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The Big Boss

This article refers to The Big Boss, a film starring Bruce Lee. For other uses, see Big Boss.

The Big Boss (唐山大兄, Pinyin: Táng Shān Dà Xiōng) is a 1971 Hong Kong martial arts-action film. Also known as Fists of Fury in the United States and not to be confused with Fist of Fury also known as Chinese Connection. The Big Boss was Bruce Lee's first major film. Initially, the star of the film was intended to be James Tien, but Lee's strong performance relegated Tien, then a major star in Hong Kong, to second billing. His success in this film made Bruce Lee a star across Asia.

Plot

Cheng is a Chinese man from Guangdong who moves to Thailand along with his cousins. They get jobs at an ice factory. However, the factory is secretly a cover for a drug smuggling gang led by the Big Boss, Hsiao Mi. Some of Cheng's cousins are offered roles in the drug smuggling operation. When they decline, they are murdered.

Hsiao Mi attempts to cover up the murders, but Cheng and his surviving cousins become suspicious. Hsiao Mi distracts Cheng by promoting him to foreman and providing him with alcohol and prostitutes, but one of the prostitutes reveals the truth to Cheng. He breaks into the factory after hours and discovers his cousins' corpses. He is in turn discovered by a gang led by Hsiao Mi's son, Hsiao Chiun.

Cheng defeats the gang and kills many of his opponents, including Hsiao Chiun. However, he returns home to find that his entire family has been murdered. Cheng gets his revenge by fighting and killing Hsiao Mi. He then surrenders himself to the police.

Cast

Facts

  • According to a photobook released in the '70s, the film was supposedly inspired by the true story of Cheng Chiu-on (鄭潮安) who fought the tyrants in Thailand. Chiu-on lived at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. A memorial statue of him was erected in a garden in Bangkok more than 80 years ago. (However, there is no proof of this rather tall tale, despite being mentioned in a quick "blurb" in the photobook.)
  • The Chinese title "唐山大兄" (Tang Shan Da Xiong/Tong Saan Daai Hing) is literally translated "Big Brother from the Tang Mountains" (in Cantonese, China is often referred to as "Tang").
  • The above title, "唐山大兄" (Tang Shan Da Xiong/Tong Saan Daai Hing), is Bruce Lee's unofficial Chinese nickname.
  • Upon its release The Big Boss became the highest grossing film in the history of Hong Kong and remained undefeated until Bruce Lee's second film, Fist of Fury.
  • When the film was released in the US the death of Hsiao Mi, "The Boss", was cut down to simply being stabbed in the chest with a knife in order to receive an "R" rating. The original version of his death, which not only shows an explicit close up of the knife in his chest but Cheng Chao-an's fingers piercing his rib cage and blood flowing from under his shirt, would have given the film an "X" rating. Ironically, the first time this scene was shown in America was when it played on American cable channel AMC in July 2004.
  • An homage to the deleted "saw-in-the-head" shot appeared as a tribute to Bruce Lee in the manga Fist of the North Star, in which the hero Kenshiro throws a saw into the head of a mutant punk.
  • Of all of Bruce Lee's films The Big Boss features the highest number of confirmed kills by a character played by Bruce Lee. In Fist of Fury the kill count is nine, in Way of the Dragon it is two and in Enter the Dragon it is five. In The Big Boss, however, it is (at least) thirteen. Cheng kills:
    • One henchman with a strong blow to the head with a flashlight
    • One henchman by stabbing an icepick into the side of their stomach
    • One henchman by plunging an icepick into their chest
    • One henchman by slicing their torso with an icepick
    • One henchman by throwing an icepick into their chest
    • One henchman by slamming a hand saw into their head
    • Three henchmen by throwing their own knives back at them
    • Hsiao Chiun with a punch to the chest that destroys a vital organ
    • One henchman by thrusting a knife into their stomach
    • One henchman by throwing a knife at their chest
    • Hsiao Mi by stabbing him with his bare fingers

Two more unconfirmed kills could be added for the two henchmen Cheng knocks unconscious into the pool out front of Mi's mansion, causing them to drown, which would bring the total to 15.

Original Mandarin cut

When the movie was first released in 1971 in Hong Kong, the film featured multiple scenes that have since "disappeared" from all mainstream cuts of the film. It has been speculated that this is a result of the "1972 Hong Kong movie censorship crackdown", in which more and more Hong Kong martial arts films became censored for extreme violence or other acts. Another example of this censorship is the Jimmy Wang Yu film The One Armed Boxer, also released by Golden Harvest. In the case of The Big Boss, this included scenes of a body being cut in half with a circular saw (the mainstream cuts only show part of this), a blood vessel cut with a knife causing blood to spew from a character's forehead, and most infamous of all, a henchman falling victim to "vertical partial cranial laceration" with a hand saw.

However, when these cuts were asked to be made, editors also took the opportunity to cut out full sequences, most likely to increase the pacing of the film. These were the scenes that were cut:

  1. The first confirmed missing scene takes place after Cheng Chao-an and Hsiu Chien have beaten the six men from the casino. As they are walking down an alley, one of the remaining men appears, lights a cart of coal on fire and attempts to run them over with it. However, Hsiu grabs Cheng and they leap onto the side of a wall to avoid it.
    • A large number of photos from this missing scene were featured as an easter egg on the original Hong Kong Legends DVD.
  2. The next missing scene took place soon after the first. Cheng and Hsiu have returned home, and Hsiu doesn't hesitate to tell the other cousins all about what happened, right down to acting out a dramatization of the fight using Ah Kun as an example. The scene ends with Chiao Mei entering, presumably telling everyone that they need to get to bed.
    • Footage of Hsiu giving his example has appears in the original Mandarin trailer, and a still exists of the part in which Mei enters.
  3. The third takes place right after the stock footage sunrise shot. Cheng and his uncle get ready to leave for the ferry, Chiao Mei seeing them off with two small glasses of tea. They have their drinks, say their goodbyes and leave. The scene ends with Chiao Mei looking off as they leave.
    • The final shot, of Chiao Mei looking off after Cheng and his uncle as they leave, is present in the mainstream cuts. The deletion of Cheng and his uncle's departure makes it seem like she's simply watching the sunrise. In the mainstream cuts, when Mei knocks on the front door to wake everyone up, she can be seen her holding a tray with two empty glasses on it. A still of this scene exists as well.
  4. The next scene somehow involves Cheng and the girl who owns the drinkstand, played by Nora Miao.
    • This is one of three deleted scenes from the film that appear in the Mandarin trailer, but no one exactly remembers what took place in the full scene.
  5. The next cut is this first one involving violence, in which the first two cousins, Chen and Wong, are killed. In the mainstream cuts, the scene starts with Chen being killed with a hatchet to the head and Wong being killed with a knife to the stomach. Their bodies are taken to the circular saws, Wong's being the first to be cut. The mainstream versions end with the saw just reaching Wong's back, and then jump cuts to the ice containers being lowered into the freezer. It's been said that the original version shows Wong being cut completely in half with the saw, as well as various shots of the Thai foremen placing the severed limbs of Chen and Wong into the ice containers.
    • While no visible proof has been presented to substantiate these claims, in the edited Mandarin versions a jump cut in the music can clearly be heard where the cuts most likely took place.

