The Big Boss (Umbrella)

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The Big Boss was the film that made Bruce Lee a star. Despite having acted since he was a child and his role as Kato in the 60’s US TV series The Green Hornet, after a decade in Hollywood, Lee returned to Hong Kong to star in martial arts action films.

The Big Boss was the first of these, released in 1971, and it’s a rough and ready production that’s really elevated by Lee’s performance. He plays Cheng, a Chinese farmer who has travelled to Thailand where he gets work in an Ice Factory alongside his cousins. But when several of his friends go missing mysteriously, its up to Cheng to break his vow to his mother to abstain from fighting and confront the Big Boss.

Whilst it wasn’t breaking new ground in the plot department, it was the perfect vehicle for Lee to demonstrate his incredible street fighting technique (and physique) often in a series of long takes. Even when he isn’t fighting its impossible not to marvel at just the way he moves. He is incredibly charismatic – with even just a nod. There’s a real physicality to the way he approached the role and when he is onscreen you can’t take your eyes off him. The key though (of course) is the final epic confrontation, where we see many of the characteristic that we now associate with martial arts films, in particular we see Lee’s famous stance, his strange vocalisations and his lightning fast reflexes. This is worth the price of admission alone.

One of the more interesting aspects of this release is that the score differs depending on the audio setup. The Mandarin language version features the original score whilst the English contains the more western score by German Peter Thomas (Chariots of The Gods). It’s lush swinging 70’s funky brass sound feels a world away from the impoverished rural Thai locations in the film, yet it works well with some of the hard zooms and funky camera techniques. It is a weird juxtaposition that really takes the film to a whole new level. The extra features touch on this with a short feature on how Thomas became involved, using many of his library cues because money was tight. With some alternate openings and endings, the most fascinating extra is the feature documentary, Bruce Lee The Man The Legend, which strangely enough uses his funeral to explore his legacy, yet spends an inordinate amount of time following around his grieving wife and young family.

This blu ray is the first entry in Umbrella’s new ‘Films of Fury’ sub label.

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Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.

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