The Big Boss on DVD

by MJ Wayland

“One of the bloodiest and most brutal films of Bruce Lee’s career,” The Big Boss (aka Fist Of Fury) was actually conceived as a star project for co-star James Tien until the pair swapped roles when director Ng Gar Seung was replaced with Wei Lo. Due to this mid-production switch some scenes have obviously been reshot, this makes for a bumpy narrative structure which will no doubt disappoint diehard Lee fans, he doesn’t even show off his fighting skills for the first 45 minutes.

The plot revolves around an enigmatic loner named Cheng Chao-an (Lee), who moves to Thailand and takes residence with his cousins, eventually finding work in an ice factory. Suspicions are aroused when two co-workers go missing under curious circumstances and the foreman refuses to cooperate.

Some incredulous plotting often makes it hard to determine Cheng’s true nature (an overnight drinking binge followed by a visit to a whorehouse feels particularly unrealistic) and as his relationships are never fully fleshed out. Because of this the interminably protracted mystery never carries much dramatic weight. When the film finally remembers what it’s about; kung-fu action, it also slightly disappoints, as there’s little variation in the fight choreography and some comic stunts feel tonally misplaced, not least Cheng’s superhuman jumping abilities, which come in useful during a silly stand-off with a pack of dogs.

The final fight, thankfully, does pack some heft, as Ying-Chieh Han (playing ‘The Boss’) proves a formidable opponent, but the action is still hindered by some uneven editing and questionable wirework. The Big Boss is certainly a colourful spectacle, but it’s undoubtedly one of the weaker entries in Lee’s work and as such should be approached with caution.

Hong Kong Legends are an ever-reliable distributor when it comes to packing their discs with extras and this one is no exception. Alongside the usual slew of international trailers (including an uncut 8mm), stills galleries and interviews (three dry, informative talking heads) there’s also a commentary from Bruce Lee experts Andrew Staton and Will Johnston which is interesting, although nowhere near as comprehensive as Bey Logan’s commentaries for Hong Kong Legends. A definitive package.

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