Fists of Fury
Action, Drama, Martial Arts | 99 min | Released: 1971
Director: Wei Lo
Starring: Bruce Lee, Maria Yi, James Tien, Marilyn Bautista, Yong-Chieh Han, Tony Liu, Kun Li
Our Rating: 7
Cheng is a Chinese man from mainland China who moves to Thailand to live with his cousins and works in an ice factory. When a block of ice is accidentally broken, a bag of white powder falls out. Two of Cheng’s cousins are asked to see the manager. The factory is really a front for a drug smuggling ring led by Hsiao Mi, also known as the Big Boss. When they refuse to cooperate, they are killed and their bodies disposed of.
Hsu Chien and another cousin are sent to Hsiao Mi’s house where he has them killed for asking questions. The men at the factory then riot. To ease tensions, Hsiao Mi now makes Cheng a foreman, providing him with alcohol and prostitutes. Sun, one of the prostitutes, had sex with Cheng the night he was drunk at Hsiao Mi’s party, and she tells Cheng the truth. Immediately after Cheng leaves, Hsiao Mi’s son, Hsiao Chiun, sneaks in and kills Sun by throwing a knife at her heart. Sun’s body is disposed of in the ice factory, just as Cheng’s cousins were. The next night, Cheng breaks into the factory and finds the bodies. However, he is discovered by the gangsters.
Cheng fights his way out, killing Hsiao Chiun and many gangsters in the process. He returns home to find that almost all of his family have been murdered while Chiao Mei has gone missing. Cheng exacts revenge by killing Hsiao Mi in a final fight. Once he knows that Chiao Mei is safe, he surrenders to the Thai police when they arrive at Hsiao Mi’s house.
When The Big Boss was being prepared for American distribution, it was to be retitled The Chinese Connection, a play on the popular The French Connection, since both dealt with drug trafficking. The title of Lee’s second film, Fist of Fury, was to be identical, except for being Fists of Fury. However, the titles were accidentally reversed. The Big Boss was released as Fists of Fury and Fist of Fury became The Chinese Connection.
Film purists refer to the films by their original titles. Recent American TV showings and the official US DVD release from Twentieth Century-Fox have restored the original titles of all Bruce Lee films.
The Big Boss (Chinese: 唐山大兄, also known as Fists Of Fury) is a 1971 Hong Kong martial arts action film written and directed by Lo Wei, with assistance from Bruce Lee. It stars Lee, Maria Yi, James Tien and Tony Liu.
Bruce Lee’s first major film, it was written for James Tien. However, Lee’s strong performance overshadowed Tien, already a star in Hong Kong, and made Bruce Lee famous across Asia.
When the film was released in 1971 in Hong Kong, it included scenes that were later removed from all the mainstream versions. This was a result of the “1972 Hong Kong movie censorship crackdown”, when martial arts films were censored for extreme violence and explicit content. The Big Boss originally included graphic scenes of two bodies being cut in half with a circular saw, an artery cut with a knife causing blood to spew from Hsu Chien’s forehead, and a depiction of an enemy killed by “vertical partial cranial laceration” with a hand saw thrust by Cheng. Lastly, an entire sequence that takes place between the riverside mourning scene and the final fight at the Boss’s mansion was cut. Cheng, believing that he would die while trying to exact revenge, returns to the brothel he has visited earlier in the film, and hooks up with a different Thai prostitute for a final sexual encounter. This deleted scene features Bruce Lee’s only nude scene in his career.
Alternative music scores
Unlike other Lee films, The Big Boss is unique in having 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 with minor alterations.
The first music score for it was composed by Wang Fu-ling, who worked on films such as The Chinese Boxer and One-Armed Swordsman. This was made for the Mandarin language version and the first English version. It similar to other martial arts movie scores, especially the Shaw Brothers films. Wang was the only one to receive credit, but it is also believed composer Chen Yung-yu assisted with the score. At least one cue from Japanese composer Akira Ifukube’s scores for the Daimajin trilogy of films was also utilized as stock music.
The second and most popular of the music scores was by German composer Peter Thomas. This 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. Thomas’s involvement stems from a complete reworking of the English version of the film. The early version featured the British voice actors who worked on all Shaw Brothers films and used Wang Fu-ling’s score. It was decided to make a new English version that would stand out from the other martial arts films. New actors were brought in to voice the film in English, and Peter Thomas (composer) re-scored the film, abandoning Wang Fu-ling’s music. The German dubbed version features his score, especially in the German title of the film in the iTunes compilation.
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’. 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”.
Various Bruce Lee biopics have been filmed over the years, with the two most 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 biopic, “The Legend of Bruce Lee”, this time with Danny Chan Kwok Kwan as Lee and filmed in mini-series form, was shown in Hong Kong in 2008 as part of China’s hosting of the summer Olympics. Once again, this biopic shown 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.