The Big Boss

The first major-release film starring Bruce Lee not only kicked off his career, it also led to the creation of other exploitation subgenres.

“The Big Boss,” also known in the U.S. by its American title, “Fists of Fury,” is typical of the martial arts genre it helped create. The prolonged fight scenes make up the bulk of the film’s running time. The protagonist — here, a martial arts student investigating his teacher’s murder — commonly takes on a number of enemies at once, and often in successive waves. It’s the violence carried out through astounding kung fu and karate moves that provide the hallmark characteristic of the martial arts exploitation film.

Released in 1971, “The Big Boss” was the first of five major Bruce Lee films, which are a foundation of the martial arts exploitation subgenre that also includes the likes of Sonny Chiba in the “Streetfighter” series. It’s also noteworthy in that it introduced Lee to the world, making him a star and creating such a cottage industry around him that his untimely death at age 32 in 1973 actually ushered in a new subgenre of the martial arts subgenre: Bruce Lee exploitation. In these dozens of films, Bruce Lee lookalikes — often with knockoff names like Bruce Le and Bruce Li — carried on the tradition created by the original.