The Big Boss (1971)

big boss poster 1971 movie bruce lee
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 9/10

Bruce Lee, surprisingly violent

So-so acting and weak plot

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Big Boss

Studio:  Golden Harvest

Genre(s):  Martial Arts/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  October 3, 1971

MPAA Rating:  R


Bruce Lee….you will never defeat me…or my birds!

Cheng Chao-an (Bruce Lee) is starting a new life in Thailand and working in an ice factory while living with his cousins.  With a vow to his mother never to fight, Cheng immediately finds trouble when his cousins disappear after a meeting with the company’s owner Hsiao Mi (Yin-chieh Han).  Hsiao Mi is using the ice factory as a front for his drug smuggling operation and the ice hides both drugs and the bodies of those who oppose Hsiao Mi.  When Hsiao Mi tries to woo Cheng to his illegal operations, Cheng finds his cousins turned against him, and to save them, Cheng might have to break his vow and fight!

Directed by Lo Wei, The Big Boss (唐山大兄 or Táng Shān Dà Xiōng) was the film that turned Bruce Lee into an American film star.  The film was originally planned to be released in America as The Chinese Connection to capitalize on the popularity of The French Connection (which also dealt with drug trafficking), but instead the movie became Fists of Fury due to a title confusion with Lee’s second film Fist of Fury (which ended up being called The Chinese Connection in America…if it was already confusing enough).


Eat ice pick!

Bruce Lee is a legend and this is where he really kicks off his movie career.  He had appeared as a leg-breaker in the James Garner film Marlowe in 1969, but The Big Boss provided a starring role.  The movie ironically wasn’t supposed to be a film for Bruce Lee and was instead to star James Tien.  A change in directors led to Lee taking a starring role and James Tien has a much smaller role as Bruce’s cousin Hsiu Chien.  Regardless of the original intent, The Big Boss is a fun action film.

It isn’t like you expect much of a plot from a martial arts action film, and it is not much of a shock that The Big Boss is rather light on plot.  Bruce Lee stands around most of the early film (some claim it is due to the change of directors which pushed Bruce Lee into the lead actor), and Bruce Lee and his cousins’ attempts to locate their missing cousins are rather weak…apparently everyone else is going to the police and going to the police must be a rather hard thing to do there.  Plot really isn’t a primary concern since watching the fighting is the real fun.


Gritty realism…except that body shaped cut out in the wall behind them

It is easy to see why Bruce Lee became a star.  He has a rather magnetic effect in the film and he is fun to watch.  The energy he brings to his role and fighting is part of what made him a celebrity.  Though he isn’t the best actor ever (his getting drunk scene is rather bad), Bruce Lee was skilled enough as an actor to carry a movie in addition to his fighting scenes.

The visuals are really what sells The Big Boss.  It is loaded with great fights and it is shockingly violent.  Be it the graphic death of the Big Boss himself or the slaughter of Bruce Lee’s family (including a child), the movie pulls no punches (no pun intended).  One of the legendary scenes was a cut scene involving a saw into the head of one of Lee’s enemies, and versions of this scene have floated around for years.


That’s right…the only weapons Bruce Lee needs are his hands!

Despite the violence, the movie has this weird (almost inappropriate) comedic nature to it.  You get all sorts of fighting, but occasional goofy moments like Lee knocking a person through a wall and it leaving the shape of a body during a violent fight.  “Ha” moments like this feel a little out of place in the violent parts of the film.

The Big Boss is a martial arts classic and still a fun action movie.  Fans of the genre need to see it simply to see Bruce Lee kick off his career at high speeds.  Regardless, the movie is a solid action movie and worth a viewing.  Bruce Lee followed The Big Boss with Fist of Fury in 1972.

Related Links:

Fist of Fury (1972)

The Way of the Dragon (1972)

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Game of Death (1978)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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