The Big Boss

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"Fists of Fury" redirects here. For the 1972 film, see Fist of Fury.
This article is about the film starring Bruce Lee. For other uses, see Big Boss (disambiguation).
The Big Boss
TheBigBossposter.JPG
Hong Kong movie poster
Traditional 唐山大兄
Simplified 唐山大兄
Mandarin Táng Shān Dà Xiōng
Cantonese Tong4 Saan1 Daai6 Hing1
Directed by Lo Wei
Produced by Raymond Chow
Written by Bruce Lee
Lo Wei
Starring Bruce Lee
Maria Yi
James Tien
Yin-chieh Han
Tony Liu
Music by Wang Fu-ling
Cinematography Chan Ching Kui
Edited by Sung Ming
Distributed by Golden Harvest
Release dates
  • 3 October 1971 (1971-10-03)
Running time
110 minutes
Country Hong Kong
Language Mandarin
Cantonese
Box office HK $3,197,417
North America:
$2,800,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[1]

The Big Boss (Chinese: 唐山大兄, also known as Fists Of Fury) is a 1971 Hong Kong martial arts action film written and directed by Lo Wei, with assistance from Bruce Lee. It stars Lee, Maria Yi, James Tien and Tony Liu. Bruce Lee's first major film, it was written for James Tien. However, Lee's strong performance overshadowed Tien, already a star in Hong Kong, and made Bruce Lee famous across Asia.

Plot[edit]

Cheng Chao-an is a Chinese man from mainland China who moves to Thailand to live with his cousins and works in an ice factory. When a block of ice is accidentally broken, a bag of white powder falls out. Two of Cheng's cousins are asked to see the manager. The factory is really a front for a drug smuggling ring led by Hsiao Mi, also known as the Big Boss. When they refuse to cooperate, they are killed and their bodies disposed of.

Hsu Chien and another cousin go to Hsiao Mi's house to find out what happened to the two cousins. When Hsiao Mi claims he does not know what happened to them, Hsu Chien suspects that Hsiao Mi is hiding something and threatens to go to the police. Hsiao Mi has the duo killed before they can leave the house. When the workers at the ice factory learn that Hsu Cheng is missing as well, they start to riot. To ease tensions, Hsiao Mi now makes Cheng a foreman, providing him with alcohol and prostitutes. Sun, one of the prostitutes, had sex with Cheng the night he was drunk at Hsiao Mi's party, and she tells Cheng the truth. Immediately after Cheng leaves, Hsiao Mi's son, Hsiao Chiun, sneaks in and kills Sun by throwing a knife at her heart. Sun's body is disposed of in the ice factory, just as Cheng's cousins were. The next night, Cheng breaks into the factory and finds the bodies. However, he is discovered by the gangsters.

Cheng fights his way out, killing Hsiao Chiun and many gangsters in the process. He returns home to find that almost all of his family have been murdered, while Chiao Mei has gone missing. Cheng exacts revenge by killing Hsiao Mi in a final fight. Once he knows that Chiao Mei is safe, he surrenders to the Thai police when they arrive at Hsiao Mi's house.

Cast[edit]

Original Mandarin cut[edit]

When the film was released in 1971 in Hong Kong, it included scenes that were later removed from all the mainstream versions. This was a result of the "1972 Hong Kong movie censorship crackdown", when martial arts films were censored for extreme violence and explicit content. The Big Boss originally included graphic scenes of two bodies being cut in half with a circular saw, an artery cut with a knife causing blood to spew from Hsu Chien's forehead, and a depiction of an enemy killed by "vertical partial cranial laceration" with a hand saw thrust by Cheng.

