Bruce Lee: ‘The Big Boss’ & ‘Fist Of Fury’ (1971/72)

(NOTE:  For the background history of both films reviewed here in this post, definitely check out Matthew Polly’s excellent bio  Bruce Lee: A Life, reviewed in a previous post  just last month.)

The first two kung fu films Bruce Lee made for Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest studios (directed by Lo Wei, whose creative approach to the films’ storylines & cast performances can be charitably described as detached) that helped make him a (short-lived) international movie star are now available on DVD from Shout Factory.  Both films are somewhat crude examples of low budget movie making (cheap production values, overuse of zoom lens, poor dubbing in both Chinese & English), but Lee’s energy and charisma, and some wild fight sequences make up for any deficiencies.

The Big Boss (1971; US release 1973 as Fists of Fury) has Lee portraying Cheng, a young Chinese man moving to Thailand (where most of the film was shot) to live with relatives and start work in an ice factory. Despite attacks from various street gangs and the factory’s hired thugs, Cheng refuses to fight, having promised his late mother he’d avoid violence, which he reminds himself by wearing an amulet around his neck. But when that amulet gets torn off during a brawl, look out!  Meanwhile, several of Cheng’s relatives and co-workers start disappearing after they find out the factory owner’s real source of income…

Fist of Fury (1972; US release 1972 as The Chinese Connection) is set around 1910 in Shanghai and focuses on Chen Zhen (Lee), a former martial arts student who’s horrified to discover that his master/mentor has been murdered, apparently on orders by the occupational Japanese forces in the area.  (Lots of ethnic slurs in this one.) Chen discovers that a nearby Japanese martial arts school is responsible for the murder and, with students from his master’s school, tries to get revenge. But tragedy ultimately results.

Despite their sloppy editing and (mild spoiler alert) downbeat climaxes, The Big Boss and Fist of Fury have some great exciting and dynamic fight sequences that show off Lee, who choreographed the fights, at his best.  Check out this sequence from Fist of Fury as an example.  Plus both films helped spearhead the early 1970s kung fu craze that still lingers today with more sophisticated films by such stars as Jackie Chan (a real-life pal of Lee’s), Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and others. Check them out!

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