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The Big Break
on 11 July 2007
Bruce Lee roared onto the big screen in 1971 when he made his first film (as an adult), 'The Big Boss'. Much like other kung-fu flicks, it's more a showcase of the star's talents rather than an example of good filmmaking.
Young migrant worker Cheng arrives in Thailand to start a job at an ice factory with other Chinese. It seems like everyday there's a punch-up between the Chinese workers and the Thai foremen, and when two men discover drugs in the ice, they are killed. It falls on Cheng to investigate his "brother"s disappearance but he is quickly overwhelmed by the hospitality of his employers and loses focus. Realising his mistake, Cheng decides to take revenge and confront... The Big Boss.
This is Bruce Lee's first and most bloody kung-fu film. The way in which characters are killed off is very violent and even macabre, with the ice factory playing a big part. What the film is most memorable for is the device of having it's star do very little for half the film. Cheng had made a promise to his mother never to get into trouble, meaning he simply stands by and takes his knocks without retaliation. Its a great idea and teases the audience until he finally snaps into action, unleashing his powerful kicks and punches.
What's great about the film is that it has a pulpy, trashy quality with its silly "erotic" moments and hokey visuals. In one sequence, a man is knocked through a wall and his outline remains. Another occasion sees the title character throw his birdcage up onto a branch while he fights Cheng. It's so daft that it's actually quite funny and adds to the charm.
Another reason the film works is because it improves throughout. The fight scenes are actually pretty poor to begin with (with Lee not fighting) and later on, each set-piece involving Cheng is better than the last. The final showdown between Cheng and the Big Boss is fast, violent and quite lengthy. Also, the fight is rather symbolic with newcomer Lee taking on the veteran kung-fu actor - becoming more of a passing-the-baton moment.
The one slight problem I have with the film is that the cantonese soundtrack (which is better than english of course) has a different score. The english dubbed version has an awesome theme tune which you might miss if you're used to it. But at least you have the option to watch either. Also, the Bey Logan commentary (which ISN'T on the platinum edition) is worth the purchase and is very insightful and relaxed.
On the whole, The Big Boss is very watchable and apart from some slow sections is a great breakthrough film for its star.