serves as confession, paving the way for redemption and allowing the character to come full circle, and embrace the animal he sought to suppress. On a fundamental level, the slaughter of his family becomes catalytic for the emotional arc he’ll fulfill in his journey. A literal example of this motif comes close to the climax of the film, when Cheng searches the ice factory late one night for clues to his cousins' disappearance. Bathed in an eerie red light (that suggests the blind rage to come) he discovers his cousins' corpse. The flood lights come on and we see: Cheng glaring at a group of thugs slowly encroaching ; lightning quick, he hurls his flashlight at one of 'em - impaling it in the guy's forehead. Then, using every weapon at his disposal - including a saw – he proceeds to systematically rip through each one of them with a serene savagery. This Zen-like dispassion has two exceptions: earlier when the jade locket is torn from his neck by one of the thugs, and in the final battle against Mi Hsiao, when he pushes his fingers through the villain’s ribcage and pummels his lifeless body to a pulp. If the broken locket represents the unleashing of  Cheng's inner beast then the final image of him collapsing from exhaustion on top of Mi’s dead body suggests the exorcism of that beast.

One of the major themes that separates ‘Boss’ from Lee’s other films is it's blatant exploration of sexuality. For the first (and only) time we see Lee sexually charged and uninhibited on celluloid, with sex manifesting into it's own character, figuratively mirroring the violence. Sexuality is prevalent through all of Cheng’s relationships with women: flirtatious with Nora Miao's girl at the ice stand, borderline incestuous with his cousin Chow Mei, and brazenly promiscuous with two prostitutes - the latter of these encounters was included in the original Mandarin print of the film, but not in the subsequent theatrical versions. In the scene, Cheng, having made his decision to take vengeance for the murder of his family, returns to the town bordello. In direct contrast to his earlier encounter with the first prostitute, he is no longer acutely self-conscious, but straightforwardly aggressive. He shoves the girl on the bed, fully disrobing in front of her - his naked body symbolic and representative of the sacrifice he’s willing to make in the face of death, as well as the spiritual rebirth that fuels that decision. Equally significant, is his departure from the room - particularly in the way he pays the girl for her service - delicately placing the last of his money on her belly. There’s both a sensual gravitas and a prevalent solitude that linger as he leaves the room. The scene was eventually removed from subsequent prints in an effort to preserve Lee’s screen image, following his designated status as a cultural hero and role model to the South-East Asian audience. I always found this rather ironic, considering the numerous affairs Lee had both in the US and in Hong Kong throughout the last five years of his life.
 
Additionally, of particular interest is the music used in the film. Soundtracks were not of much focus in those ol' chop socky films and typically ‘stock’ music was just added to them in post production. Although three different dubs were released, the most memorable is the English version which uses compositions by German musician Peter Thomas. Thomas was hired to create a soundtrack that would appeal to western audiences in the international market and  he delivered a wonderful hybrid of late 60’s/ 70's jazz fusion with a heavy  emphasis on synth and bass that, at times, is reminiscent of the experimental work of Chick Corea. Sparingly used throughout, the score not only increases tension, but also adds a surreal quality to the scenes – creating the effect of a sonic sculpture, taking a life of it's own. Moreover, it connects the viewer to the more primal elements that lurk underneath the scenes. This comes to the fore particularly in the final showdown between Cheng and Mi. Consisting of little more than an off- rhythm, machine gun style bass line, punctuated by a haunting synthesizer and guitar twangs, it creates a vibrant  sense of urgency as the two men face off. The result is classic mis en scene. In retrospect, it’s even more impressive that this was for all intents and purposes, serendipitous, as, in those days, that level of care was not normally given to those films. The resonance of these pieces is a testament to the brilliance of Thomas’ work and, specifically, the marriage of the instrumentation to the images in the film. No small feat considering that the Mandarin/Cantonese dubs utilized music by Pink Floyd.

All things withstanding, 'Boss' is by no means flawless. As is true of most Hong Kong film productions of the period, it was shot on a less than shoestring budget, and it clearly shows. Continuity is oftentimes ignored, the dialogue dubbing is abysmal and, at times, the film stock appears damaged. Additionally, Lo Wei’s direction occasionally falters into the absurd, including a comical shot of Lee punching a thug through a warehouse wall— leaving the imprint of the man’s body in the wood. The saving grace is Lee’s superb combat choreography – which, to this day, is still resonates as it did in 1971. For all the reported tension between Lee and Wei, it’s noteworthy that, in an early letter to his wife, Lee would write: ”The shooting is picking up steam and moving along much better than it was. The new director is no Roman Polanski, but as a whole he is a much better choice than our ex-director.” Lee was referring to the original director, Wu Chia-Hsiang, who was fired a few days into shooting, for both going over budget and having a lackadaisical attitude on the set. Indeed, the rift between Lee and Wei would come during their second collaboration on Fist of Fury. Lee was annoyed at Wei's penchant for taking credit for the fight scenes that Lee, himself, had choreographed, and for generally being more interested in gambling at the races than producing a high quality film (the feud would eventually come to a head at Golden Harvest Studios a year later when Lee threatened a terrified Wei, before authorities were summoned and Lee acquiescing to signing a document that stated he would not harm the director).

