Let me start by saying: The Big Boss (AKA Fists Of Fury in the US) is corny as hell. It features Bruce Lee (in his first major starring role) and, like many early films in the martial arts genre, features plenty of fake-looking blood, close-ups of fighters’ faces and use of trampolines/springboards/wires to exaggerate flying kicks and jumps.
As cliché as the saying has become nowadays, this is one of those movies that you can’t possibly take seriously, but it is one that you can get some enjoyment from. Delivering action is the obvious intention of director Lo Wei, and there is real show of technicality and fluidity in the way Bruce Lee delivers his Kung-Fu moves here.
His character, Cheng Chao-an, resists partaking in the fighting for the first third of the movie, stepping back and allowing his cousin, Hsu Chien (James Tien), to get involved. When workers at an ice factory begin disappearing, though, and Cheng discovers that it’s all been done by “the big boss” (Han Ying-Chieh) to cover up a drug-smuggling operation, the mystery of the plot is abandoned, and Lee gets the opportunity to teach the bad guys a lesson.
The Big Boss is enjoyable when it delivers the slam-bang goods. Everyone should know by now what Bruce Lee was capable of at his peak, and in this film he lets everyone know he’s generally a peaceful man, but one who is capable of owning anyone and everyone when provoked into fighting.
It’s a shame that his co-star, James Tien (though, himself, an accomplished martial art in real life), doesn’t exhibit the level skill that Lee does when the focus is upon him for the first third of the movie. And the script definitely doesn’t come anywhere near the Shakespearian level of dialogue that it deserves to be lavished with critical praise (“Hey, I never realised Cheng was such a tough guy!”; “Yeah, he’s great!”)
Still, there’s a point in the film where a villain gets punched through a wall, leaving the outstretched outline of his arms and legs, which reminded me of the old Warner Bros. cartoons, and had me in stitches. As did Cheng’s attempts to woo local girl Chiao Mei (Maria Yi) — the typical “damsel in distress” character — purely because they were so feeble.
I think I got a heavily edited version of this film, too, ’cause a lot of the violence seemed to have been cut away. Still, I’m taking nothing away from Bruce lee, who’s undeniably a Kung-Fu badass and the sole focus of the attention here.