However, when these cuts were asked to be made, editors also took the opportunity to cut out full sequences, most likely to increase the pacing of the film. These were the scenes that were cut:

  1. The first confirmed missing scene takes place after Cheng Chao-an and Hsiu Chien have beaten the six men from the casino. As they are walking down an alley, one of the remaining men appears, lights a cart of coal on fire and attempts to run them over with it. However, Hsiu grabs Cheng and they leap onto the side of a wall to avoid it.
    • A large number of photos from this missing scene were featured as an easter egg on the original "Hong Kong Legends" DVD.
  2. The next missing scene took place soon after the first. Cheng and Hsiu have returned home, and Hsiu doesn't hesitate to tell the other cousins all about what happened, right down to acting out a dramatization of the fight using Ah Kun as an example. The scene ends with Chiao Mei entering, presumably telling everyone that they need to get to bed.
    • Footage of Hsiu giving his example has appears in the original Mandarin trailer, and a still exists of the part in which Mei enters.
  3. The third takes place right after the stock footage sunrise shot. Cheng and his uncle get ready to leave for the ferry, Chiao Mei seeing them off with two small glasses of tea. They have their drinks, say their goodbyes and leave. The scene ends with Chiao Mei looking off as they leave.
    • The final shot, of Chiao Mei looking off after Cheng and his uncle as they leave, is present in the mainstream cuts. The deletion of Cheng and his uncle's departure makes it seem like she's simply watching the sunrise. In the mainstream cuts, when Mei knocks on the front door to wake everyone up, she can be seen her holding a tray with two empty glasses on it. A still of this scene exists as well.
  4. The next scene somehow involves Cheng and the girl who owns the drinkstand, played by Nora Miao.
    • This is one of three deleted scenes from the film that appear in the Mandarin trailer, but it remains unknown what took place in the full scene.
  5. The next cut is this first one involving violence, in which the first two cousins, Chen and Wong, are killed. In the mainstream cuts, the scene starts with Chen being killed with a hatchet to the head and Wong being killed with a knife to the stomach. Their bodies are taken to the circular saws, Wong's being the first to be cut. The mainstream versions end with the saw just reaching Wong's back, and then jump cuts to the ice containers being lowered into the freezer. It's been said that the original version shows Wong being cut completely in half with the saw, as well as various shots of the Thai foremen placing the severed limbs of Chen and Wong into the ice containers.
    • While no visible proof has been presented to substantiate these claims, in the edited Mandarin versions a jump cut in the music can clearly be heard where the cuts most likely took place.
  6. The next cut, which is a very short one, is when Hsiu's forehead is cut by Hsiao Chiun's knife. In the mainstream versions, the scene plays out with Hsiao Chiun leaping over Hsiu with his knife and then cuts to a shot of Chiun standing up, still holding the knife. However, in the uncut print, after Chiun has leapt over Hsiu, Hsiu's wound is clearly visible as he stumbles back with a gush of blood literally pouring from the top of his forehead.
    • This shot was previously only visible in a rare Spanish trailer for the film, which was only likely to be possessed by the most ardent collectors of Bruce Lee footage. However, the new Hong Kong Legends Platinum Edition DVD features a slightly better quality and full 2.35 widescreen version of the shot (as pictured).
  7. The next cut, and most recently acknowledged one, takes place during the banquet when Cheng Chao-an becomes drunk. In the regular prints, he sees Wu Mang (the prostitute), his vision blurs, and then he hallucinates, seeing Chiao Mei standing where Wu Mang was. However, according to the audio commentary on the Hong Kong Legends platinum edition DVD of the film, before he sees Chiao Mei, he first hallucinates and sees Wu Mang standing there topless. However, there is currently no visible proof in backing up this claim, only another eyewitness report.