Despite its retread of generic tropes used in most martial art films of the time, Bossdiffers in that it embraces a distinctly pagan spirit, mainly through the protagonist's  inherent self indulgence and eventual sacrifice. This, essentially, allows Lee to create his own mythology, in the vein of Neitzche’s Übermensch, and is most apparent in the set up for the final battle: Cheng leaps over the tall metal fence, radiating a cool detached calmness, jacket casually slung over his shoulder, holding a bag of prawn crackers (which he continuously munches on). In that moment, he is an image straight out of western mythology. He is the gunslinger returning to town, seeking retribution. Through this, he fulfills a self imposed purpose and, morphs completely into the quintessential Western archetype. As Nietzsche wrote: “the spirit becomes a camel; and the camel, a lion; and the lion, finally a child.” In many ways, ‘Boss’ is a classic story told in a conventional way. It succeeds though, despite its failings, because it exhibits a consistency that other genre films lack. It's unabashedly operatic, yet it contains a distinct thematic honesty that leads it's hero (and viewers) through the process of innocence, self-reflection and fate. At it's core, 'Boss' is a true coming of age story.

This was Lee’s debut in a leading role, and it consistently showcases his instincts as an actor. I’m not uncomfortable stating that it may be his best acting role. Gone is the apparent self-awareness that dominated his role in the ‘Longstreet' television series (shot a few months prior) and replacing it is a more subtle, moment to moment, presentational performance that’s become the staple of occidental cinema. Interesting to note, it's is his most Western performance in his most Eastern film. The reason for this, I believe, is that Lee hadn't  fully committed himself to the Asian style of representational acting, which he relied on heavily in his follow up films Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon. Not that those were bad performances by any means, but compared to level of depth that Lee gives Cheng, they're far less nuanced. The result is easily the most three dimensional character of all his adult films and while much of Lee's appeal can be attributed to the timeless boyishness of his face – his aura radiating a strong James Dean quality – as well as his tremendous physique, it’s fair to say this performance shows his capabilities as an actor. Quite revealing is a moment that occurs towards the finale when Cheng sits by the river, contemplating his past. As the camera slowly focuses in on his face, we see Bruce Lee, not Cheng, look up to the sky, prophetically catching a glimpse of the future: the ascension of his star(dom) and (im)mortality.

A final note: it’s been said that the events in ‘Boss’ were based on a true story. The details of that story and characters do not necessarily resemble that of the movie. But, as the old adage goes, one should not let facts stand in the way of truth, in a story. Keeping that in mind... allegedly, in Bangkok, there stands a statue that the townsfolk refer to as the Chinese Big Brother. Legend has it that many years ago, the man, whom the statue was modeled after, had done an incredible thing. His name? Cheng Chao Ahn. - Alan Canvan
  (Review by @Alan C)
 
 
  Note: What follows is the above essay with notations / alterations / and additions by @Fist of the Heavenly Sky. - The Moderation Team
 

Bruce Lee's The Big Boss (AKA Fists of Fury) Review/Essay - 1971

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I first saw "The Big Boss" when I was about nine years old. My older cousin (who had introduced me to Lee a few years earlier) had given me a synopsis of the movie, and like him, I was genuinely enthralled. Unlike him, I hadn't experienced the Bruce Lee zeitgeist of the early 70's and, thus far, had only had real (reel) time with Lee in "Game of Death (1978)". For the better part of two years, I had idolized the Little Dragon mostly through photographs and because of this, he had taken on an additional mythical quality. As I slid in the videocassette, I remember a distinct feeling not too dissimilar to the one Indiana Jones must have felt upon finding the Holy Grail. I had lived with this film in my imagination for a child's eternity, and had a pretty good idea of what to expect. What I didn't know, was that the film itself would look and, more importantly, feel almost exactly as it had in my mind. For this reason, among others, "Boss" will always be a little extra special to me.

Exactly what makes the movie so compelling? Unquestionably, it's the sheer magnitude of Lee's screen presence - a fact that prompted producer Raymond Chow to offer him the lead role initially intended for James Tien. Upon closer inspection, however, "Boss" possesses a primitive spontaneity and textural rawness that gives it an extremely tangible and visceral quality - a verisimilitude that's not unlike Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver". From the moment Lee's character, the the mighty yet peaceful (or at least tries to be) Kung Fu master Cheng Chao-An, arrives at the Pak Chong dock, right through to the evocative finale where he's hauled off by Thai police, there's a certain sense of organic energy taking shape. This energy is both kinetic and alive. Cheng is a young Southern Chinese man with a troubled past. His newfound home offers an opportunity to seek his fortune through hard manual labor - a trade not uncommon to most Chinese expatriates - and, though never directly stated in the film, his pilgrimage was a result of his rebellious nature back home. Due to his new surroundings, Cheng’s demeanor is both respectful and, oftentimes, painstakingly shy, but, there’s an innate innocence to Cheng (represented by the jade locket given to him by his mother), and the more we spend time with him, we witness the gradual loss of that innocence. The set up works extremely well, as we don’t see what Cheng is capable of till almost halfway into the film. Later, he’ll come full circle, and embrace the bloodthirsty animal he sought to suppress - the destruction of everything Cheng held dear to him being cataclysmic for the emotional arc he will experience in his journey.

