The Big Boss, also known as Fists of Fury, is a 1971 Hong Kong martial arts film written and directed by Lo Wei, with assistance from Bruce Lee, who also played the main character, Cheng Chao-an. In Chinese, it’s titled 唐山大兄.
Originally, James Tien was intended to play Cheng Chao-an, but he was replaced by Bruce Lee.
Back then, Lee was already a fairly well-known actor, but his performance in The Big Boss helped propel his fame even higher, especially in Asia.
The story revolves around the young Chinese man Chang Chao-an who moves to Thailand to live with his adoptive family and work at an ice-factory with his cousins. His sacred promise to his mother to never engage in fighting becomes difficult to keep when two of his cousins are murdered after accidentally discovering that the ice-factory is a front for a drug smuggling ring.
The film was both a critical success and a great box office hit, and it grossed HK$3,197,417 in Hong Kong. In the United States + Canada, it earned approximately 2.8 million USD from rentals.
|The Big Boss
Fists of Fury (in the United States)
|23 October, 1971 (in Hong Kong)
|1 hour and 40 minutes
|HK$3,197,417 in Hong Kong
Behind the scenes
|A young Chinese man who moves to Thailand
|Cheng’s cousin, know knows martial art
|Billy Chan Wui-ngai
|The Big Boss, owner of the ice factory
|Son of Hsiao Mi
|Foreman at the ice factory
|Peter Chan Lung
|Hsiao Mi’s henchman
|Local vendor of cold drinks
|Miss Sun Wu Man
English title confusion on the United States market
When The Big Boss was being prepared for a release in the United States, it was decided that the name was to be changed to The Chinese Connection – a play on the name of the famous 1971 movie The French Connection. (Both films are about drug trafficking.)
It was also the decided that Bruce Lee’s other film, Fist of Fury, was to be called Fists of Fury (plural instead of singular) when released in the United States. (This was the movie that Bruce Lee starred in after making The Big Boss.)
Regrettably, something happened and the two titles were accidentally swapped. The Big Boss (the movie about drug smuggling in Thailand) was released as Fists of Fury, while Fist of Fury (the movie about Chinese-Japanese rivarly in Shanghai) was released as The Chinese Connection.
Nowadays, the movies are often broadcasted in the U.S. with their intended titles, which can cause some confusion for U.S. viewers who are used to the incorrect titles.
- Most of the filming was done in the river port town Pak Chong, on the northern edge of the Khao Yai National Park in Thailand. During the four weeks Bruce Lee lived there, he lost weight due to the lack of fresh food. He subsisted largely on canned meat and vitamin pills.
- While washing a thin glass in Pak Chong, Brue Lee slashed opened his right-hand index finger. The wound required ten stitches and Lee had to wear a large plaster over it, which can be clearly seen in the movie.
- Some of the filming took place in an actual brothel in Pak Chong.
- When Brue Lee had free time in Pak Chong, he hung out and trained with a local Muay Thai group.
- Towards the latter end of the shooting, Lee sprained his ankle as he landed after a high jump. He had to be driven to Bangkok to see a physician, and in Bangkok he caught a virus. After returning to Pak Chong, he was in much pain and had to drag his injured leg. Close-ups where used to finish the fight scene, and it wasn’t diffifult for Lee to really give his character a worn out and exhausted appearance since he that was how he actually felt.
In the Far East
The film premiered in Hong Kong On 23 October, 1971. The now legendary midnight screening took place at Ocean Theatre on Canton Road, where the audience absolutely loved the movie and praised it by raising to its feet and clapp, yell and cheer. Lee and his wife Linda were present at this screening, and also at the official gala premier on November 3, where the film was shown as a charity screening to benefit the Scout Association of Hong Kong.
The film was a huge success in Hong Kong, bringing in HK$1 million within three days and HK$2 million within a week. It only ran in Hong Kong theatres until November 18, but despit its fairly short run, it made HK$3.2 at the box office, breaking the old record held by The Sound of Music by some HK$800,000.