  8. The next cut is from the scene in which Cheng investigates in the icehouse at night. While we see him discover a severed hand and a disembodied head, as well as the remains of Hsiu, apparently the scene was longer. One shot included a deformed face, caused by some type of trauma.
    • This shot was included in the aforementioned Spanish trailer as well.
  9. The next cut is the most widely known: the infamous "saw-in-the-head" shot. Despite the popularity of this shot, it is now known that the scene itself was never fully completed to satisfaction. The shot was made up of a crudely put together animation and just did not look good for the movie's producers, hence why it was never shown in any of the post-premier broadcasts. However, many people believe it was "reverse animation" in which a prop handsaw was created with a gap to put on the stuntman's head, and then Lee would quickly pull the prop off. Then, in post production it would be reversed to create the illusion of the saw going into his head. While print of the shot is said to no longer exist, two completely different images of the shot do. One is a forty-five degree angled shot while the other (and more gruesome) one is a side shot (as pictured). The latter was most widely seen in the Bruce Lee documentary, Curse of the Dragon.
  10. The next cut takes place when Cheng arrives back home, only to find his remaining cousins murdered. The only shot that known to be missing is an extended shot of Ah Shan's dead body covered in blood.
    • The mainstream cuts simply cut away once Cheng has lifted Shan's mosquito net, but a jump cut in the music can be heard where the cut takes place.
  11. The next cut takes place when Cheng is sitting by the creek, involving superimposed shots of his dead cousins as Cheng looks into the creek. While the mainstream version shows a "group photo" style shot of the cousins, supposedly extra shots explicitly show their dead bodies. No full details have ever been released on what the images looked like.
  12. The next takes place during the same scene as the above, right after Cheng throws his possessions into the water. In the mainstream cuts, he simply looks up at the sky, then Cheng is shown running away. However, in the original print, Cheng raises his fist into proclaiming that he will get revenge.
    • In the mainstream cuts, just before Cheng runs off, we see his fist raised out of nowhere.
  13. The next cut is another entirely deleted scene, and another popular (and controversial) one alongside of the "saw-in-the-head" scene. Between the time Cheng runs from the river to the boss' mansion, he runs into the town and stops outside the brothel. He pauses for a moment and decides to go in. Inside, he pays some money to someone behind a counter, and goes upstairs to where the sex slaves are sitting. Here, he picks up a Thai prostitute in a red sweater-type dress (seen in the background the second time Cheng visits the brothel), and they go to the same room where he had slept with Sun Wuman two nights before. The prostitute closes the curtains and tries to touch Cheng, only to be roughly pushed onto the bed; the two then completely strip off their clothes. Cheng stands in front of the bed, completely nude, but also completely emotionless. The scene apparently fades out at this point, and when it fades back in, Cheng is putting his final article of clothing back on while the prostitute lies asleep. Cheng then takes out all of his money and lays it down on her stomach, presumably because he will not need it anymore if he dies. As he's about to leave, he grabs a bag of prawn crackers, which he is seen carrying and eating when he finally arrives at the mansion later on.
    • The above scene is described in eyewitness reports and corroborated by a short amount of footage in the rare Mandarin trailer. Its existence is also acknowledged in separate interviews by both Bruce Lee and Lo Wei. The scene, with Cheng at the brothel, was supposed to explain that he thought he was going to die while trying to seek revenge, hence why he chooses to enjoy his last desires with another prostitute, and eat the crackers as his last supper. However, the scene did not fare well with audiences in test screenings, so the scene was cut, only to be present in the original version that premiered in Hong Kong.
  14. Supposedly, there is at least one more cut in the finale after Hsiao Mi slashes Cheng's stomach. As with the fight with Hsiao Chiun, Cheng tastes his own blood. However, there's been little proof to back this deleted shot.

