Cheng Chao-an (Bruce Lee) has arrived in Thailand for work, and meets up with the man they call Uncle (Tu Chia-Cheng), who allows Chinese boarders to stay at his home. Before they go there, he takes Cheng to get something to eat at a stand on the way, and as they sit at the place and down their meals, a group of four toughs sidle up and begin to hassle the owner (Nora Miao). Cheng is about to intervene when Uncle reminds him of his promise to his mother back in China that he would never fight again - his jade necklace is a reminder of that - but you can push a man so far...
The Big Boss wasn't Bruce Lee's first film, but it might as well have been, elevating him from former child star and minor Hollywood actor into the martial arts megastar we know today. That's because while he had employed his combat prowess on his Green Hornet series and his previous movie Marlowe (where he was embarrassingly outfoxed by James Garner), it was in this effort he was really able to demonstrate his skills in the way that made him so celebrated. However, in spite of the opportunities his director and writer Lo Wei gave him, this was noticeably the least of Lee's four starring roles he delivered before his untimely death.
Not that it was a bad movie, it was perfectly entertaining, it was just that an uncertainty about the star's new persona led to him not earning as many of the dust up highlights as he did in his future works. Actually, he didn't even get into a fight until the film was around halfway over, a brief couple of jokey punches apart, and really only was given three setpiece battles in the remaining forty five minutes or so, including the grand finale where he fought the big boss of the title (who has those flying ducks on the wall of his mansion, like in a sitcom). Although given the eventual victor, it could be that Bruce took on that mantle by the end of the story. Whatever, though when Lee sprung into action the going was good, there was a lot of waiting for him to do so.
The plot took the form of a gangster thriller where the ice factory Cheng goes to work in turns out to be involved with heroin smuggling, packets of which they hide in the blocks which he discovers when on his first day there he accidentally breaks one, revealing all (though surely he and his fellow workers would have noticed the packs before, ice being see-through and all?). Anyway, James Tien played the best friend Hsu who treats us to the movie's first display of martial arts when he beats up the four toughs seeing as how Cheng isn't going to, and it is he who leads the charge against the corrupt bosses, making it look as if Bruce was a supporting character in his own movie for a substantial amount of the action.
When Hsu meets with an unfortunate incident, it is up to Cheng to put aside his reservations about his mother's plea and start demonstrating he's not going to be pushed around. Although after knocking some of the boss's henchmen about, that's precisely what happens, with Cheng getting drunk when he agrees to discuss things with the manager, and (gasp!) ending up in bed with a naked lady, not that he does anything because he's intoxicated into a stupor, so his chaste love interest Chow Mei (Maria Yi) has nothing to worry about. Apart from her beau being stomped on when he gets into those scraps, one supposes, but this was Bruce Lee we were talking about, so he may get a few decorative cuts and bruises but we could be confident he would win the day. There were occasional touches of foolishness - a man-shaped hole in a wall just like a cartoon, Cheng getting dogs thrown at him from offscreen - and frankly it took far too long for the Bruce action to arrive, but this was a good start. Music by Wang Fu-ling.