Particularly relevant is the way the violence is explored - uncompromisingly brutal, yet at the same time, strangely purifying. It’s as if the violence serves as a confession, paving the way to Cheng’s (and the viewer’s) personal redemption. In the warehouse, bathed in eerie red light (that seemingly suggests the rage to come), Cheng discovers - much to his horror and heartbreak - his cousins' corpses. The flood lights switch on and we see: Cheng glaring at a group of Thai thugs approaching; lightning quick, he hurls his flashlight at one of them - impaling the metal through a man’s skull. Using every weapon at his disposal - including a saw - he systematically chops through each man with what can be described as serene savagery. This Zen-like dispassion has two exceptions: the moment the jade locket is torn from his neck, and the final battle where he puts his fingers through Mi Hsiao’s ribcage (as if striking the villain's pressure points and causing his organs to explode from the inside) and then proceeds to chain punch the villain’s lifeless body to a pulp. If the broken locket represents the unleashing of the beast then the image of Cheng collapsing on top of the Mi’s corpse is the exorcism of that beast.

Of particular interest is the music used throughout the film. The American/European dub uses a combination late 60’s jazz and a synth/bass score- that at times conjure up the work of Chick Corea. Sparingly used throughout, the musical pieces not only increase the tension, but also add a surreal quality to the scenes - the overall effect being that of a sonic sculpture, taking on a life of it’s own. Additionally, it connects the viewer to that primal element that lives throughout the piece. The score is at its best, however, in the finale showdown between Cheng and Mi. Consisting of little more than an off- rhythm, machine gun style bass line, punctuated by haunting synth lines and guitar twangs, it creates a vibrant urgency as the two opponents stare each other down and prepare to do battle. 

Of particular interest is the major theme that separates “Boss” from not only Lee’s own subsequent films, but martial arts movies in general: its use of sexuality for character development and driving the plot. Indeed, sex almost takes on its own character in the piece and abstractly mirrors the intensity of the violence. For the first (and only) time we see Lee sexually charged and uninhibited on celluloid. Eroticism runs through all of Cheng’s relationships with women: borderline instinctual with his (adopted) cousin Chiao Mei, a flirtatious school boy crush with the girl at the ice stand (Nora Miao) and….promiscuous with local prostitutes, with whom Cheng enjoys two sexual encounters. Jimmy Wang Yu might've been the first kung fu star and the first hearthrob of women in Hong Kong, but even in The Chinese Boxer (1970), he was rather wooden. Lee, on the other hand, is presented as the nadir of Chinese masculinity: the female characters (Both Chinese and Thai) in Big Boss turn bashful in his presence. Cheng's first visit to the brothel (in which he slept with the Thai beauty Malalene) was a result of a drunken night out with the managers of the ice factory where he works (seeking to isolate him from his co-workers) But the original Mandarin print of the film included a mostly "lost" sequence of him returning to the brothel sober prior to his final confrontation with the Boss, whose factory is a front for a drugs ring.

In the deleted scene, Cheng, having made his decision to take vengeance, runs into the Pak Chong town and stops outside the town bordello. He pauses for a moment and, upon realizing the possibility of losing his life in the final battle, decides to enter the establishment. Inside, he pays some money to someone behind a counter, and goes upstairs to where the sex slaves are sitting. With Malalene nowhere to be seen, he picks a different prostitute in a red sweater-like dress (who is actually visible in the background the second time Cheng visits the brothel, and whose face also bears a striking resemblance to Chiao Mei), and they go to the same room he had slept in two days prior. In direct contrast to his earlier encounter with Malalene, he's straightforwardly aggressive - the prostitute tries to flirt with Cheng, only to be roughly pushed onto the bed by him. He then takes off his shirt and she removes her dress. They face each other; Cheng is standing naked behind the bed (with a noticeably emotionless face), while the prostitute smiles enthusiastically at him. She lies on the bed and Cheng (waist-high shot) walks toward the camera and blurs out the scene. Although no actual sexual activity is shown, it's fair to assume that Cheng was sexually passionate with the prostitute. After all, what he ultimately desired was intercourse without commitment and love without any strings attached. He would then slip out during the afternoon, crash the Boss's mansion, engage in his kill-all suicide mission, wash his hands and nobody would be the wiser.

