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This coming October 23 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1971 kung fu smash hit The Big Boss starring Bruce Lee, Maria Yi, James Tien, Tony Liu, and Nora Miao. At a budget of $100,000 The Big Boss broke many records and gained a gigantic $50 million (this translates to $300 million after adjusted inflation in today’s terms). The film also consolidates Bruce Lee’s career as well as establishing Golden Harvest’s reputation after its founding in 1970.

To understand how this film is highly influential, we would have to travel back a few years before October 23, 1971.

Bruce Lee was hit with hard times after the canceling of the TV show The Green Hornet. His wife Linda had to take a night job at an answering service to pay the bills. Lee himself was recovering from his damaged sacral nerve in his lower back in 1970 while weightlifting. He still wanted to star and produce films and TV shows but Warner Bros were reluctant (here was Lee’s work that was similar to the eventual TV hit Kung Fu). On advice from friend and fellow actor James Coburn, he decided to go visit Hong Kong to see if he can pursue his projects.

Lee was surprised that he was a huge hit in Hong Kong because of The Green Hornet. He asked his childhood friend Unicorn Chan to send his resume to the famous Shaw Brothers Studios in hopes of getting a job there. Shaw offered a long-term deal but at $2000 per film; Bruce declined.

At the same time in 1970, Raymond Chow was trying to make a hit for his new film company Golden Harvest. A former Shaw Brothers executive and veteran producer, Chow got word of Lee’s rejecting of Shaw Brothers and sent him a potential film deal. He was impressed by Bruce’s interviews on TV and his phone call, so much so that he sent the wife of director Lo Wei to discuss terms. Lee got creative freedom and a two-film deal for $15,000 (The Big Boss and the future Fist of Fury). Filming took place in Thailand so that expenses would be low.

The Big Boss became a major hit and solidified both Bruce Lee and Golden Harvest. It would reach the US under the title Fist of Fury and would break the box office in 1973. By April 1974, The Big Boss would become a worldwide hit! The film would open the kung fu genre to Western markets as a result and Shaw films, as well as Golden Harvest films, would permeate throughout the world.

After 50 years, The Big Boss is still legendary for Bruce’s performance as well as the new techniques used by Chow and Golden Harvest. There are many scenes that are still lost or deleted due to the violence, so there isn’t a definitive version of The Big Boss as of late. However, the film’s legacy cannot be denied. The whole world would not have kung fu if it weren’t for Raymond Chow, Bruce Lee, and The Big Boss.