The Big Boss is the first of the Bruce Lee films and also (naturally) the first release in the dvd series by HKL. A seminal release in 1971 and likewise on this region 2 disc. The Big Boss has always held the number two slot in my 'best of' list. I fondly remember seeing it for the first time on a warm and sunny spring evening back in 1974. Some fans dismiss the film as being cheap - looking, simplistic and perfunctory and I agree to a point as the other films are certainly more polished, but Big Boss works in spite of it's flaws.
I think it's more like a pilot film or prototype of the later films, hinting at greater treasures to come but still delivering as a great action thriller in it's own right and certainly the darkest(in terms of killing and deaths)tale in the pack. Without Bruce, who was an unknown quantity in HK films at the time, this film would have probably sunk without trace. Because of him we still celebrate this 24 carat classic 30 years later.
The Amaray case contains another uninspiring cover that matches the rest of the series. The black/grey cover has the now standard portrait of Bruce with a series of thumbnails and small text to the rear. The earliest versions of the cover were a little brighter with a blue/yellow colur scheme but were withdrawn when it was found that they didn't match the remainder of the series (doh!).
The label nicely reproduces the cover illustration.
Presented in a fantastic digitally re-mastered, cleaned up and anamorphic widescreen print, this film has never looked better and probably didn't look this good when originally released. There are a few scratches here and there along with some emulsion damage that has always fetaured in every print I've ever seen (and therefore one assumes present on the original negative). In one very noticable instance there is a distinct 'wobble' where it appears that some torn frames have been repaired. The extensive restoration also includes the extra frames of Han Ying Chieh's bloody demise along with the noticable 'jump cuts' present in the VHS version. The most puzzling transformation however occurs in the riverside scene when Cheng contemplates his future. The audio of this has been lifted from the earlier (rejected) english version(note the change in Bruce's voice).This makes me wonder if SEVERAL different prints were utilised (canibalised ?) to assemble this version.
There are two audio tracks. The Cantonese track is absolutely awful! This is the track that was prepared for the Cantonese video version way back in the early 80's. The music sucks and the dubbed on fight sounds ('borrowed' from Bruce's other films) are totally out of place. The English track is the superior one that I've personally loved all of these years. Compare the final face off between Bruce and Han Ying Chieh in both versions and tell me that the pulsating guitar/synth bulid-up (in the English version) dosen't make you want to go and beat up a horde of rampaging grannie-bashers. Both audio tracks have wisely been left in Dolby Digital mono and subtitles are present in english and Dutch.
The Main and Special Features menus are very similar in that they have a large frame of changing action clips running alongside a sidebar of small frames of action. This is backed by a piece of music that, after one ot two viewings tends to become monotonous and rather annoying.
Animated Biography Showcase
This is a text-based feature that scrolls down the screen while a (American?) 'voice-over man' drones on telling us what we're reading on screen. It runs for about 20 minutes in total and I have to say that it's BOR-ING! It also features on the other Bruce Lee discs and believe me you'll only sit through it once.
UK Promo Trailer
This is quite good and looks like the sort of thing we are using to seeing at any mutiplex these days. Some nice effects in there too.
Original HK Trailer
This has the usual 'swirling' titles obliterating the screen and is far too long and revealing.
Original Mandarin Trailer
The real plus though is a couple of deleted scenes from the original Mandarin print and you can hear selections of the Mandarin music track. A truncated UK version of this appears on the video version. There is also a HK promo that probably accompanied the HK video release. Nothing to write home about here then.
Production Photo Gallery
A selection of 20 not very well presented stills of Bruce in action, still better than nothing though.
This is by FAR the best extra on the disc. Bey Logan's commentary is superb and rich with detail. Everyone should make notes while listening to this as there are so many chunks of information that pour forth from Mr. Logan. Not only does he give us a thorough examination of the film, he gives us a veritable history of HK cinema of the early 1970's as a side order. Arise Sir Bey!
By clicking your left cursor on a small pic of Bruce ('flying kick' shot) while on the HK trailer text feature, you access a number of (poorly produced) stills from the infamous deleted 'cart scene'. a nice touch, though hardly exciting when like me you saw these pics eons ago.
An impressive and feature-full presentation. The film looks terrific but has lost some of it's gritty power in the wash. I actually liked watching this film full of scratches, pops and screetching decibels. Altogether a legendary classic that must be purchased on sight. Do it now!
Rating out of 5: