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The Missing Big Boss by Jason Hart

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Bruce Lee's first film for Golden Harvest, the often over-looked and under-appreciated The Big Boss, has quite a long and complicated history of censorship and editing. A few shots of excessive blood-letting were cut by the Hong Kong censors shortly before the film was released there in October 1971, and numerous further cuts were made for Singapore, the second territory to show the film. Other modifications were made for the USA release in April 1973 (where, oddly, it was renamed Fists of Fury), by which time it was quite a different film to the one which premiered in Hong Kong 18 months previously.

Further quick shots of violence - mostly involving weapons such as iron chains, sticks, knives and an ice pick - were cut from the prints in the UK and a few other European countries. These cuts were inexplicably maintained for the "pan and scan" videos released in the 1980s and 1990s but thankfully waived for the UK DVD release by Hong Kong Legends in late 2000. Also restored at this time, surprisingly, was the bloodier death scene of the big boss. Sadly however, the material cut in 1971 for Hong Kong and Singapore has never been restored, and remains missing.

In fairness, it is not hard to see why some of the cuts were made, particularly to the shots of blood and gore, since nobody involved in the making of the film could have possibly imagined the impact it would have, and after all, it was only really intended for Chinese audiences, who were accustomed to seeing buckets of blood and over-the-top violence in their films.

Another factor that may have been taken into consideration was that, following the initial success of The Big Boss (it shattered all previous box-office records in HK), Bruce became a huge star, and naturally many people flocked to theatres to see what all the fuss was about. Some people might have been disturbed by some of the more violent and sensual scenes, and there was also the image of Bruce Lee to think about, hence the 'cleaning-up' of the film. What is baffling though, is why Golden Harvest also decided to remove seemingly inoffensive 'character building' scenes of non-violence. There seems to be little logic to some of the early cuts in the film, and we probably will never know the real reasons because the editing took place such a long time ago.

Bruce Lee Film Festival 1979

Bruce Lee Film Festival 1979

On December 1st 1979, the legendary British poster magazine Kung-Fu Monthly held the world's first ever Bruce Lee Film Festival in northwest London. Over 1,700 lucky fans packed into the impressive Gaumont State Theatre on Kilburn High Road for this historic event. KFM had originally tried to secure English dubbed prints from then distributor EMI, but they refused, fearing that such an event might affect their own plans for re-releasing the films around the same time. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as KFM were instead given original, uncut 35mm Mandarin prints of Bruce's three Chinese films by Eddie Leahey, a 'mole' at Golden Harvest's London office.

The Big Boss was the first film of the day, beginning at 10.45am, and some fans actually missed some or all of it due to late trains! Others were seeing the film for the first time, as this was a private screening, and the usual lower age limit for X-rated films didn't apply. The print that was shown was indeed the uncut Mandarin version that was originally released in Hong Kong, parts of southeast Asia and some Chinese movie theatres around the world in the early 1970s, shorn of a few explicit moments (including the 'saw in the head' scene), but otherwise complete. Strangely, there is no specific mention in any issue of KFM or the Society news sheets of the significance of the print screened at their Film Festival. It's hard to believe it now, but at the time The Big Boss simply wasn't a big deal; fans were far more interested in seeing uncut versions of the other films. The following excerpt did however appear in issue 53:

"It's vital that I tell you the following disastrous news. Once the reels that we were showing wear out (and already they're looking somewhat 'tired') I'm told there can NEVER be any replacements! That's not the case with the usual, English dialogue, censored version - just the uncut originals. Therefore, what we were showing is a slice of history that will quite soon disappear for ever!"

The following list of all known cuts is based on photographs; footage of some of the missing scenes in the original trailer; some speculation on my part, and most importantly, eye-witness accounts from people who actually saw the uncut Mandarin version all those years ago. Of course, memories of events witnessed in the 1970s are a little vague, and inevitably some people remember details that others do not, but hopefully I have compiled a fairly complete and accurate puzzle.

