Bruce Lee Big Boss The Missing Big Boss by Jason Hart Whenever the subject of cuts to the Bruce Lee films crops up, it is often missing footage from Game of Death or Enter the Dragon that is discussed, or in the UK, the censored nunchaku scenes from Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon.
Now, almost forty years after these classics were made, much of the missing/censored material has now thankfully been restored, and the films are finally being seen as they were meant to be seen.
There remains, however, one glaring exception, and that is Bruce's first Golden Harvest film, the often over-looked and under-appreciated The Big Boss.
Most fans will be familiar with the infamous 'saw in the head' scene, but many may not be aware of the full extent of The Big Boss's missing scenes, for the original Mandarin language prints of the film which played in theatres in Hong Kong, Southeast Asia and Chinatowns throughout the world in the early 1970s were several minutes longer than the version with which we are familiar today.
Approximately 18 months after the October 1971 HK premiere, Golden Harvest edited the film for release in the USA and Europe, and as a result many scenes were trimmed or dropped altogether.
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 women and children 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.
What is also strange is that there has never been an in-depth article detailing the exact nature of the missing footage, and most books only tend to mention the 'saw' scene. We know virtually nothing about the missing dialogue. This lack of information is mainly due to the fact that the fully uncut version has not been seen publicly since the 1970s, and unfortunately the collectors rumoured to have it are either unable or unwilling to discuss details, which is baffling and frustrating.
Above photo courtesy of Steve Kerridge - rare HK newspaper article about the uncut version of The Big Boss being shown in Chinese cinema clubs in Britain in summer 1972.
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 London. Over 1,700 lucky fans packed into the 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/Cathay.
The print of The Big Boss screened that day was indeed complete, with the notable exception of the 'saw in the head' scene. But oddly, there is no specific mention in any issue of KFM from this period of previously unseen (by Western eyes) footage in the print screened at the Film Festival, although the following excerpt did appear in issue 53 which may explain why a complete print has not surfaced since 1979:
"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 fully uncut 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.
Above Photo Courtesy of David Tadman - Bruce and James Tien walk through the alleyway in conversation, prior to the cart
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.
It's difficult to understand why all this footage was removed. One theory is that it was shot by the first director, Ng Gar Seung, who was fired early on and his footage discarded. Personally, I don't go along with that because clearly the scenes were once in the film. A more likely possibility is that Golden Harvest felt that they slowed down the pacing of the film and subsequently removed them to bring the running time down to under 100 minutes, or perhaps they thought that James Tien was getting too much screen time.
A brief section of the scene in the cousin's house can be seen in the original theatrical trailer, while a still frame showing Maria Yi talking to the group was even included in the original British front-of-house set of promotional stills for the film.
Above four photos courtesy of Greg Freeman - Bruce and James see the cart hurtling towards them and leap onto the wall to avoid it. No photos which show the villains or the cart itself have ever been published.
Above photo courtesy of Steve Kerridge - Bruce and James have just leapt onto the wall to avoid the cart.
Above four photos courtesy of Brandon Bentley and Greg Freeman - Bruce looks on as James Tien demonstrates a move he used against one of the villains from the gambling den. Li Quin is not amused...
Above photo courtesy of Steve Kerridge - Maria Yi gives Bruce and his uncle some breakfast before they leave for the ferry dock.
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 Mandarin version, but it is quite possible that it was in early prints though, as old Hong Kong films were thrown together without any real editing, and it is unlikely, given the small budget, that any footage (apart from outtakes) would have been left on the cutting room floor.
There's also some uncertainty as to where the scene would have occurred. One rumour (which began in KFM's censored file, issue 47) was that Bruce bought the prawn crackers he is seen eating towards the end of the film from Nora, in this scene.
As we shall soon see, this is completely off-beam and in any case, 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 ferry dock.
Other than the trailer clip, details about the rest of the scene are unknown at this time.
Above photos courtesy of Greg Freeman and Brandon Bentley - Nora smiles at Bruce as he approaches.
3 Cutting Up of the Cousins The scene in which the bodies of the two murdered cousins are cut up by the circular saw is gruesome enough even in the current prints, but the original, extended version of the scene was more graphic. There are clearly two edits: the first being just after the saw begins cutting into the man's back (some further cutting up has been removed) and the second cut is at the end of the scene, when one of the evil Thai factory supervisors opens up the ice container and places the body parts and remains (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'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.
Above photo from Super 8 trailer, courtesy of Greg Freeman - blood pouring from James Tien's head after he is stabbed by the Boss's son.
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 A brief scene that tends to be overlooked occurred during the banquet. In the original version, when a drunken Bruce approaches the prostitute (Malalene), he imagines her topless. In currently available copies, this has been replaced by an innocuous shot of Maria Yi smiling at him. It is possible both shots were included in the Mandarin version, as the Maria Yi clip appears in the original trailer, and since the background shows the same wall, it must have been filmed specifically for this scene.
Photo below from Super 8 trailer, courtesy of Greg Freeman - extra face in the 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.