Most of the these presumably-lost scenes were present in a print shown in London in 1979 as part of a Bruce Lee film festival, with the exception of the "saw-in-the-head" shot. Nowadays, the deleted shots and scenes exist in the eyes of the public only as still photos or quick snippets of footage in trailers, though there are supposedly collectors who possess copies of the footage, but such reports have yet to be confirmed as of 2015. Presumably due to copyright issues, it remains unknown when the original version will see a release in home media.

Alternative title confusion[edit]

When The Big Boss was being prepared for American distribution, it was to be retitled The Chinese Connection, a play on the popular The French Connection, since both dealt with drug trafficking. The title of Lee's second film, Fist of Fury, was to be identical, except for being Fists of Fury. However, the titles were accidentally reversed. The Big Boss was released as Fists of Fury and Fist of Fury became The Chinese Connection. Film purists refer to the films by their original titles. Recent American TV showings and the official US DVD release from Twentieth Century-Fox have restored the original titles of all Bruce Lee films.

Alternative music scores[edit]

Unlike other Lee films, The Big Boss is unique in having not only two, but three completely different music scores. Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon, and Game of Death all only feature one score with minor alterations.

The first music score for it was composed by Wang Fu-ling, who worked on films such as The Chinese Boxer and One-Armed Swordsman. This was made for the Mandarin language version and the first English and French version. It similar to other martial arts movie scores, especially the Shaw Brothers films. Wang was the only one to receive credit, but it is also believed composer Chen Yung-yu assisted with the score. At least one cue from Japanese composer Akira Ifukube's scores for the Daimajin trilogy of films was also utilized as stock music.

The second and most popular of the music scores was by German composer Peter Thomas. This did not become widely known until 2005, when most of the music he composed for the film appeared on iTunes in a Big Boss collection. Thomas's involvement stems from a complete reworking of the English version of the film. The early version featured the British voice actors who worked on all Shaw Brothers films and used Wang Fu-ling's score. It was decided to make a new English version that would stand out from the other martial arts films. New actors were brought in to voice the film in English, and Peter Thomas (composer) re-scored the film, abandoning Wang Fu-ling's music. The German dubbed version features his score, especially in the German title of the film in the iTunes compilation.

The third score is the 1983 Cantonese release score, which primarily features music from Golden Harvest composer Joseph Koo. However, a good portion of Joseph Koo's music in the Cantonese version was originally created in 1974 for the Japanese theatrical release of The Big Boss, which was half Koo's music and half Peter Thomas'. Golden Harvest simply took Koo's music from the Japanese version and added it to the Cantonese version. Aside from this, this version is most infamous for its use of the Pink Floyd music cues "Time" and "Obscured by Clouds", as well as King Crimson's "Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part Two".

Other actors as Bruce Lee playing Cheng Chao-an[edit]

Various Bruce Lee biopics have been filmed over the years, with the two most famous being Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Both of these films feature their respective actors, Bruce Li and Jason Scott Lee, at one point acting as Lee on the set of The Big Boss. Both films feature a variation of the rumor that Lee was challenged on the set by a Thai boxer. In Myth, Lee was challenged on set and was caught in the middle of an ambush later on off the set. In Dragon, Lee is challenged during an actual take during filming of The Big Boss, wearing the trademark rolled up long sleeve white T-shirt, white sash, and black pants. Both of these are highly exaggerated accounts (not to mention that Dragon makes the mistake of saying that filming for The Big Boss began in July 1970 rather than in July 1971), as the story told is that Lee merely discusses martial arts with a Thai fighter on the set. Besides these two examples, a third Bruce Lee biopic, The Legend of Bruce Lee, this time with Danny Chan Kwok Kwan as Lee and filmed in mini-series form, was shown in Hong Kong in 2008 as part of China's hosting of the summer Olympics. Once again, this biopic shown Lee encountering a Thai boxer on the set of The Big Boss, this time with the challenger being played by martial arts film veteran Mark Dacascos. Photos and behind-the-scenes video of this scene have appeared on various websites, including Dacascos's official site.

Release[edit]

  • Upon its release The Big Boss became the highest-grossing film in the history of Hong Kong and remained unsurpassed until Bruce Lee's second film, Fist of Fury.
  • When the film was released in the United States, the death of Hsiao Mi, "The Boss", was cut down to him simply being stabbed in the chest with a knife in order to receive an "R" rating. The original version of his death, which not only shows an explicit close-up of the knife in his chest but Cheng Chao-an's fingers piercing his rib cage and blood flowing from under his shirt, would have given the film an "X" rating. Ironically, the first time this scene was shown in the US was when it played on cable channel AMC in July 2004.
  • Columbia pictures released the film as a re-issue in 1978 and again re-issued it with Fist Of Fury as a studio sanctioned double feature in February 1981.
  • Miramax acquired rights from Golden Harvest to distribute The Big Boss on Television & Streaming it on Hulu & Netflix including Bruce Lee The Legend (1977) & Game Of Death (1978).

