Big Boss, The (Tang Shan da Xiong) (Blu-ray) (1971)

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Released 4-Jan-2016

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Martial Arts Audio Commentary-Mike Leeder (Hong Kong Film Expert)
Trailer
TV Spots-Bruce Lee - Animated Biography Showcase
Alternate Audio-3
More…-Alternative Title Sequence
More…-Alternative Finale
Featurette-Return to Pak Chong: The Big Boss Revisited (9:26)
Featurette-Bruce Lee: The Early Years (13:51)
Featurette-Interview with Tung Wai (2:37)
Additional Footage-Rare Scene Extensions (2:22)
Featurette-Bruce Lee vs. Peter Thomas (2:27)
Gallery-Still Gallery (4:30)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1971
Running Time 100:14
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Wei Lo
Wu Chia Hsiang
Studio
Distributor
Fortune Star
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Bruce Lee
Maria Yi
James Tien
Yin-Chieh Han
Malalene
Tony Liu
Quin Lee
Nora Miao
San Chin
Chao Chen
Chia Ching Tu
Tso Chen
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI ? Music Peter Thomas
Fu-ling Wang


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0
Mandarin DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0
English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0
English Audio Commentary DTS HD Master Audio 2.0
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Young Chinese man Zheng Chao-an (Bruce Lee) travels to Thailand where he has distant relatives in search of work. He has made a pledge to his mother not to fight and thus stands aside while his cousin Xu Jian (James Tien) takes care of a group of thugs. Xu gets Chao-an a job in the ice factory run by Manager Sun (Chen Chih) and the family and work friends live together looked after by the beautiful Qiao Mei (Maria Yi). However the ice factory is really a front for distributing drugs for the Big Boss (Han Ying-Chieh) and his son (Tony Liu); workers who discover the truth suddenly disappear. When Xu questions the boss about the disappearances he too is killed and Chao-an must renounce his pledge of non-violence to search for the truth and to try to protect his friends.

     The Big Boss (Tang Shan da Xiong) by experienced but journeyman writer / director Lo Wei broke box office records in Hong Kong when it was released in 1971 and made a megastar of Bruce Lee. Indeed, without the charisma and screen presence of Lee The Big Boss would be an acceptable, but run of the mill, martial arts action film. Shot in Thailand, in part in a brothel with actual prostitutes, The Big Boss includes female nudity that is unusual in Hong Kong films (Chinese Hong Kong actresses did not do nudity, it was bad for their future marriage prospects), and more bloody action with edged weapons, especially knives, than also is usual in Hong Kong films of the period. The Thai locations do look good but the plot is predictable and much of the action staging is rather stilted until Lee decides to fight around the film’s 40 minute mark. When he does, his movements and speed are stunning, easily showing up the previous action. His fight to the death with Han Ying-Chieh (who is also credited as the film’s fight co-ordinator) at the climax shows the athleticism and genuine martial arts abilities of both men that is still breathtaking after 40 years. Another joy of the film is seeing faces in the cast who later went on to bigger things, such as Lam Ching Ying of Mr. Vampire fame.

     There have been numerous versions of The Big Boss down the years in different regions. A decent summary of the various cuts and missing scenes can be found on the Movie Censorship site here. This Blu-ray runs 100:14 and although it is still missing the saw in the head and the second brothel scene, as well as some scenes which feature in the trailers, it is probably the most complete cut of the film that is likely to be available any time soon, if ever.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Big Boss is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p, using the MPEG-4 AVC code.

     While not perfect by any means this HD release of The Big Boss probably looks as good as it ever has. Detail can be on the soft side, but close-ups of the face and torso of Lee are firm and the colours are bright, indeed almost garish. Blacks and shadow detail are great, contrast and brightness consistent. Light grain is evident, marks are absent. My only real reservation is the frequent blur with motion against railings, planks, trees and almost any striped background.

     American English subtitles are available in a clear white font. They are removable and I did not notice any errors.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     Over the years The Big Boss has been released in a variety of language formats and with different music scores. As the IMDb explains: “there are four main music scores for this film, every cut varying with a different score. The first score was made for the 1971 Mandarin dub by Wang Fu-Ling and was also going to be used in the first English dub as well as all European language dubs (French, Spanish, etc). The second score was made especially for the re-dubbed English print in the U.K. and the U.S. by German musician Peter Thomas. The third score was about the same as the second, but had additional music created by Joseph Koo especially for the Japanese print. The fourth (and supposedly final) score was comprised of music that was made for the Japanese print, Golden Harvest stock music, and a couple of Pink Floyd tracks. This fourth score was arranged especially for the 1980s Cantonese dub”.

     This Blu-ray is thus a treat for fans of The Big Boss as it provides the option to watch the film in either

     I listened primarily to the Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1 and sampled some of the others. Dialogue was clear but the music and the effects, including during the fights, were very front oriented and I did not notice any real subwoofer use. The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 was louder, with a bit of ambient sound such as wind in the rears. The Mandarin and Cantonese mono were quite sharp. The less said about the “Rare Original English Dub” the better. I did not notice any annoying hiss or pops but enjoyed switching between audio with the remote in scenes to hear the different scores!

    Like all Hong Kong films of this period no dialogue was recorded on set. It seems that Lee spoke Cantonese on set, many of the other Chinese Mandarin and the Thai extras, including the girls, Thai. So no matter which audio track you pick to watch the film, the lip synchronisation was dodgy at best.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Audio Commentary

     Hong Kong film expert Mike Leeder is no Bey Logan (but few are) but he provides a decent commentary about the career, philosophy and influence of Bruce Lee, his conflict with director Lo Wei, the subsequent careers of various cast members, the fight choreography and missing footage. Parts of the commentary sound as if it has been recorded in an echo chamber, but it is always understandable.

Trailers (17:27)

     Six trailers for The Big Boss including original theatrical trailers and the Hong Kong Legends DVD release trailer. The state of preservation varies considerably.

US TV Spots (1:15)

     Two TV spots.

Alternative Title Sequence (4:45)

     Actually three alternative title sequences, one without text.

Alternative Finale (0:43)

     A different , shorter, version of the film’s climax.

Return to Pak Chong: The Big Boss Revisited (9:26)

     Not a retrospective as such but an interview with Australian actor and martial artist Daniel Whyte who answers text questions about the inspiration and influence of Bruce Lee and how Whyte visited a couple of locations in Pak Chong where The Big Boss was filmed.

Bruce Lee: The Early Years (13:51)

     Stunt man Gene Lebell talks about meeting Lee on the set of The Green Hornet and their relationship. Lebell is a natural raconteur and his anecdotes are funny as he talks about Lee the man and the martial artist. A fun extra.

Interview with Tung Wai (2:37)

     Film director Tung Wai talks about meeting Bruce Lee, and Lee as a martial artist. Subtitled.

Rare Scene Extensions (2:22)

     Five scene extensions, some in poor condition. Nothing essential.

Bruce Lee vs. Peter Thomas (2:27)

     How German Peter Thomas came to be rescore The Big Boss for European release.

Still Gallery (4:30)

     Approximately 70 black and white / colour film and on set stills plus poster art from around the world. Silent, the stills advance automatically.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This release of The Big Boss is the same as the US Region A Shout! Factory release although as far as I can see that version is only available as part a box set Blu-ray / DVD collection. In Australia it can be bought stand-alone or as part of a four disk box which also includes Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon and Game of Death which I saw in Sanity for under $35. I call that a bargain.

Summary

     The Big Boss may not be the best martial arts film around but over 40 years after its release the charisma, presence and fighting skills of Bruce Lee light up the screen. The Big Boss looks fine on Blu-ray, the extras are worthwhile and fans will love the opportunity to watch the film in a variety of dubs and different music scores. This is also the most complete cut of the film available.

     The Big Boss is the film which brought martial arts to the attention of western audiences and made a megastar of Lee. At the price this Blu-ray is a no brainer purchase for fans of Lee or anyone interested in the martial arts genre.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Thursday, March 17, 2016
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S580, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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