Equally profound, is his departure from the room, specifically in the way he pays the prostitute for her service. Cheng is shown putting on his shirt, while the prostitute is still sleeping on the bed, with a well-satisfied expression on her face. While she's sleeping, Cheng takes out his remaining money, and lays it down on her stomach, even though he already paid to be with her. He does this since he realizes that he will not need it anymore if he dies, although it also hints that their lovemaking was one of mutual nurturing and entirely reciprocal, rather than just a fling designed solely for short-lived physical gratification. He also then sees a bag of prawn crackers and decides to take them as a "last meal". This explains why he has the crackers when he shows up at the boss' mansion.

There's a sensual gravitas and a prevalent solitude that linger as Cheng leaves the room. This scene is a prime example of why out of all of Lee's characters, Cheng Chao-an was the only one to truly change because of the course of events in the plot. While the likes of Chen Zhen and Tang Lung are likable for their own reasons, they all merely turn into more magnified versions of how they started at the beginning of their respective movies, rather than a full change. Cheng, however, starts off as a pretty mellow and shy introvert who awkwardly steals glances at Maria Yi, and wishes nothing more than to live peacefully. Keeping this scene in the movie would have made it even better because it shows that the protagonist has turned hard for the final event, and it also servers as a pivotal moment of Cheng's human development. You have him throwing away his stuff (Burying his past life with no intention of re-visiting it), indulging in his final pleasures as a free man with a lady of the night (Emerging from the cocoon of his former self and embracing his new path as a warrior), and then grabbing a chip bag from the room's table for his last supper (An acknowledgement of his own mortality). It makes the final sequence all the more poignant, and it's complete absence along with other cuts (more on that in a bit), as the nonchalance with which Cheng is eating a packet of crackers as he arrives in the mansion's gate just jars very badly with the previous scene (riverside mourning) in the current edit.

In spite of all of this, a shred of his previous gentle nature still survives within him, as shown in the very last portion of the movie: Although he defeats the Boss, Cheng still tries to get himself killed by the police, thinking that there was no more joy left for him in life, but he quickly relents when Chiao Mei, who is alive and well, pleads for him to surrender peacefully. He looks up, as if finally conscious of his situation for the first time since pondering over his grief and heartbreak at the river, and he raises his bloodstained hands to be detained. Cheng has avenged his family, but he now sees himself bound, caged, defeated, both literally and spiritually wise, treated like a chained beast. Chiao Mei sobs at Cheng's chest, not knowing that his body is stained with another woman's essence, and he is powerless to do anything other that to simply comfort her by saying "It's okay, Mei". 

Cheng and Chiao Mei walk together arm in arm toward the police car, suggesting that regardless of what will immediately happen to them next the couple will enter the future together, and they will rely on each other's companionship. Mei has demonstrated she is more than willing to look past and accept Cheng's flaws as a human being, especially his infidelity at the brothel, and assist him in dealing with his vices and inner demons so that they can build a new life together, and along with it a new family that will replace the loved ones they have just lost. The film thereby ends in a bittersweet, if not still uncertain note, and it's left to the viewer's imagination whether Cheng will revert back to his previous lifestyle as a country bumpkin who is dedicated to his friends and community, or remain committed to his hedonistic anti-heroic brawler with no further ambitions beyond enjoying life's pleasures to it's fullest.

Quite a lot of material was clipped from the version we know today, including a particularly poignant scene that foreshadows Cheng’s eventual path: immediately following the roadside skirmish with the casino locals, Hsu Chien and Cheng continue down the road, making their way home. They detour through an alleyway and find themselves besieged by the same group of thugs, who proceed to push a burning rickshaw cart towards them. They narrowly escape by leaping over a wall in unison; Hsu turns to Cheng and comments on the lengths men will go to obtain vengeance - subconsciously informing our hero of his own destiny.

Like the brothel scene, the omission of the burning cart sequence and others only ensue that the continuity and character study suffer. All things withstanding, “Boss” is by no means flawless. As is true of most Hong Kong film productions of the period, it was shot on a less than shoestring budget, and it shows. Continuity is ignored (The result of a messy production and a script that was continuously being worked on as filming progressed), the dubbing (English and otherwise) is abysmal and, at times, the film negatives appears damaged. Additionally, Lo Wei’s direction occasionally falters into hokey chop socky scenarios, including a comical shot of Lee punching a thug through a warehouse wall-leaving the outline of the man’s body on the wood.

The saving grace is Lee’s superb combat choreography - which, to this day, is still as profound and resonant as it was back in 1971. For all the reported tension between Lee and Wei, it’s noteworthy that, in an early letter to his wife, Lee would write: ”The shooting is picking up steam and moving along much better than it was. The new director is no Roman Polanski, but as a whole he is a much better choice then our ex-director.” Lee was referring to the original director, Wu Chia-Hsiang, who was fired a few days into shooting, for both going over budget and having a lackadaisical attitude on the set. The Big Boss project suffered as a result of this director's incompetence and subsequent departure, as Lo Wei joined the boat midway through production and was forced to work around the first 1/3 of the filming that had already been completed. It is without a doubt that, had Lo Wei been at a helm from the beginning, Big Boss would've been far more consistent plot-wise.

Despite all this, and it’s modification on the generic revenge theme used in most martial art films, “Boss” echoes a pagan spirit. Essentially, it gives Lee a vehicle to create the classic Nietzchian uberman he sought to present himself as to the world. Consider the set up for the final battle: Cheng leaps over the tall metal fence. With his jacket slung over his shoulder and a bag of prawn crackers (which he continuously munches on), he is an image straight out of western mythology. He is the gunslinger coming back to seek retribution. Through this, he fulfills a self imposed purpose and, metamorphoses now complete, he becomes the quintessential archetype. As Nietzsche wrote: “the spirit becomes a camel; and the camel, a lion; and the lion, finally a child.” In many ways, “Boss” is an old fashioned story told in a conventional way. It succeeds, despite its failings, because it exhibits an internal consistency that other genre films lack. Operatic in nature, with a distinct thematic honesty, “Boss” emphasizes self-reflection, innocence, fatefulness, coming of age and redemption.

This was Lee’s debut in a leading role, and it’s consistently his best acting. Gone is the apparent self consciousness that dominated his role in the “Longstreet” television pilot (shot only a few months earlier) and replacing it is a more subtle moment to moment performance that’s become the staple of western cinema. In fact, it’s his most Western performance in his most Eastern film - due to Lee not having yet fully committed himself to the Asian style of representational acting. Lee's looks also played a pivotal role in his appeal: his appearance belied his 30 years of age, making him look almost ten years younger. His Beatles-esque hairstyle was very distinct in his own way; simple, rich of movement, and it made him look boyish and manly at the same time. Lee definitely had an aura radiating a strong James Dean quality to him, but it’s fair to say he was certainly underrated as an actor.

”Boss” gives us a taste of Lee’s dramatic capabilities. Most revealing is a moment that occurs towards the finale: Cheng sits by the river stream, contemplating his past and the inner pain of his soul. As the camera slowly moves in on his face, we see Bruce Lee look up to the sky, prophetically catching a glimpse of the future - the ascension of his star and, ultimately, his own (im)mortality.

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Great review on my favorite Bruce Lee of all.

Your observation of Bruce Lee likened to Nietzsche's Overman is one I agree with. As a long time reader and admirer of Nietzsche's work, Bruce Lee without question epitomizes the Overman in every way. His journey of self-discovery and self-betterment took multiple forms, as an actor, martial artist, body builder, philosopher and more. Nothing came easy to him and he overcame many obstacles, coming out the other side stronger and better for it. He defied convention and tradition, he pushed his own limits and transcended them. Through his struggles and triumphs, he creates a life worth admiring and aspiring to and his values and teachings have influenced generations of people from all walks of life since his passing. One of my favorite quotes of Lee's is, "The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering." In a short 32 years on this planet, he accomplishes this...

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Good review lonesome space.

 

I can still recall the first time I caught this movie. I bought it as part of a box set with The Legend & Game Of Death. I wasn't too impressed by it at first because so much was missing from the film in the U.K. Not only had it been pre-cut for the international release but the U.K censors toned it down further.

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1 hour ago, Phantom Dreamer said:

Does Pink Floyd receive royalties from this film since one of their songs is used in one of the versions?

I've read here and there that the usage of Pink Floyd music on the 1983 Cantonese release was completely unauthorized. The US Shout Factory DVD/Blu-ray release from 2013 features a Cantonese mono track, but all of the Pink Floyd tracks have been replaced with the usual Peter Thomas music cues from other sections of the film. This also applies to the sole King Crimson track (Larks Tongue in Aspic is the name of the track, I think?).

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Good review lonesome space, makes me want to re-watch the film. It's some years since I sat through the whole movie. I wonder how much of the footage filmed by the first director was used in the final version?.

There's a very brief shot featured in one of the public domain prints, that does not appear in any official release. It shows James Tien and Lee's character running towards the workers at the ice factory. There's a lot of print damage during this clip, which maybe why they removed it fro other releases?.

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11 minutes ago, DragonClaws said:

Good review lonesome space, makes me want to re-watch the film. It's some years since I sat through the whole movie. I wonder how much of the footage filmed by the first director was used in the final version?.

There's a very brief shot featured in one of the public domain prints, that does not appear in any official release. It shows James Tien and Lee's character running towards the workers at the ice factory. There's a lot of print damage during this clip, which maybe why they removed it fro other releases?.

There are plenty of promotional pictures from pre-existing scenes that were presumably remade by Lo Wei after he took over the helm from Ng Kar-seung, such as the final battle at the Boss's mansion, which features sequences that doesn't seem to be available elsewhere besides from said promo pics.

As for the very brief shot you brought up..........I already kind of mentioned this on the 'Too Young To Die (Documentary)' thread, but I got into contact with a few people who claim they've watched, as young lads, a VERY uncut rendition of the Big Boss in the early 80's UK VHS release by Rank Video. From what I've been told, it included scene extensions that were not available even in the 1979 London showing. There's a chance the shot you mentioned is included in this release. I'd also assume the version of the film you mentioned buying (as part of a box set) was long before the Video Nasties ban, correct?

