The Big Boss

The Big Boss ★★½

After making a name for himself in America as Kato on ABC’s THE GREEN HORNET and megahit BATMAN, the San Francisco-born Bruce Lee returned to Hong Kong, where he grew up, to become an international film star. Lee’s first vehicle as an action hero was released by National General in the United States as FISTS OF FURY, and it isn’t very good. It was an enormous hit, though, in the wake of FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH, and National General soon got Lee’s FIST OF FURY (sic) into theaters under the title THE CHINESE CONNECTION. Oddly, THE BIG BOSS’ first four big fight scenes feature not Lee, but James Tien (RIGHTING WRONGS), who mows down some thugs while peacenik Lee stands around and watches because he promised his mother he wouldn’t fight. In fact, Lee doesn’t demonstrate his fighting skills until more than 40 of the film’s 99 minutes have elapsed. Granted, Lee is dynamic in action mode as few other movie stars have been, but it’s a drag to see him bullied like a doormat for half the film. This may be because Lee and Tien were originally cast in each other’s roles, but switched after Wei Lo took over from the original director. Filmed and set in Thailand, THE BIG BOSS puts Bruce to work in an ice factory, which he discovers is a front for a drug-running operation led by his boss (Ying-Chieh Han). Half his family is whacked by Ying-Chieh’s goons and stashed in the ice house before Bruce finally busts loose. Snippets of nudity and phony gore probably left the grindhouse audiences cheering as much as Lee’s heroics did.