1 Cart Attack / Cousin's House

The first instance of missing footage occurs just after the fight near the gambling den. In today's 'usual' versions of the film, after the four defeated thugs have run off, Bruce and James Tien share a joke about Bruce's promise not to fight, and the scene then cuts to the following morning, with Maria Yi looking at the sunrise. However, what we should have seen was Bruce and James continue their journey along the road. They reach a T-junction and turn into a narrow alleyway, where they are once again set upon by the thugs from the gambling den, who push a flaming cart towards them. To avoid it, the pair grab hands and leap backwards onto a wall, with barbed-wire behind them. (Bruce and James were filmed jumping off the wall and this was then played in reverse.) When the danger has passed, James says to Bruce, "Some people will do anything to get revenge." When they arrive back home, it's late, and the other cousins are in their pyjamas ready for bed. James Tien eagerly describes the fight to them (a smiling Bruce stays silent), and while demonstrating one particular move he used against one of the thugs, grabs Li Quin (the chubby cousin) by the genitals. A shocked Li tells him, "Watch it! I might have use for those!" The fun ends with Maria Yi entering, and telling them all to get to bed. Next we see her looking at the sunrise. Or is she? Notice when she wakes the cousins for work she is carrying a tray with two empty glasses, and that Bruce is not in the sleeping quarters. Also, if you listen carefully to the original Mandarin soundtrack found on some VideoCDs and DVDs from the Far East, there is an abrupt jump in the music at this point, indicating another cut and yet more missing footage, in which Maria gives Bruce and his uncle a drink on the balcony outside before they leave for the ferry dock. I believe she is actually looking at them as they leave the house, rather than the sunrise.

Burning Cart Deleted Scene

It's difficult to understand why all this footage was removed. The general consensus seems to be that Golden Harvest felt that it slowed down the pacing of the early part of the film, which placed more emphasis on James Tien's character than on Bruce Lee. Further, the trimming of these scenes would have helped bring the running time down to under 100 minutes (it is thought that the original Mandarin version ran to approximately 103 minutes), making the film more attractive to potential buyers. Ironically, the "pushcart attack in the alleyway" scene was the last one to be filmed, in a studio in Hong Kong in early September 1971 (Golden Harvest had not as yet moved into their famous studios on Hammer Hill Road). A brief section of the scene in the cousin's house can be seen in the original theatrical trailer, while a photo showing Maria Yi apparently chastising James Tien was even included in the UK front-of-house set of promotional stills for the film.

Bruce Lee and Nora Miao

2 Bruce and Nora Miao

The aforementioned 1971 theatrical trailer shows a brief clip from this scene, in which Bruce, walking down the road, sees Nora Miao sitting at her refreshment stall; the camera zooms in to show her smiling at him. This scene is a bit of an oddity, as nobody seems to recall seeing it in the longer Mandarin version. There's also some uncertainty as to where it would have occurred. It was initially thought that Bruce bought the bag of prawn crackers (or crisps) he is seen eating towards the end of the film from Nora, in this scene. However, this cannot be the case as Bruce is wearing his T-shirt and jade necklace when he visits Nora in the missing scene, but when he has the prawn crackers he is wearing a long-sleeved shirt and no longer has the necklace. Some Big Boss fans speculate that had it appeared, it may have been directly after the scene where Bruce sees his uncle depart on the ferry, as Nora's other two scenes in the film are preceded by scenes of Bruce at the nearby ferry dock. Other than the trailer clip, details about the rest of the scene are unknown. It is interesting to note that Nora's scenes were filmed in a rural suburb of Phra Pradaeng District near Bangkok, on the last day of filming in Thailand, and not Pak Chong as was originally thought. Part of the opening fight sequence between James Tien and some local hoodlums was also filmed on the same road, which was then edited together with earlier action footage shot in Pak Chong.

3 Cutting Up of the Cousins

The scene in which the bodies of the two murdered cousins are cut up by the electric saw is gruesome enough even in the current prints, but the original, extended version of the scene was much more graphic. There are clearly two edits: the first being just after the saw begins cutting into the man's back (the body being completely cut apart was removed by the HK censors) and the second cut is at the end of the scene, when one of the Thai factory supervisors opens up the ice container and places the body parts (including a severed head) inside. In the current version, we can just see him reach down to open the container before the scene ends abruptly. Directly after this sequence, most versions show James Tien asking the other workers at the factory if the two missing men have arrived at work yet. In some old prints however, we see a brief shot of Tien, Bruce and the other four cousins running towards the factory. This was probably omitted from many releases due to print damage, after the previous scene had been hacked so badly.

4 James Tien's Bleeding Head

James Tien

James Tien's final fight scene, in which he is killed by the Boss's son, Tony Liu, also suffered cuts. When Tony Liu first joins the fight, he leaps over Tien and stabs him in the head with a knife. The Super 8 version of the original trailer (which is included on the UK Platinum Edition DVD) shows blood pouring profusely from the wound like water running from a tap. In today's prints we merely see Tien's already bloodied head, as he is removing his jacket, but if you look carefully in some versions (not the re-mastered DVDs) you will notice white horizontal 'splice' lines (negative cuts) appear briefly on the screen where this scene has been trimmed, which prove that the shot was once in the film. I also suspect that further brief shots of blood-letting have been cut from this fight, especially when Tien kicks a hook-wielding assailant in the face, sending him staggering back with a bloody nose, but without seeing a complete print it is impossible to be sure.

5 Workers' Revolt

More quick shots of blood spurting have been trimmed during the first fight at the ice factory, between the striking workers and the Thai foreman and his supervisors, who are later joined by some henchmen sent over by the Boss. One example is when a worker is struck on the head by a wooden pole (a scene missing completely from old UK prints). Another cut occurs when a worker is slashed across the chest by a knife; old prints once again show a negative cut where the scene has been trimmed.

6 Banquet

The banquet scene, where the factory manager plies Bruce with cognac, was slightly different. In the original version, when a drunken Bruce approaches the prostitute Wu Man (played by young Thai actress and former beauty queen Malarin Boonak), he imagines her topless. In the current version, this has been replaced by an innocuous shot of Maria Yi smiling at him. This scene was filmed in the back room of a Chinese restaurant in Bangkok, close to the Thai Hotel where the cast and crew were staying.

Head in ice

7 Body Parts in Ice

The sequence in which Bruce discovers the various body parts encased in the ice, was longer. Nowadays, we only get to see a severed hand and the heads of James Tien and the prostitute (how did they get her in the ice so quickly?), but the Mandarin print showed body parts of other people in the ice as well. That Super 8 trailer mentioned above contains an eerie looking shot of a blood-spattered face in the ice, presumably that of the cousin who was struck on the head with a hatchet.

8 Saw in the Head

Was this, the most notorious and well known of all the censored scenes, ever in the film? Does it still exist, and if so, where is it? These questions have been the source of much debate and discussion among fans for decades. The scene was certainly filmed and was even in Lo Wei's original director's cut, but was removed by the Hong Kong censors, who felt that the killing and bloodshed was dramatised to an intolerable extent for the general audience. It was supposedly in a print shown at a special pre-screening in Hong Kong before the film went on general release, but hasn't been seen since; all that survives of it are a few stills.
Inevitably, a few fans claim to have seen it in various prints and even videotapes over the years, but there is no evidence to back up any of these claims.
Roy McAree, who handled the world sales and distribution of the film in the early 1970s, has said it wasn't in any of the early prints that he saw, and the shot was not in the Mandarin print screened at the KFM Bruce Lee Film Festival in 1979.

Notice during the fight how much people have moved after the edit has occurred. Just before the cut, Bruce kicks a thug wearing a light-blue T-shirt (stuntman Peter Chan Lung); he falls back towards the ice blocks, and one photo shows him actually on the ground. However, a second later, after the edit, he has moved considerably and is back on his feet attacking Bruce again with a pole, which Bruce promptly kicks in half. This leads me to believe that there may have been more to the missing footage than meets the eye, but in truth it is probably just a continuity error.

Saw in head

The entire sequence would have played something like this: after Bruce picks up the saw, he wards off the first attacker (the son of the big boss, played by Tony Lau Wing), and then kicks a man to his left who runs at him with a pole. Another assailant in a navy blue shirt (who is quite prominent in the footage leading up to the attack) then approaches Bruce with a raised knife; Bruce swings the saw overhead and embeds it deep into the man's head, causing blood to pour down his face and shirt. The man falls back with the saw still inside his head, and then we cut back into the usual censored version of the scene, with Peter Chan Lung attacking once again. Although brief (probably just a few seconds), this is nevertheless an extremely annoying omission which disrupts the flow of the fight dramatically, and is certainly the most (in)famous censored scene in the Bruce Lee canon of films.

9 Family Massacre

Following the battle at the ice factory, Bruce returns home and discovers the bodies of his slaughtered relatives. This scene has been trimmed slightly, for when Bruce lifts the mosquito net, more of Ah San's blood-soaked body was shown. It now cuts just before we see his face and the knife protruding from his chest.

10 Riverside Mourning

A couple of edits were made to the scene in which Bruce sits by the river contemplating revenge. In addition to the usual flashback image of the cousins laughing and joking superimposed over the waterfall, some people remember seeing a more graphic shot of their bloody dead bodies, although this is just a rumour with nothing to substantiate it. Secondly, after Bruce throws his possessions into the river and glances skyward, he raises his fist and shouts repeatedly, "I want revenge!" Now, we just see him look up, then turn and run. Unlike the first edit, there is evidence of sorts of a cut here, as a jump in the music can clearly be heard during the original Mandarin soundtrack, as well as a photo (below), which shows Bruce with clenched fist raised.

Bruce Lee Deleted Scene

11 Second Prostitute

Prostitute Deleted Scene
Second Prostitute Deleted Scene 2

In the original version, Bruce paid a THIRD visit to the brothel, just prior to the final showdown with the Boss. Most fans will be familiar with the infamous photograph of Bruce standing naked behind the bed, and the few seconds that appear in the 1971 trailer. But how many people know exactly how the entire scene played? Bruce, having thrown his possessions into the river, runs off down the road. Nowadays, we then see him arriving at the Boss's house holding a packet of prawn crackers. However, in the original Mandarin version, Bruce runs into the town and stops outside the brothel. He pauses for a moment and decides to go in. Inside, he pays some money to someone behind a counter, and goes upstairs to where the prostitutes are sitting. The camera pans over them (as if from Bruce's point of view), and he points at the small prostitute with the orange top, who you may recall is in the 'usual' version of the film sitting next to the first prostitute when he visits the second time. (Notice how she looks directly into the camera, indicating she may have been a real prostitute, and not an actress.) They go to the same room he had slept in two nights before. After closing the curtains, she approaches him and he pushes her onto the bed. He then takes off his shirt and she removes her dress. They face each other; Bruce is standing naked behind the bed (this is in the original trailer). The girl lies on the bed and Bruce (waist-high shot) walks toward the camera and blurs out the scene. Next, Bruce is shown putting on his shirt (after he has supposedly had sex), while the girl is still lying on the bed. He looks at her, takes out the rest of his money and places it on her stomach. As Bruce is about to leave the room, he sees a bag of prawn crackers on a table. He picks them up, tries one, and then leaves. Then the scene cuts to the one which is in the 'usual' version - Bruce arriving at the Boss' house with the prawn crackers.

This scene is symbolic and quite important. In the previous scene we saw Bruce throw away his possessions and here we see him give away all his money, and enjoy his final pleasures and one last meal before he is either killed or arrested for murder, a message which is now lost in today's prints. Although all sexual activity occurs off camera, this is still a remarkably daring scene for 1971 HK, and very atypical of Lee's character in the film, which is probably why it was later cut, and besides, Bruce Lee fans would probably not want to see their hero visiting a brothel for sexual favours. Bruce himself tried to justify the inclusion of this controversial scene when he was asked about it during a HK radio interview with journalist Ted Thomas shortly after the release of The Big Boss. He explained: "The way I look at that is that it was a suggestion of the director, and I accept it in such a way and that is, him being a very simple man, when all of a sudden he made up his mind that he is going to go and either die or kill or be killed, right? So he walks past and it's kind of a sudden thing, of human beings, that a thought just occurs - well, doggone it, man... such is the basic need of a human being... I might as well enjoy it, man, before I kick the bucket!"

Director Lo Wei: "The hero of The Big Boss is an energetic young man. When such a man prepares to kill the villain at any cost, he naturally will want to give vent to his desire. So, he goes to the whorehouse and makes love to a prostitute."

Second Prostitute Deleted Scene

Linda Lee also briefly referred to it in her 1975 book, 'Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew': "I remembered a moment when we had sat in the dark watching The Big Boss unfold and the scene comes up where Bruce is brought face to face with a naked prostitute; Bruce had leaned across to me and whispered, 'Part of the fringe benefits.'"

Interestingly, an old Hong Kong poster magazine from 1976 describes a scene which was apparently filmed as part of Bruce's encounter with the second prostitute but cut by the Hong Kong censors, shortly before the film's release there. It is recorded by the Censor's Office as follows: "Bruce and a prostitute make love in bed. The noise produced is so great that another couple in the adjacent room are disturbed. The girl peeps through a hole into Bruce's room. The man also wants to see, but the girl will not give way until he pays her some money. The man cannot held (sic) himself, he pays."
Like the 'saw in the head', this 'peeping' scene was also not included in the Mandarin print screened in London in 1979, so this must have been the version that suffered slightly at the hands of the HK censors shortly before the premiere, but predated the further (and more significant) cuts made for Singapore and other territories.