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8 minutes ago, lonesome space said:

I'd also assume the version of the film you mentioned buying (as part of a box set) was long before the Video Nasties ban, correct?

The version I picked up was the U.K theatrical print, with additional cuts for the home video release. Released after the creation of the video recording act. I've always been under the impression that the Rank pre-cert tape was the censored UK theatrical print, minus the additional video cuts made years later. The pre-cert for Way Of The Dragon was the same, not as heavily cut as later releases, but still cut if you follow me?. Fist Of Fury and Enter The Dragon were released UNCUT on pre-cert.

13 minutes ago, lonesome space said:

There are plenty of promotional pictures from pre-existing scenes that were presumably remade by Lo Wei after he took over the helm from Ng Kar-seung, such as the final battle at the Boss's mansion, which features sequences that doesn't seem to be available elsewhere besides from said promo pics.

Some are promo pictures, while others I'm not so sure about. That fight Cheng has with the Boss's remaining men always looked a bit choppy to me.

 

14 minutes ago, lonesome space said:

I already kind of mentioned this on the 'Too Young To Die (Documentary)' thread, but I got into contact with a few people who claim they've watched, as young lads, a VERY uncut rendition of the Big Boss in the early 80's UK VHS release by Rank Video.

I heard about this elusive tape for years, it was a rumor that went around even before the internet. Recall somebody wirintg into IMPACT magazine about the exact same thing.

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11 minutes ago, DragonClaws said:

The version I picked up was the U.K theatrical print, with additional cuts for the home video release. Released after the creation of the video recording act. I've always been under the impression that the Rank pre-cert tape was the censored UK theatrical print, minus the additional video cuts made years later. The pre-cert for Way Of The Dragon was the same, not as heavily cut as later releases, but still cut if you follow me?. Fist Of Fury and Enter The Dragon were released UNCUT on pre-cert.

I believe Rank Video re-released the Big Boss and other movies several times to comply with the new soccer mom laws that were getting passed by the UK parliament, but being a non-Britisher, I'm no expert on that matter. I was also told that FOF was indeed released uncut and was even show pics of it; for what it's worth, that copy is not as "rare" as the BB one I described.

14 minutes ago, DragonClaws said:

Some are promo pictures, while others I'm not so sure about. That fight Cheng has with the Boss's remaining men always looked a bit choppy to me.

It is very choppy indeed, at least in the current prints. Cheng actually breaks the back of one of the thugs with his knee, which is not too different from what Bruce would do later on with Game of Death.

I recall that way back in 2013 the Preserved Dragons facebook page came up with a very plausible theory: Cheng's forearm was to be severely wounded or outright sliced out by the Boss' knife. I don't know if this was intended by the first director or Lo Wei, but a remnant of the idea did remain in all current prints, when Cheng and the Boss made their 2nd high jump strike against each other; you can clearly see the Boss' knife grazing Cheng's arm, but nothing ever comes out of it for the remainder of the fight, not even a wound mark.

The same page also went into extensive detail with the bandage Bruce wore on his right hand for much of the movie. With a very few exceptions here and there and the entirety of the final fight (including the few re-shots they did while back in Hong Kong, of course), Bruce has the bandage for much of the movie, including his last visit to the brothel.

44 minutes ago, DragonClaws said:

I heard about this elusive tape for years, it was a rumor that went around even before the internet. Recall somebody wirintg into IMPACT magazine about the exact same thing.

Besides the small group that I talked to, there are quite a bit of people persistent about it, and I personally have no reason to believe they are lying or exaggerating about it, especially considering how secretive the making of BB is, along with the so-called collectors of rare footage who've contributed nothing besides stonewalling, but I digress.

If you want, I can make a brief list of scenes from the early 80's Rank pre-cent tape that aren't on the 1979 London screening. Keep in mind that, much like Jason's article on the whole Missing Boss topic, it'll be a "he said she said" kind of list, so it's okay to not take it at face value, as long as you're respectful about it.

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13 minutes ago, lonesome space said:

Cheng actually breaks the back of one of the thugs with his knee, which is not too different from what Bruce would do later on with Game of Death.

It wouldnt surprise me if there was more footage for that sequence, but I cant say if the above shot actually exists or not.

 

14 minutes ago, lonesome space said:

The same page also went into extensive detail with the bandage Bruce wore on his right hand for much of the movie. With a very few exceptions here and there and the entirety of the final fight (including the few re-shots they did while back in Hong Kong, of course), Bruce has the bandage for much of the movie, including his last visit to the brothel.

Bruce accidently cut himself on a broken glass while making the movie, the bandage has no connection to any cut scenes.

