Last year Arrow video released an impressive Bruce Lee at Golden Harvest boxset featuring all of the films that Bruce Lee worked on. There are now single editions available for most of the films from that set.
The Big Boss has stood fairly strong done the years. It was Bruce Lee’s first lead and was a smash hit at the time. Having had such a short career, Lee’s work always has an allure about it that has somehow helped his work prevent from dating. With Blu-ray and 4K upgrades being the latest steps I home cinema, those cracks are starting to finally show up, but it isn’t necessarily a downhill slide of expectation.
The story and characters themselves are fairly thin. The film isn’t too bothered about delving deep on any of the characters, except perhaps Lee’s lead. But even he doesn’t come to the fore until well into the film, taking a back seat on the action scenes.
The choreography is decent enough despite some of the trappings that you might expect from the genre. There are still editing tricks, motion speed and issues with doubles from time to time, but overall, The Big Boss still has a feel to it that coheres. Amazing to this day that Lee seems unmatched in his onscreen prowess. There is the cliché of a large group of men vs one man. With the added comedy of the group attacking the solo guy one person at a time. But nothing compares to the visual shot of a Man being kicked through a wooden wall, leaving a man-shaped hole in the wall. Stuff like that really belongs in a farce version of the film along with the giant leaps into the air.
It’s actually still quite hardcore in its violence and even insinuation (disposing of bodies with ice saws!). Everything looks without losing the charm of its age.
Surprising how much of a horror film it is. Bodies hidden in ice. People are stalked and murdered in the dark, Killer dogs are set lose on people and the blood is paint red. And then there is the image of a recently struck Lee tasting the blood from his own wound before unleashing the rage upon his opponent.
As the film was dubbed, the sound quality can only go so far. You know you are listening to a dubbed film and the lips don’t match the words – it’s hardly a criticism so much as just a given for films like this from this era.
Colouring of any upgrade will obviously cause debate amongst technical fans down the line, but this is as good as it’s looked for a while. The leap in quality was onto Blu-ray. Time to throw out your old DVDs!
There are 6 audio tracks including 2 commentaries. It is worth checking out all tracks for the variety in the music backing and some of the raw sounds used. There is Cantonese, Mandarin and two English dubs. Each of these tracks also has subtitles available. Subtitles are also alternate. If you like the well-known Bruce Lee’s vocal fighting sounds then Chinese track 2 is the one for you.
Both commentaries are illuminating with some slight crossover in details. Brandon Bentley is perhaps the more animated of the two – and returns for the other Bruce Lee releases that Arrow have produced.
-English export cut
-Us theatrical cut
Return to Thailand – a location comparison from then to today.
Deleted and extended scenes (with Brandon Bentley commentary).
The not quite biggest boss featurette
-Bruce Lee vs. Peter Thomas
-Alternate credits sequences
Mandarin cut. 1 hour 50 mins cut with restored footage cut into the restored version of the film. Just one English subtitle option here.
Half hour Dubbing extra
Unrestored version of the mandarin for grindhouse lovers
As far as definitive editions go this is clearly lacking a lot of documentary or other archival featurettes from previous DVD editions that have been released down the ages. But when the film is this old and you are making your own stamp on it then Arrow have done a great job delivering probably the best-looking version of the film we have seen yet with some very interesting commentary from scholars to boot. So – definitive? No. Worthwhile? definitely.