  1. The next cut, which is a very short one, is when Hsiu's forehead is cut by Hsiao Chiun's knife. In the mainstream versions, the scene plays out with Hsiao Chiun leaping over Hsiu with his knife and then cuts to a shot of Chiun standing up, still holding the knife. However, in the uncut print, after Chiun has leapt over Hsiu, Hsiu's wound is clearly visible as he stumbles back with a gush of blood literally pouring from the top of his forehead.
    • This shot was previously only visible in a rare Spanish trailer for the film, which was only likely to be possessed by the most ardent collectors of Bruce Lee footage. However, the new Hong Kong Legends Platinum Edition DVD features a slightly better quality and full 2.35 widescreen version of the shot (as pictured).
  2. The next cut, and most recently acknowledged one, takes place during the banquet when Cheng Chao-an becomes drunk. In the regular prints, he sees Wu Mang (the prostitute), his vision blurs, and then he hallucinates, seeing Chiao Mei standing where Wu Mang was. However, according to the audio commentary on the Hong Kong Legends platinum edition DVD of the film, before he sees Chiao Mei, he first hallucinates and sees Wu Mang standing there topless. However, there is currently no visible proof in backing up this claim, only another eyewitness report.
  3. The next cut is from the scene in which Cheng investigates in the icehouse at night. While we see him discover a severed hand and a disembodied head, as well as the remains of Hsiu, apparently the scene was longer. One shot included a deformed face, caused by some type of trauma.
    • This shot was included in the aforementioned Spanish trailer as well.

  1. The next cut is the most widely known: the infamous "saw-in-the-head" shot. Despite the popularity of this shot, there are two interesting factors. First, many people believe that the shot itself was probably only 3-6 seconds. Also, many people have concluded that the scene only existed in the premiere print (as stated by co-star Maria Yi in a rare interview), and was never used in any of the releases after the premiere. According to the interview with Yi, apparently the shot was made up of a crudely put together animation and just did not look good. However, many people believe it was "reverse animation" in which a prop handsaw was created with a gap to put on the stuntman's head, and then Lee would quickly pull the prop off. Then, in post production it would be reversed to create the illusion of the saw going into his head.
    • While print of the shot is said to no longer exist, two completely different images of the shot do. One is a forty-five degree angled shot while the other (and more gruesome) one is a side shot (as pictured). The latter was most widely seen in the Bruce Lee documentary, Curse of the Dragon.
  2. The next cut takes place when Cheng arrives back home, only to find his remaining cousins murdered. The only shot that known to be missing is an extended shot of Ah Shan's dead body covered in blood.
    • The mainstream cuts simply cut away once Cheng has lifted Shan's mosquito net, but a jump cut in the music can be heard where the cut takes place.
  3. The next cut takes place when Cheng is sitting by the creek, involving superimposed shots of his dead cousins as Cheng looks into the creek. While the mainstream version shows a "group photo" style shot of the cousins, supposedly extra shots explicitly show their dead bodies. No full details have ever been released on what the images looked like.
  4. The next takes place during the same scene as the above, right after Cheng throws his possessions into the water. In the mainstream cuts, he simply looks up at the sky, then Cheng is shown running away. However, in the original print, Cheng raises his fist into proclaiming that he will get revenge.
    • In the mainstream cuts, just before Cheng runs off, we see his fist raised out of nowhere.
  5. The next cut is another entirely deleted scene, and another popular one alongside of the "saw-in-the-head" scene. After Cheng runs down the road from the creek, rather than cutting to him arriving at Hsiao Mi's mansion like the mainstream cuts, he returns to the brothel for a third time. Here, he picks up the prostitute in a red sweater-type dress (seen in the background the second time Cheng visits the brothel). Cheng and the prostitute go to her room, Cheng pushes her onto the bed, and the two begin to strip. Cheng stands in front of the bed, completely nude, but also completely emotionless. The shot apparently ends either fading or blurring out and back in to show Cheng putting his final article of clothing back on while the prostitute lays asleep. Cheng then takes out all of his money and lays it by the prostitute, which is apparently much more than he needs to pay. As he's about to leave, he grabs a bag of prawn crackers, which he is seen carrying when he finally arrives at the mansion later on.
    • The above scene is described in eyewitness reports and corroborated by a short amount of footage in the rare Mandarin trailer. In the mainstream cut, when listening to the Mandarin mono track (at least on the Universe Video CD version), a distinct jump cut in the music can be heard when Cheng arrives at the mansion, where the music plays for an extra second or two longer than it should, and then suddenly cuts off.
  6. Supposedly, there is at least one more cut in the finale after Hsiao Mi slashes Cheng's stomach. As with the fight with Hsiao Chiun, Cheng tastes his own blood. However, there's been little proof to back this deleted shot.

It has been said that a print shown in London in 1979 as part of a Bruce Lee film festival did indeed include all of these scenes, with the exception of the "saw-in-the-head" shot. Also, rumors have spread about a Thai "live dub" version that was shown less than a decade ago in which an alternate cut of the film, which featured some of the above mentioned scenes but deleted some of the "regular" scenes, was shown with live voice actors dubbing over the movie in Thai. Also, in 2004, a version was to be released on DVD by budget DVD company Video Asia entitled "The Big Boss: The Version You've Never Seen!". The only "never before seen" media on the disc that has been confirmed is the original rejected English dub, which used the classic style of British voice actors made famous by the English dubs of the Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers films of the seventies. However, this dub is said to have been created in synch with the extended Mandarin print, as a rare export trailer of the film features the footage from the Mandarin trailer, but with English voice actors. Also, this dub features the original score by Wang Fu Ling rather than the regular English dub score by Peter Thomas. Unfortunately, due to copyright issues, this "Version You've Never Seen" still hasn't been seen by the mainstream public, and is currently only in the hands of a select few collectors. However, a two minute clip of the opening from this version is on YouTube (see external links).

For the time being, the deleted shots and scenes exist in the eyes of the public only as still photos or quick snippets of footage in trailers, though there are supposedly collectors who possess copies of the footage, presumably having reasons as to why they can or will not present it. However, as of August 2007, there is intense speculation that the uncut print may finally make its way to DVD, yet it has not been officially confirmed.

Alternate title confusion

When The Big Boss was being prepared for American distribution, it was going to be retitled as The Chinese Connection, as a play on the popular The French Connection, seeing as how both films dealt with drug trafficking. Meanwhile, Bruce Lee's second film, Fist of Fury, was going to be virtually identical in terms of its title, with the only difference being that it would be FistS of Fury rather than Fist of Fury. However, somewhere between being exported from Golden Harvest studios to being imported to US independent film company National General Pictures, the titles ended up being switched. As a result, The Big Boss became Fists of Fury and Fist of Fury became The Chinese Connection. To this day, there is still confusion among the titles, yet film purists refer to the two films under their original titles.

Alternate music scores

Unlike other Bruce Lee films, The Big Boss is unique in that there are not only two, but three completely different music scores. Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Enter the Dragon, and Game of Death all only feature one score, albeit possibly with minor alterations.

The first music score for the film was composed by Shaw Brothers veteran composer Wang Fu-ling, who worked on films such as The Chinese Boxer and One-Armed Swordsman. This score was made intentionally for the Mandarin language version, as well as the first version of the English dub. The score has a sound to it very similar to other martial arts movie scores at the time, especially the Shaw Brothers films. While Wang was the only one to receive credit, it is also believed that fellow Shaw Brothers veteran composer Chen Yung-yu assisted with the score. Reason for this speculation is that a few of the music cues in the film echo those from the Shaw Brothers film The Duel, also composed by Chen. This is most evident when comparing the music from the scene in The Big Boss in which Cheng looks desperately for Chiao Mei with the music from the very last shot in The Duel. They sound nearly identical, with the music from The Duel sounding slightly slower. It should also be of interest to note that Wang Fu-ling is credited in every version of the film as music composer, even if his music isn't used. It is believed that the French theatrical release of the film featured this score, as the French theatrical trailer features only Wang Fu-ling's score.

The second, and most popular, of the music scores was composed by German composer Peter Thomas. His work on the film did not become widely known until 2005, when most of the music he composed for the film appeared on iTunes in a Big Boss collection. The story behind Thomas's involvement stems from the complete reworking of the English dub of the film. As mentioned above, there was an earlier English dub which was rejected. This earlier version of the dub featured the classic British voice actors who worked on virtually every Shaw Brothers film, and also used Wang Fu-ling's score. However, while unknown as to who made this decision (many believe National General Pictures, the company who released the film in America), the choice was made to scrap this dub to make a new English dub that would stand out in comparison to the other martial arts films at the time. New voice actors were brought in to re-dub the film in English, and with this, Peter Thomas was called in to rescore the film, completely abandoning Wang Fu-ling's original score. As mentioned earlier, most of his work on the film appeared on an iTunes compilation entitled The Big Boss/Die Todesfaust Des Cheng Li. However, the compilation is missing a few tracks:

  1. "Moontown"
    • This track is available on the library album Orion 2000, released on LP, and is very hard to find. It is also found on the re-release of the 'Raumpatrouille' LP as a bonus track, on Bungalow Records. This music cue was used in two parts of the English dub of The Big Boss. The first is when Hsiu Chien and Ah Pei try to leave Hsiao Mi's mansion. The second is when Cheng Chao-an returns to the brothel to see Wu Mang.
  2. "Communication in Hyperspace"
    • This track is available on Peter Thomas's album Warp Back to Earth. This music cue was used in the scene in which the announcement is made that Cheng Chao-an has become foreman.
  3. "EKG"
    • This track is also available on Warp Back to Earth, and was used in the scene when Chiao Mei cries about Cheng and the others not finding Hsiu Chien.

There are others missing, but they may be library tracks never officially released to the public. Aside from this, while the mainstream English dub of the film features the Peter Thomas score, it is also believed that the German dubbed version features his score, especially with the reference to the German title of the film on the iTunes compilation. Thomas's score was expanded upon for the Italian version of the film, strangely enough, a couple of Wang Fu-ling's music cues having "snuck into" this verion alongside.

The third score is the 1983 Cantonese release score, which primarily features music from Golden Harvest composer Joseph Koo. However, a good portion of Joseph Koo's music in the Cantonese version was originally created in 1974 for the Japanese theatrical release of The Big Boss, which was half Koo's music and half Peter Thomas's. Golden Harvest simply took Koo's music from the Japanese version and added it to the Cantonese version. Aside from this, this version is most infamous for its use of the Pink Floyd music cues "Time" and "Obscured by Clouds", as well as King Crimson's "Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Part Two." At one point, Pink Floyd's "Time" as well as their track "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party (Entertainment)" are mixed together to create a more sinister tone when Hsiu Chien and Ah Pei leave "The Boss"'s mansion. It is uncertain as to whether or not any music was actually created specifically for this version, or if it is all stock and unlicensed music. As mentioned earlier, Wang Fu-ling is given credit for the music in this version despite having nothing to do with it.

Other actors as Bruce Lee playing Cheng Chao-an

Various Bruce Lee biopics have been filmed over the years, with the two most (in)famous being Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Both of these films feature their respective actors, Bruce Li and Jason Scott Lee, at one point acting as Lee on the set of The Big Boss. Both films feature a variation of the rumor that Lee was challenged on the set by a Thai boxer. In Myth, Lee was challenged on set and was caught in the middle of an ambush later on off the set. In Dragon, Lee is challenged during an actual take during filming of The Big Boss, wearing the trademark rolled up long sleeve white t-shirt, white sash, and black pants. Both of these are highly exaggerated accounts (not to mention that Dragon makes the mistake of saying that filming for The Big Boss began in July 1970 rather than in July 1971), as the story told is that Lee merely discusses martial arts with a Thai fighter on the set. Besides these two examples, a third Bruce Lee bio-pic, this time with Chan Kwok-kwan as Lee and filmed in mini-series form, will be shown in Hong Kong in 2008 as part of China's hosting of the summer Olympics. Once again, this bio-pic will have Lee encountering a Thai boxer on the set of The Big Boss, this time with the challenger being played by martial arts film veteran Mark Dacascos. Photos and behind-the-scenes video of this scene have appeared on various websites, including Dacascos's official site.

External links

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