After Bruce Lee's bitter disappointment with "The Silent Flute" project being shelved, Bruce was in desperate need of income. He was phoned by a Hong Kong radio presenter live on air and was asked if he would consider making a movie in Hong Kong. Bruce said that he would make a movie anywhere as long as the money and script was good. Raymond Chow, head of newly formed film company, "Golden Harvest" heard about Bruce Lee from his son who saw Bruce demonstrating his art of "Jeet Kune Do" on a Hong Kong television show. Raymond decided to send famous Hong Kong Director Lo Wei's wife to fly to America to sign Bruce to a two picture deal. Bruce accepted the salary of US$15,000 and on July 12th, 1971 flew to Bangkok in Thailand via a quick stop in Hong Kong to film, "The Big Boss."
Bruce played "Chen Chao Ahn" a Chinese who defended his people. Original director Wu Chia Hsiang was so enthusiastic that he overspent and was replaced by Lo Wei. Most of the filming was done in a small village, Pak Chong which was really under developed and Bruce complained in letters to his wife Linda that he was glad he had brought his vitamins as meat was very scarce. Maria Yi recalls of can't waiting to meet Bruce Lee because of hearing all about his heroic deeds. When they were finally introduced, she thought, "Ha! This was the founder of the famous Jeet Kune Do in jeans and a vest." Maria goes on to say that Bruce would protect her on the set as she was not an experienced actress and gradually they became close friends. "I began to realize he was a man of humour. Bruce loved to show off his muscles and one of his other habits was wanting other people to enjoy seeing his new clothes. He had plenty in Thailand," she commented.
The story is very simple, Bruce (Cheng Chao An) arrives to stay with his cousins and gets employment in the local ice factory where his cousins work. One day while working, Bruce smashes open a block of ice and two of his cousins find that there are drugs hidden inside. Ofcourse they are murdered because they won't join the secret organization. Bruce and his cousins want to know what has happened to the missing two but are told lies by the manager. Bruce is keeping a low profile in the first half of the movie because of a promise he has made to his mother not to fight. Bruce said in an interview with Ted Thomas that this definitely is a screen personality, "Because as a person, one thing i have definitely learned in my life - it seems like it's a life of self-examination and self-peeling of myself, bit by bit, day by day. It's that i do have a bad temper, a violent temper so that is definitely some people i am portraying, you know, and not Bruce Lee as he is."
Eventually after another two cousins go missing at the Boss's place, the workers go on strike and won't work until their friends are brought back. A fight ensues with the workers fighting the local Thai's. Bruce keeps out of it until one of the Thai's breaks his mother's pendant and then all hell breaks loose! Bruce finally snaps and challenges all on-comers to fight him. Bruce is victorious and becomes a hero to the workers. Bruce is promoted to head foreman at the ice factory but there is still no word or sign about his missing cousins. After a falling out with his cousins, Bruce finally decides to investigate inside the factory and is shocked to find the remains of his cousins in blocks of ice. Bruce discovers the drugs inside and finally knows the truth, but the Boss's son and henchmen are waiting for Bruce. A violent battle follows with Bruce remaining victorious. Finally, he decides to go and take revenge on the Big Boss, played by Han Ying Chieh (fight director) after the rest of his cousins are killed except for Maria Yi who is being held hostage at the Boss's mansion. Ofcourse Bruce defeats the Boss and at the end of the movie is arrested by the police.
The Big Boss premiered at midnight in October 1971 and took HK$3.2 million in 19 days. It smashed the previous record holder, 'The Sound of Music' by over HK$700,000.
Bruce suffered a few injuries on the set. He badly cut his hand while washing some glass that required ten stitches. He badly sprained his ankle from a bad trampoline landing and had to drag his leg to finish the final fight scene between himself and Han Ying Chieh.
Bruce rewrote a large part of the script while on the film set.