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Thank you, lonesome space, for sharing this thoroughly enjoyable, detailed & well-thought essay on the film that launched Bruce's career! Many through the years have, indeed, belittled ''THE BIG BOSS'' by comparing it unfavorably to Bruce's later efforts but it cannot be denied that Bruce's screen presence&charisma shine through. And as you also noted, Bruce's portrayal of Cheng Chao-an featured some of the man's finest acting. The film was much more comfortable with sexuality than any of Bruce's further films(in comparison to Cheng, Chen Zhen&Tang Lung were positively chaste...)Again, my friend, thanks for this thorough look at ''THE BIG BOSS''.:BL-4YouDaMan:

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11 minutes ago, DragonClaws said:

It wouldnt surprise me if there was more footage for that sequence, but I cant say if the above shot actually exists or not.

Ops, I forgot to add this scene was one of the many described to be from the uncut Rank tape :doh

12 minutes ago, DragonClaws said:

Bruce accidently cut himself on a broken glass while making the movie, the bandage has no connection to any cut scenes.

Oh, I know that Bruce cut himself IRL. I'm just saying that the bandage itself offers an interesting perspective on the order of the scenes shot for the movie, in a manner of speaking.

 

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19 hours ago, lonesome space said:

Ops, I forgot to add this scene was one of the many described to be from the uncut Rank tape :doh

Until you see any screen grabs, I'd take any stories abut the UNCUT Rank tape with pinch of salt. The version screened at the infamous 1979 BL convention, did not feature all the missing scenes. I'd say there might be a few different cuts of the film, but thats just a theory as I have nothing to back it up with.

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1 hour ago, DragonClaws said:

Until you see any screen grabs, I'd take any stories abut the UNCUT Rank tape with pinch of salt. The version screened at the infamous 1979 BL convention, did not feature all the missing scenes. I'd say there might be a few different cuts of the film, but thats just a theory as I have nothing to back it up with.

To each their own, I suppose. I personally have no trouble believing in the UNCUT Rank tape stories myself, because 1. There's still a lot of secrecy in regards to Behind-The-Scenes production of BB and 2. All the anecdotes regarding the 1979 London showing are usually a "he said she said" kind of thing, including Jason Heart's article on the whole matter. For what it's worth, the "peeping scene" from the final brothel visit sequence was apparently available in the Rank tape, and was even described to me in detail. That, along with the even more explicit acts of violence, are what let to the tape being included in the Video Nasties ban in the first place.

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15 minutes ago, lonesome space said:

That, along with the even more explicit acts of violence, are what let to the tape being included in the Video Nasties ban in the first place.

The Big Boss was never put on the video nasties list, there are few sites that list videos that were banned in the U.K during the early to mid 80's.  Non of the Bruce Lee movies are on the list. The censoring of scenes in Bruce Lee movies in the U.K, is a whole other seperate matter. Rank released the movies theatrically here, and they used the same prints for the video releases.

 

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For somebody who was present at that infamous 1979 Big Boss screening (yes I'm that old) I can say there was no "peeping" or saw scene in that print. As to a Rank video that showed extra scenes to the regular version, why would they do that? It make no sense whatsoever to release hundreds (thousands?) of vhs/beta tapes with the regular cut version out to video shops and then a few uncut tapes to....who exactly? It wasn't classed as a "video nasty", was never withdrawn and then re-released in cut form (like Fist of Fury & Enter the Dragon)...I have to say this urban legend is just that...an urban legend unless someone can produce the tape footage.:BL-IDontKnow:

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21 minutes ago, DragonClaws said:

The Big Boss was never put on the video nasties list, there are few sites that list videos that were banned in the U.K during the early to mid 80's.  Non of the Bruce Lee movies are on the list. The censoring of scenes in Bruce Lee movies in the U.K, is a whole other seperate matter. Rank released the movies theatrically here, and they used the same prints for the video releases.

 

Perhaps I worded it a bit too literally, and meant to say that that version of BB was labeled as a Video Nasty. You'll have to give me a benefit of a doubt on this one. Again, I'm a non-Britisher, so I'm not very knowledgeable about how the Video Nasty ordinance was carried out, other than the fact a lot of cheesy and cool 80s horror flicks were essentially gone from UK circulation.

18 minutes ago, shukocarl said:

For somebody who was present at that infamous 1979 Big Boss screening (yes I'm that old) I can say there was no "peeping" or saw scene in that print. 

Can you tell us how the entire brothel sequence played out? Sounds redundant to ask, I know, but Jason's article has all but 404'd it seems, and it would be cool to hear from someone who's actually been on the 1979 screening.

 

20 minutes ago, shukocarl said:

As to a Rank video that showed extra scenes to the regular version, why would they do that? It make no sense whatsoever to release hundreds (thousands?) of vhs/beta tapes with the regular cut version out to video shops and then a few uncut tapes to....who exactly? 

To the best of my knowledge, the Rank release in question was made as a video rental only to certain places in the UK. Sure, one could argue that it might've made no sense, but then again, VHS rights by country was a boondoggle mess of epic proportions. Even if one wouldn't take the Rank tape at face value, there's still the multiple reports of BB being made available with extra scenes on the same VHS format in the likes of Turkey, Mexico, and Brazil.

