I’ve finally watched my first Bruce Lee movie, and I’ll say while I’m somewhat underwhelmed with the film as a whole, I’m certainly interested in exploring the man’s filmography more. Especially the pictures that follow this one. I decided to start with The Big Boss because it was his first major film role, and I’m somewhat of a completist, even though this movie came out in the US a year after his next movie, Fist of Fury. I wasn’t sure if I was going to review this one, since I don’t know anything about Hong Kong martial arts films. But I had some stuff to say, so here I am.
Lee plays Cheng Chao-an, a Chinese man who moves to Pak Chong, Thailand to live with his adopted family and work in an ice factory that smuggles dope. He makes a vow to his mother that he won’t fight anymore, but Pak Chong is filled with crime and gangs who attack everyone, including women and children. Unfortunately for the audience, Cheng stays true to his promise for much of the movie. If this is your first Bruce Lee endeavor like it was mine, you don’t get much of him until well into the 2nd half. Although his sole presence on screen is magnetic enough to keep us engaged leading up to the end.
The climactic fight at the end is objectively the best part, but we never feel our character’s rage boiling, so this all feels hollow. There’s no real irony or poetic subtext. And Cheng’s moral compass is so easily compromised you can say it barely exists.
The premise is thin and the plot is grossly underdeveloped. At one point a character basically has to remind another to move the plot forward. We don’t get much in the way of building up conflict or relationship trajectories, only a rattling off of tragedies that aren’t given any weight–even though we’re supposed to become enraged alongside our protagonist. Nothing ever seems fishy to our characters, and they always believe the bad guys’ excuses.
The English dubbing over Chinese dialogue is entertaining throughout the film, especially early on, but plays out after we realize nothing else is going to hold our attention for much of the movie.
As an aside, The Big Boss features probably the brightest fake blood I’ve ever seen in my life.