12 Bruce vs. Han Ying Chieh (The Boss)

During the fight between Bruce and the boss's son, Bruce tastes the blood from one of his own wounds, a ploy used to unsettle his opponent. The idea for this came from Larry Hartsell, one of his Los Angeles students, who had used it in a bar fight. Many fans may not realise that a similar scene occurred in the film's climactic fight scene, just after the boss slashes Bruce's abdomen when he first produces his knives. This shot was in the original Hong Kong version and also the Kilburn print, but is strangely absent from all other versions.
The gory death scene of the boss, in which we see blood pouring down from underneath his jacket and Bruce's fingers penetrating the man's ribcage, was at one time virtually unseen in the Western world, but, unlike many of the other missing shots of blood and gore, has now been restored to most versions on DVD and Blu-ray. On the other hand, older versions of the film that do not contain this scene instead show a non-bloody, alternative shot of the two men circling; very few versions show both shots, but the full sequence has been reconstructed in some excellent fan-made edits that are available on YouTube.

In addition to the scenes listed above, there are also audio clicks and 'jump cuts' at the following points in the film, which could indicate further cuts: when Nora Miao gives Bruce and his uncle their shaved ice desserts (some missing dialogue perhaps?); as the bouncers are leaving the gambling den and also near the start of the training sequence at the boss's house, prior to Tony Liu's trampoline jump, although this could be down to sloppy editing rather than a cut. The scene where Bruce arrives at the factory for his first day at work and speaks to cousin Ah Kun (Li Kun) is missing a few frames in most versions due to print damage, where Kun animatedly describes the foreman as having "a beard and a pigtail". However, this shot is included in a few old versions which are in the public domain, so was not included in the main list of missing scenes.

Other oddities appear in photographs: one shows Bruce's uncle performing a Thai-style prayer at the entrance to the factory while Bruce looks on. In other stills, the villainous Thai factory supervisor in the blue hat is seen wearing a white shirt as opposed to the black top he wears in the film. One possible explanation for shots such as these is that they could be photos of scenes filmed by the original director, Wu Chia-Hsiang, who was fired after just a few days' filming at the ice factory. While it appears that none of his footage has survived, it certainly would have been photographed.

Deleted Scene
Deleted Scene


As far as is known, the missing footage has, incredibly, not been seen since the KFM event in December 1979, and has become the holy grail of Bruce Lee fandom. There have been a few 'sightings' on video over the years, but oddly, nobody can seem to prove this. We have to assume, therefore, that the scenes were removed from the master negative, destroyed, and then only existed on the 35mm prints of the film which were doing the rounds in the theatres, and these too would have been deliberately destroyed on their return to Golden Harvest due to the highly flammable nature of celluloid. It would appear that the extra footage was of little value to them, and making fresh copies was not an option because this would have proved too expensive.

The questions in the minds of all Big Boss fans are, do any of these uncut 35mm prints still exist, and if so, where are they hiding? It's common knowledge that Bruce sent an original print to the late Fred Weintraub in 1972. Bruce had been working with Fred on developing a US TV show called 'The Warrior', (which later became 'Kung Fu'), and, after being turned down for the role, sent him a print of The Big Boss which ultimately led to Bruce being offered the lead in Enter the Dragon. Apparently Fred kept that print, but did he realise the rarity of it and that it has never been available on the worldwide market? The print screened at the Bruce Lee Film Festival also apparently still exists and is rumoured to be in the hands of a private collector. There could well be others in private hands or languishing in the vaults of a foreign distributor. But in what condition would they be in? People who saw such prints in the 70s have said that they were not in the best condition even back then. We can only keep our fingers crossed and hope that one day, one of these private collectors will come forward, and we will all finally learn the truth about the missing Big Boss, for there are still many unanswered questions. Until then we are left with a mere handful of photographs and tantalisingly brief glimpses of some of the missing scenes in the original trailer.

Hopefully this article has raised awareness of The Big Boss's missing scenes, and also helped to dispel a few myths. However, if you have seen a complete print and would like to correct anything in the article, or would just like to contact me about any of the issues raised, please do so at:

Thanks to everyone who helped with their invaluable snippets of info.

Jason Hart - copyright

Page created by Nick Clarke. Photo Credits - Steve Kerridge, Brandon Bentley, George Tan and Greg Freeman.