Bruce Lee starred in numerous martial arts movie classics, and The Big Boss shows just how much Lee could elevate even mediocre material.

Bruce Lee‘s 1971 movie The Big Boss exemplifies his on-screen talents due to how much Lee elevates the film. As one of the all-time greatest legends of martial arts, Bruce Lee made immeasurable an impact on martial arts films. Lee is known throughout the world for such kung fu classics as Enter the Dragon, The Way of the Dragon, and Fist of Fury, while The Big Boss is also an important part of his legacy.

Before The Big Boss, Bruce Lee had been a child actor and previously appeared in the American television series The Green Hornet as Kato, but The Big Boss was his first big break as a leading man. The Big Boss would become the biggest Hong Kong movie hit ever at the time, and made Bruce Lee into a huge local icon (despite his well-known dislike for the term “star”.) The Big Boss‘ success is that much more impressive when looking at the fact that it is easily the weakest of Bruce Lee’s movies, but still a classic for what he brings to it.


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The Big Boss Is An Average Kung Fu Movie At Best (On Paper)

In The Big Boss, Bruce Lee plays Cheng-Chao An, a young Chinese man who goes to live with family in Thailand. Along the way, as more and more of his friends keep disappearing, Cheng learns that the ice packaging plant he works at is really a cover for a drug ring. Among Bruce Lee’s 5 movies as the lead, The Big Boss is by far the most threadbare, having been made on a shoestring budget of $100,000, which shows.

Moreover, the plot of The Big Boss is an extremely routine story of a battle with a crime ring with mostly forgettable characters. Despite its completely transparent shortcomings, The Big Boss has stood the test of time thanks to its leading man. Especially when one considers some of the behind-the-scenes struggles of The Big Boss.

Bruce Lee Made The Big Boss More Than It Would’ve Been Without Him

The Big Boss Bruce Lee martial arts

Bruce Lee was not initially intended to be the leading man of The Big Boss, only landing the role after the film was into production over his co-star James Tien. On The Big Boss, Bruce Lee also was at odds with the movie’s initial director Wu Chia-hsiang and subsequent director Lo Mei over their differing approaches to the movie’s fight scenes, Lee favoring realism over more fantastical, wuxia-esque fights. With such minimal resources and a very basic story template to work with, Lee’s involvement in The Big Boss made it into a far better movie.

The explosive power of Lee’s fight scenes gives The Big Boss a more primal, grounded feel fitting for a movie involving drug lords and personal vendettas. The final fight of The Big Boss especially shows how much Lee brings to the film, wrapping it up on a powerful and emotional showdown. The Big Boss, at its core, is not a good movie by most metrics. Despite that, by virtue of being anchored by Bruce Lee, The Big Boss still has all the impact of a great movie.

NEXT: How Bruce Lee Beat James Tien For The Big Boss Role

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