After its Hong Kong run, the movie had its Singaporean premier, with chaos breaking out at a midnight preview screening at Cathay’s Jurong Drive-in cinema on November 27. Hundreds of cars caused a major traffic jam, the police had to be called, and the showing was delayed by 45 minutes.
The general released took place on December 8 and the movie ran at five theatres until January 21 the following year. By then, it had broken the old Singaporean box office record held by The Ten Commandments by roughly S$240,000.
The third country to show the film was Malaysia, where also became a hug hit with the movie going audience.
Among the countries where the film was made available in movie theatres, Japan was one of the last ones to catch on. Here, the movie wasn’t shown in cinemas until April 1974, a year after its US premier.
Outside the Far East
Even though The Big Boss had been huge success in the Far East, distributors in other parts of the world were hesitant. Then, it was showed in Beirut, Lebanon, and became a huge hit there too. This was still in Asia, but definitely not Eastern Asia, and it really caught the attention of distributors world-wide. Suddenly, distributors from regions such as South America, Africa and Europe were eager to get their hands on The Big Boss reels.
In the United Kingdom, the movie was shown in Chinese cinema clubs from June 1972, but it wasn’t available at normal theatres since Crest Films had withdrew their BBFC certificate application because of the major film censorship storm that was sweeping over the UK at the time. The version of the movie shown in the Chinese cinema clubs were the Mandarin version, without any dubbing. Eventually, the film premiered in UK theatres in April, 1974.
In the United States, National General Pictures were displeased with the English-language dubbing from Mandarin and this delayed the film’s premier significantly. National General Pictures also spend time on the making of a new soundtrack with brand new music. All in all, this meant that the US premier didn’t take place until April 1973.
In many countries, the violence in The Big Boss was too much for the censors and they required the film to be cut in various ways to comply with applicable laws for movie theatres and VHS release on the various markets.
One of the earliest cuts was made by Hong Kong censors, who didn’t appreciate the “handsaw in the split head” moment.
For the first foreign releases in 1971 and 1972, both the studio and the various distributors were cutting, and this time it wasn’t just violence and bloodshed that was toned down but nudity as well. One example of a sequence that tended to catch the attention of censors is the one where the body of one of the cousins is cut into parts using an electric saw. For censors eager to remove nudity, the scissor was typically applied to the part of the movie where Cheg visits the brothel for the third time, just before the final showdown with the big boss is about to take place.
For the movie to receive an R rating instead of an X rating in the United States, Hsiao Mi’s death scene had to be cut down to him just being stabbed in the chest with a knife. In 2004, the uncensored scene was finally shown in the US by the cable channel AMC. In this uncensored scene, we get to see Cheng’s fingers piercing the dying man’s rib cage.
Quite a lot of blood and violence were removed by censors in the United Kingdom and certain other European countries before the movie was permitted for theatrical release on those markets, but those parts of the movie have been put back again in the DVD:s that was release by Hong Kong Legends in UK in the late 2000s. Even the uncensored Hsiao Mi death scene is there.
The original Mandarin relase of The Big Boss feature a music score composed by Wang Fu-ling, and with at least one cue from the Japanese composer Akira Ifukube. This original music score was also used for the English-language export version, and for the versions intended for cinemas in Turkey and France.
When British voice actors reworked the movie for a UK theatrical release, the movie was given a new music score composed by the German musician Peter Thomas. The German-dubbed version of the movie also uses the Peter Thomas score.
Joseph Koo created a music score for the 1974 theatrical release in Japan, partly including Peter Thomas music.
A third score was created for the 1982 Cantonese version of the movie. It consists chiefly of Joseph Koo’s music from the Japanese theatrical release and Peter Thomas’s music from the British theatrical release, but also uses Pink Floyd music cues taken from “The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party, Part 2”, “Time” and “Obscured by Clouds”, as well as King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part Two”.