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The Big Boss
December 2006 SITE MAP   SEARCH

The Big Boss: Platinum Edition
cast: Bruce Lee, Maria Yi, James Tien, Han Yin-chieh

director: Wei Lo

96 minutes (18) 1971
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Hong Kong Legends DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
To men of a certain age (okay, my age) the very mention of the name Bruce Lee is enough for us to strip off our shirts and start doing strange, nameless 'martial arts' moves in front of a full-length bedroom mirror, whilst caterwauling like pot-bellied madmen.

In the 1970s, when I spent my formative years, Bruce Lee was a real hero; a small, wiry fighting machine who not only starred in a series of successful films, but also created his own martial art. That's created his own martial art... How cool is that? I'll tell you exactly how cool it is: very cool. Very fucking cool indeed.

Here, Bruce Lee plays a young immigrant who leaves home to work with some distant cousins and their friends in an ice factory. Once there, he finds that the place is run on greed and corruption, and the factory is in fact a front for drugs running and prostitution. The big boss of the title is Hsiao Mi (Han Yin-chieh), who runs things with a rod of iron and ensures that anyone who questions his methods vanishes.

The first thing to note about this film is that it forgoes the usual formula of a fight every 10 to 15 minutes, and adopts a more deliberately sedate pace. Indeed, Bruce Lee doesn't get to strut his stuff until well into the first hour of the action because of a promise he made his mother before leaving home. When the first fight comes, though, his moves are explosive. As the ice factory workers rebel against a petty overseer and his questionable man-management skills, our man Bruce finally steps in to kick, slap and punch everyone into submission in the only scene that he was allowed to choreograph on his own. Soon after, he is promoted and steals the man's job, which gets him into all kinds of trouble with friend and foe both. The simple, linear plot actually adds to the film; what we want to see is Bruce Lee, and anything else would merely distract us from his mastery.

The direction by Wei Lo is solid and workmanlike, the script interesting but lacking in any real sense of mystery or excitement, so it's down to Bruce Lee to take control and invest the film with some genuine entertainment value. The man had it all: good looks, incredible natural charisma, and he could actually act. That's not to say the other performers aren't good; they are, but Lee's raw intensity blows them all off the screen.

The violence is often surprisingly bloody, and it's refreshing to see an action film where there isn't a gun in sight - just knives, axes, band saws, feet and fists. I'd go as far to say that this is probably the most enjoyable of Lee's films that I've seen, just edging out the later Fist Of Fury, and completely eclipsing the silly, westernised faux James Bond plot machinations of Enter The Dragon.

So if you're in the mood for some old-style martial arts action, you can count on The Big Boss (aka: Tang shan da xiong) to deliver. This nicely restored version of the film also comes with a host of extras, each one entertaining in its own right. In short, this comes highly recommended, if only to see a true legend just as he was breaking through to reach the worldwide renown he truly deserved.

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