The Big Boss (Fists of Fury) (1971)
The Big Boss (Fists of Fury) (1971)

Genre: Martial Arts Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.

Release Date: October 3rd, 1971 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Wei Lo Actors: Bruce Lee, Maria Yi, James Tien, Malalene, Ying-Chieh Han, Tony Liu, Quin Lee

 


 

C

heng Chao-an (Bruce Lee) and his Uncle Lu (Chia-Cheng Tu) arrive in Thailand to visit their relatives and to arrange work. About a minute after they get off the boat and grab a cold drink at a small beverage stand, a gang of bullies starts harassing the young woman running it (Mao Ke-hsiu) and steals rice cakes from a small peddling boy. Unfortunately, the elderly uncle has made Cheng promise not to fight (despite his knowledge in martial arts) and to mind his own business. The eventual rescuer is Hsiu Chien (James Tien), the relative whom the uncle was scheduled to meet. Later that night, he proceeds to do further admirable deeds – including giving gambling-addicted Ping and his crying wife a bit of money to get food, while also beating back thugs sent from the crooked betting establishment.

After the uncle introduces Cheng to the manager of an ice factory and arranges employment, he journeys back home to China. The gruff, abusive foreman (Chen Chao) presents an initial botheration; but other, more serious problems arise when one of the ice chutes breaks, revealing dope stashed in the frozen blocks. The corrupt manager (Tso Chen) regularly orchestrates payoffs, drug smuggling, and killings – leading to two of Chien’s cousins, poor but honest country workers, to be murdered, dismembered, and hidden in the ice (what a terrible place to conceal anything!) when they refuse to take a bribe to keep quiet. Infuriated, Chien goes to the enormous, luxurious house of the top boss, Hsiao Mi (Ying-Chieh Han), to confront him about the disappearances, but is attacked and slain by hordes of ruthless henchmen. The remaining factory laborers threaten to leave unless the vanished men are returned, resulting in a brawl between all of the workers and the employers – made more destructive and dramatic when a busload of assailants arrive to force the company back into operation.

During most of the initial martial arts action, Cheng is, almost hilariously, forced to stand idly by. Ridiculously goofy musical cues denote when Cheng must stand down and when he is finally allowed to lash out – unsubtly signified by the smashing of his mother’s charm worn around his neck, intended to remind him of his oath not to scuffle. Tien actually stars in the first several skirmishes, getting to heroically show off his moves, which mostly just increases anticipation for Bruce Lee’s inevitable unleashing of his own signature maneuvers. Although they don’t commence until approximately halfway into the film, his various fights continue to transition into other fight scenes – with more formidable combatants paving the way to the big boss. This first starring feature for Bruce Lee has more blood spilled than his most successful (and last) martial arts epic “Enter the Dragon,” with almost every protagonist getting slaughtered at some point, until Lee is essentially the last man standing.

It also includes a humorous preoccupation with coaching people not to fight; the comically awkward romance with Chow Mei (Maria Yi), the only girl living in the house with him; Cheng getting drunk on Hennessy; Miss Wuman (Marilyn Bautista) oddly trying to seduce him while he’s unconscious; and lively, jazzy, saxophone and electric guitar-infused music to spice up the fight choreography. The soundtrack is wildly inappropriate more often than not. And the antagonists are designed to be particularly vile, with the boss’ son (Tony Liu) tasked with kidnapping young women for his father. But as is common with these films, comeuppance is fittingly brutal.

The story is largely pointless, full of irrational decisions by unthinking, broadly drawn stereotypes, and ultimately used as a meager setup for grand melees – which break out every ten minutes, though this is not nearly often enough. Mi inanely continues to execute anyone who wishes to speak to him, and puts on a grossly phony act of pretending to search for his victims when confronted by subsequent men following up on the rapidly increasing list of missing persons. But the final showdown is undeniably amusing, with Lee’s unwavering assuredness in every punch and kick delivering an inspirational message in efficiently avenging wickedness.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10