Top photo courtesy of David Tadman - 'Saw in the head'. Below is another photo courtesy of George Tan, showing how the scene would have looked in the
film. Note henchmen in the background. This remarkable photo was first seen at the Tracking The Dragon convention in London in 1990, when George brought laminated copies over to sell.
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.
Reports vary according to source, but the general consensus seems to be that the scene was in the original Mandarin version but cut soon after the Hong Kong premiere due to negative audience reaction, when it was only playing in a few theatres there. Roy McAree, who handled the world sales and distribution of the film in 1972 has said it wasn't in the early version supplied to him by Golden Harvest, which would seem to add weight to this theory.
However, the assistant director (who also plays the factory manager) told George Tan that the footage was never used because they couldn't make it work for film, which seems strange.
What is certain is that the shot was NOT in the otherwise uncut print screened at the KFM Bruce Lee Film Festival in 1979, although Eddy Pumer, the KFM writer and researcher who obtained that print, claims to have witnessed the scene in a different print at a private showing in a West End film review theatre.
A few collectors even claim to have seen it on video, but I am sceptical about this because no bootlegs have ever been in circulation. I suspect that such 'sightings' are simply cases of mixed memory, with photos of the scene being confused with actual footage in the film where people are struck on the head by a hatchet and a flashlight.
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). He falls back towards the ice blocks, and one photo (see below) 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.
The scene would have played something like this: after Bruce picks up the saw, he wards off first attacker Tony Liu and then kicks a man to his left who runs at him with a pole. Another assailant in a dark-blue shirt then approaches Bruce with a raised knife. Bruce swings the saw overhead and embeds it into the man's head, splitting it straight down the middle, causing blood to pour down his face and shirt (this is seen from the side, as in George Tan's still frame shown above). After a scream of pain (which you can actually hear in part on the original Mandarin soundtrack), 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 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.
The two colour photos below show that the cameras kept rolling after the scene we can see in the edited version, when Bruce picks up the saw. He swung the
saw overhead and placed it to the side of the attacker's head, so this is not how the scene would have appeared in the film. Note Peter Chan on the floor, right of centre in the first photo.
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 left), which shows Bruce with clenched fist raised.
Left photo - Bruce vows to get revenge in a cut clip from the 'Riverside Mourning' scene. Right photo - Bruce about to enter the brothel for his 'encounter' with the second
11 Second Prostitute 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."
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 HK 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 HK censors, not long after the film's release. 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 after the premiere, but predated the further (and more significant) cuts made by the studio for the international release in 1973.
Above photos courtesy of Brandon Bentley and Greg Freeman - Bruce and the second prostitute.
12 Bruce vs. Han Ying Chieh (The Boss) You may recall a scene during the fight between Bruce and the Boss's son, where Bruce tastes the blood from one of his own wounds, a ploy used to unsettle his opponent. Many fans may not realise that a similar scene occurred in the film's climatic fight scene, just after the Boss slashes Bruce across the chest when he first produces his knives.
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 it has always been in the Chinese prints, and has now been restored to most other versions on DVD and Blu-ray. On the other hand, versions of the film that do not contain this scene (e.g. old US and European prints) show a non-bloody, alternative tracking shot of the two men circling; few versions show both shots.
This raises the question: how many more of the censored scenes have been substituted by replacement shots? It is interesting to note that James Tien's 'blood geyser' and the axed head in the ice from the Super 8 trailer have been replaced by less graphic shots in the standard version of the trailer. Another example in the film itself is the repeat shot of the factory manager looking down during the 'cutting up of the cousins' sequence, which is almost certainly a replacement.
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 iced drinks (some missing dialogue perhaps?); as the bouncers are leaving the gambling den and also near the start of the training sequence at the boss' house, prior to Tony Liu's trampoline jump, although this could be down to sloppy editing rather than a cut.
Other oddities appear in photographs: one of the most commonly seen stills from the film shows Bruce sitting alone at Nora Miao's stall while the four thugs from the beginning of the film look on. Bruce's uncle is nowhere to be seen, so this is probably a publicity still - or is it?
Another photo shows Bruce being served food by Maria Yi and the boy which, again, is not in today's prints. In the Japanese lobby card set, the factory supervisor who has a blue hat is seen wearing a white shirt as opposed to the black top he wears in the film.
Other stills depict Bruce fighting with some of the Thai villains at the temple-like structure in the grounds of the Boss's mansion, including Peter Chan (he is not present during the film's finale, having been disposed of in an earlier battle).
One possible explanation for shots such as these is that they could be photos of scenes filmed by Ng Gar Seung. He probably would have filmed his footage differently to Lo Wei, and while it appears that none of it has survived, it almost certainly would have been photographed.
Conclusion 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 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 still has that print, but does 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:
firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks to everyone who helped with their invaluable snippets of info.
Jason Hart - copyright
Page created by Nick Clarke & Jason Hart (August 2005) Photo Credits - David Tadman, Steve Kerridge, Brandon Bentley, George Tan and Greg Freeman.