The Big Boss is the only Bruce Lee film in which he wasn’t an icon because it’s the one that made him an icon. Offered as the starting point of Umbrella’s new Films of Fury” sub-label, The Big Boss offers a perfect place to start for anyone curious about Lee’s work. It’s not his best film, but it’s interesting to see him before he became a legend.
The film follows Lee arriving in Thailand, ostensibly to work at an ice factory and live with his adopted family. He meets his cousin (James Tien, a star in his own right) and swears he’s not getting into fights anymore. Knowing this is Bruce Lee, though, the viewer is just waiting for him to kick off. Amazingly, it actually takes 40 minutes for Bruce to get to punching, but when he does … you know it. Lee is a commanding screen presence, essentially shattering any mould that existed up until that point. He just radiates charisma. It’s impossible to take your eyes off him in any scene. As the plot progresses, Lee finds himself drawn further into the machinations of the titular Big Boss and the systemic corruption that surrounds him. Lee will have to contend with thugs, temptation and more before a breathtaking final showdown.
It’s hard to overstate how much this movie blew up the Hong Kong movie scene. It was the start of Lee breaking successive box office records. Despite his success as Cato in the Green Hornet TV series, it’s doubtful even Lee himself expected things to blow up the way they did. To wit: The name of Lee’s character is secondary. You, dear reader, know exactly who I mean.
Umbrella has presented The Big Boss in a very nice Blu-ray that also comes with a poster, along with supplementary interviews and an archival documentary produced after Lee’s death (in and of itself not that great but interesting for historical purposes). You can definitely find more extensive versions of this film, but for the new collector (and one who values a handsome slipcase), Umbrella’s release of The Big Boss is a perfect place to, ahem, kick off.