VHS releases[edit]

4 Front (United Kingdom)

  • Released: 17 March 1997
  • Classification: 18

4 Front(United Kingdom)

  • Released: 1 October 2001
  • Part of a boxset
  • Classification: 18

20th Century Fox (America)

  • Released: 21 May 2002
  • Named Fists of Fury
  • Classification: R, X (known in some video releases)
  • Color: NTSC
  • Run time: 99 minutes

DVD releases[edit]

Universe (Hong Kong)

  • Aspect ratio: Widescreen (2:35:1) letterboxed
  • Sound: Cantonese (Dolby Digital 5.1), Mandarin (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: Traditional, Simplified Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese
  • Supplements: Trailer, trailers for Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon, Game of Death, Legacy of Rage, star files
  • All regions, NTSC

Mega Star (Hong Kong)

  • Aspect ratio: Widescreen (2:29:1)
  • Sound: Cantonese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Dual Mono), Mandarin (Dolby Digital 2.0 Dual Mono)
  • Subtitles: Traditional, Simplified Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean
  • Supplements: Trailer, synopsis, cast and Crew biographies
  • All regions, NTSC

Fortune Star – Bruce Lee Ultimate DVD Collection (Hong Kong)

  • Released: 29 April 2004
  • Aspect ratio: Widescreen (2:35:1) anamorphic
  • Sound: Cantonese (DTS 5.1), Cantonese (Dolby Digital 5.1), Cantonese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), Mandarin (DTS 5.1), Mandarin (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: Traditional, Simplified Chinese, English
  • Supplements: Original trailer, new trailer, still photos, slideshow of photos, celebrity interviews, unseen footage, Game of Death outtakes, Enter the Dragon alternate opening, 32-page booklet
  • Region 3, NTSC

Fox (America)

  • Released: 21 May 2002
  • Aspect ratio: Widescreen (2:27:1) letterboxed
  • Sound: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Supplements: None
  • Region 1, NTSC

Fox – Bruce Lee Ultimate Collection (America)

  • Released: 18 October 2005
  • Aspect ratio: Widescreen (2:35:1) anamorphic
  • Sound: Cantonese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), Manadarin (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), English (DTS 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Supplements: Original trailer, new trailer, still photos, slideshow of photos, interview with Tung Wai, bonus trailers
  • Region 1, NTSC

Hong Kong Legends – Special Collector's Edition (United Kingdom)

  • Released: 6 November 2000
  • Aspect ratio: Widescreen (2:35:1) anamorphic
  • Sound: Cantonese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Dual Mono), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Dual Mono)
  • Subtitles: English, Dutch
  • Supplements: Commentary by Bey Logan, production photo gallery, animated biography showcase of Bruce Lee with voice over, original Mandarin trailer, Hong Kong promotional trailer, UK promotional trailer, bonus trailers
  • Region 2, PAL

Hong Kong Legends – Platinum Edition (United Kingdom)

  • Released: 23 October 2006
  • Aspect ratio: Widescreen (2:35:1) anamorphic
  • Sound: Cantonese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), Cantonese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Dual Mono), English (2.0 Dual Mono)
  • Subtitles: English, Dutch
  • Supplements: Disc 1: Commentary by Andrew Staton and Will Johnston, bonus trailers; Disc 2: UK platinum trailer, UK promotional trailer, original Mandarin trailer, Hong Kong promotional trailer, rare uncut 8mm UK trailer, original 35mm UK title sequence, textless 35mm title sequence, original lobby cards, "Paul Weller: Breaking the West", "Fred Weintraub: A Rising Star", "Tom Kuhn: What Might Have Been", "The History of The Big Boss: A Photographic Retrospective", "Deleted Scenes Examined: The Story of the Elusive Original Uncut Print", animated biography showcase of Bruce Lee with voice over, DVD credits
  • Region 2, PAL

Blu-ray Disc release[edit]

Kam & Ronson (Hong Kong)

  • Released: 6 August 2009
  • Aspect ratio: Widescreen (2:35:1)
  • Sound: Cantonese (DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1), Cantonese (Dolby True HD 7.1), Mandarin (Dolby Digital EX 6.1), Thai (Dolby Digital EX 6.1)
  • Subtitles: Traditional Chinese, English, Thai
  • Supplements: Tung Wai interview
  • Region A

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19

External links[edit]