The Big Boss

  • 1971
  • Movie
  • R
  • Action, Martial Arts

Bruce Lee had his first starring role in this efficient, low-budget kung-fu action film that helped change the look of martial arts movies. Cheng (Bruce Lee) goes to Bangkok to live with his uncle and cousins, one of whom is the beautiful Chow Mei (Maria Yi), who takes an instant liking to him. His family gets him a job at the local ice factory where they...read more

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Bruce Lee had his first starring role in this efficient, low-budget kung-fu action film that helped change the look of martial arts movies.

Cheng (Bruce Lee) goes to Bangkok to live with his uncle and cousins, one of whom is the beautiful Chow Mei (Maria Yi), who takes an instant liking to him. His family gets him a job at the local ice factory where they all work. When some of their coworkers discover criminal activity at the factory, they "disappear" and two of Cheng's cousins go to the house of the big boss, Mi (Han Ying-chieh), and question him. A fight ensues, and Cheng's cousins are killed by Mi's henchmen. The next day, the workers threaten to strike unless they get some answers from the factory manager, and

they're attacked by a gang of thugs. Cheng, who had promised his mother not to fight, tries to stay neutral, but finally joins in after getting cut, and single-handedly demolishes the gang with his martial arts skills. The manager makes Cheng foreman to appease the workers and arranges a meeting

with Mi, but instead takes Cheng to a brothel, gets him drunk, and gives him one of Mi's prostitutes for the night.

In the morning, Cheng goes to see Mi, who sics his killer dogs on him. Cheng goes back to the brothel, and the prostitute tells him that Mi's ice factory is actually a front for a drug-running operation. Mi's gang kidnaps Chow Mei, and Cheng goes to the factory and finds bags of heroin inside the

ice cakes, and also discovers the frozen corpses of his cousins and the other missing men. Mi's son catches Cheng and attacks him, but Cheng kills him and about a dozen other men. Cheng goes home and discovers that Chow Mei is missing, and the rest of his family has been brutally massacred. He

goes to Mi's house for a final showdown, and after a long fight, kills him. Chow Mei escapes, the police arrive, and Cheng surrenders.

After failing to hit it big in Hollywood in the late 1960s, despite memorable appearances in TV's "The Green Hornet" and the feature-film MARLOWE (1969), a dejected Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong and made this cheap (about $100,000) kung fu movie. By any objective criteria, FISTS OF FURY is a

routine exploitation movie, replete with a rudimentary revenge plot, hilariously bad dialogue ("They stole my rice cakes and kicked me"), amateurish acting, execrable dubbing (in the US version), and primitive cinematic technique (maladroit zooms, endless stock shots of sunsets, throwing punches

and kicks straight into the camera lens), yet as a display of Bruce Lee's martial arts skills, it's quite enjoyable. Much as the "plots" of porno movies are simply pretexts for their sex scenes, or the musicals of a Fred Astaire or a Gene Kelly merely served as showcases for their dancing, the

raison d'etre of kung fu films is their elaborate and outrageous fight sequences. FISTS OF FURY is somewhat hindered in that regard, since the plot device of having Cheng refrain from fighting due to the promise he made his mother results in Bruce Lee either standing around and watching during the

first half of the movie, or being absent entirely, and the plain fact is that Bruce Lee's movies are only worth watching for Bruce Lee, so that when he's not on screen, they're basically worthless.

After 45 minutes, Lee finally gets to fight, but only after becoming enraged when he's cut. He tastes his own blood, then lets out a wild scream, and destroys the enemy one-by-one, whipping them with lightning quick kicks to their heads. The choreography of the fight scenes (by the actor who plays

Mi), is quite impressive, and their influence on later Hong Kong films of the 1980s and '90s can be seen in the tongue-in-cheek, gravity-defying shots of bodies and knives flying through the air in slow motion.

The final showdown between Mi and Cheng is staged like a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, with extreme close-ups of eyes, culminating hilariously when Mi throws a dagger at Cheng, who nonchalantly kicks it right back at Mi's stomach, killing him. Exhilarating moments like these, along with Lee's

cool, yet self-deprecating persona, and his astonishing physical skills, transcend the cheesy and childish silliness of FISTS OF FURY. (Graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations.)

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  • Released: 1971
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Bruce Lee had his first starring role in this efficient, low-budget kung-fu action film that helped change the look of martial arts movies. Cheng (Bruce Lee) goes to Bangkok to live with his uncle and cousins, one of whom is the beautiful Chow Mei (Maria… (more)

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