25 minutes ago, shukocarl said:

It wasn't classed as a "video nasty", was never withdrawn and then re-released in cut form (like Fist of Fury & Enter the Dragon)...I have to say this urban legend is just that...an urban legend unless someone can produce the tape footage.:BL-IDontKnow:

It's perfectly fine to demonstrate skepticism over this, but I don't think it's fair to outright dismiss it as Urban Legend. Stranger things have happened, as shown by the release of the GoD footage. Keep in mind that, were it not for the original mandarin trailers, the 1979 London showing would've easily been dismissed as myth, along with the entire Missing Boss Scenes topic as a whole.

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7 minutes ago, lonesome space said:

Perhaps I worded it a bit too literally, and meant to say that that version of BB was labeled as a Video Nasty

No version of the film was ever apart of the 72 movies banned here in the U.K in the early 80's.

Here's a link to a coy of the titles on the list.

IMDB - http://www.imdb.com/list/ls051364249/

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30 minutes ago, DragonClaws said:

No version of the film was ever apart of the 72 movies banned here in the U.K in the early 80's.

Here's a link to a coy of the titles on the list.

IMDB - http://www.imdb.com/list/ls051364249/

That's a fairly informative list, even if it's not necessarily official. In either case, I suppose I'll just have to assume that the Rank tape was affected by some other stingy UK law from it's time.

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On ‎12‎/‎04‎/‎2017 at 7:57 PM, lonesome space said:

Perhaps I worded it a bit too literally, and meant to say that that version of BB was labeled as a Video Nasty. You'll have to give me a benefit of a doubt on this one. Again, I'm a non-Britisher, so I'm not very knowledgeable about how the Video Nasty ordinance was carried out, other than the fact a lot of cheesy and cool 80s horror flicks were essentially gone from UK circulation.

Can you tell us how the entire brothel sequence played out? Sounds redundant to ask, I know, but Jason's article has all but 404'd it seems, and it would be cool to hear from someone who's actually been on the 1979 screening.

 

To the best of my knowledge, the Rank release in question was made as a video rental only to certain places in the UK. Sure, one could argue that it might've made no sense, but then again, VHS rights by country was a boondoggle mess of epic proportions. Even if one wouldn't take the Rank tape at face value, there's still the multiple reports of BB being made available with extra scenes on the same VHS format in the likes of Turkey, Mexico, and Brazil.

It's perfectly fine to demonstrate skepticism over this, but I don't think it's fair to outright dismiss it as Urban Legend. Stranger things have happened, as shown by the release of the GoD footage. Keep in mind that, were it not for the original mandarin trailers, the 1979 London showing would've easily been dismissed as myth, along with the entire Missing Boss Scenes topic as a whole.

The brothel scene played out like this...Lee goes to the brothel to look for Malalene, finds she isn't there (she's dead remember), and is seen by the other prostitute who asks him to stay...the go down the corridor to a room and they both get undressed (seen in the early trailer), the girl gets on the bed and from her point of view we see Lee get on top of her, in a jump cut he gets up and is putting on his shirt, he picks up the crackers from a table and exits the brothel, the next shot has him arriving at the mansion.

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8 minutes ago, lonesome space said:

That's a fairly informative list, even if it's not necessarily official.

It's a copy of the official list, the British censors only cut the standard theatrical version, not the extended print.

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21 minutes ago, shukocarl said:

The brothel scene played out like this...Lee goes to the brothel to look for Malalene, finds she isn't there (she's dead remember), and is seen by the other prostitute who asks him to stay...the go down the corridor to a room and they both get undressed (seen in the early trailer), the girl gets on the bed and from her point of view we see Lee get on top of her, in a jump cut he gets up and is putting on his shirt, he picks up the crackers from a table and exits the brothel, the next shot has him arriving at the mansion.

Thank you for the response....from what I remember from reading Jason's article and a few other sources, it was Cheng (Bruce Lee) who actually selected the prostitute with the red sweater from the bench, rather than having her convince him to stay as you described it, much akin to what Malalene did on the previous brothel scene the night before. Interesting that his character actually hesitated with getting "some" at first.

Just to clear out any confusion, here is the shot above in question. Maybe the actual scene played out differently on the 1979 London showcase?

81527616_o.jpg

Also, do you recall any more lewdness from the entire brothel sequence, besides from what was already show on the mandarin trailers? You mentioned that there was a brief shot of Cheng getting on top of the prostitute, so I'd assume he was shown naked from behind, whilst there was a more "wholesome" view of the lady of the night both before and during the when she's asleep in bed.

13 minutes ago, DragonClaws said:

It's a copy of the official list, the British censors only cut the standard theatrical version, not the extended print.

I'll take your word for it then. Not that I have much of a choice considering I've never been subjected to UK prints with no nunchakus haha.

Edited by lonesome space

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