Comparison between the standard cut (Hong Kong 1983 version) and the extended Manadrin Cut (both included on Arrow Video's UK 4K UHD set). This set is only available in the UK as these titles are distributed by different rights holders in the U.S. or other territories. The 4K discs are regionfree though.
Note: The Mandarin Cut has even been cleared for ages 15+ thanks to new BBFC guidelines under changed time circumstances, while the standard cut continues to carry the old BBFC 18 rating given in 2000, with previous censorship cuts waived).
BRUCE LEE AT GOLDEN HARVEST from Arrow Video in 4K UHD.
July 17, 2023 was a day of celebration for fans of martial arts icon Bruce Lee, as in the UK, aficionado label Arrow Video has released an impressively equipped box set. The centerpiece, of course, are the 3.5 films Lee shot in Hong Kong: The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The Way of the Dragon and the unfinished Game of Death are included in new 4K restorations. In addition, the sequel Game of Death II (aka Tower of Death), which at least contains some snippets of exclusive footage featuring Lee, is available in true HD for the first time. Previous Blu-rays having been upscales only. The US co-production Enter the Dragon is also included for the sake completeness, but unfortunately only in the form of the 2013 Blu-ray, as Warner will exclusively distribute the 4K premiere here from August 10, 2023.
What makes the box so special, however, is on the one hand the lush package of pretty much every original audio track imaginable, newly created subtitles and bonus material for every single film. From The Big Boss alone, for example, there were four different music scores back in the day, and no matter which variation of those you prefer, here you have them to choose from. Several newly recorded audio commentaries and really excellently researched featurettes let you dive deep into the entire legacy and background surrounding Lee's brief creative period as well as the impact on the film industry. In AVForums' review, it was aptly summed up as "the single best physical media boxset release of 2023," "hard to beat by anyone in the physical media game," or simply, "In a word...wow."
On the other hand, from our point of view, it is of course the completely insane accumulation of different film versions that is the focus of quite a few new reports. While most of those versions are more for the die-hard fan, two little "sensations" clearly stand out.
Sensation #1 is certainly that the 10 minute longer Mandarin Cut of The Big Boss has actually been found. After its Hong Kong premiere in 1971 with a Mandarin dub, the film was already trimmed somewhat to the crisper running time of just under 100 minutes for worldwide export in 1972 and has never been available in the original version since. Choppy scenes, quick additional moments in trailers as well as old VHS releases or set photos showing scenes not present in the actual movie have fueled speculation for decades about what exactly was lost on the cutting room floor. But no: the infamous saw scene is unfortunately not to be discovered in the new Mandarin Cut either. However, several other scenes that have always been discussed in fan circles and have been completely missing until now, as well as the snippets from the German VHS or the old US DVD summarized in this report, are now in the film.
Sensation #2 is clearly the find of the remaining film reels that Bruce shot himself for Game of Death back then. To sum it up quickly: The film versions released in the late 70s used only a fraction of just 11 minutes of it, completely disfigured by a bonkers trash plot around it. In the late '90s, some of the original footage was found, and there were several reconstruction attempts to edit it down to, after all, ~35-40 minutes that would do justice to Lee's vision for the extended final battle in the Pagoda. With the film reels now complete for the first time and looking fresher than ever in HD, another reconstruction has been made. This is the concluding chapter of a whopping 223 minute documentary, which rolls up the concept behind this movie in detail and also presents the complete, nearly two hour long raw footage with a commentary track.
For a few more first-hand insights, check out the interview with Brandon Bentley on YouTube (starting at 64th minute). Bentley is also one of the many helpers on various Asia Blu-rays in the UK from Eureka and 88 Films, e.g. he built the reconstructed original version of The 18 Bronzemen. He shares some interesting details here about the lengthy production process behind the Lee box and his first reactions to hearing about and then actually seeing the newly found footage. In addition, Arrow producer James Flower, who is responsible for most of the box's content, gives a comprehensive "viewing guide" to the individual versions and audio options in the wonderfully detailed book within the box, starting on page 175.
New scenes in the Mandarin Cut of THE BIG BOSS
So what's behind the Mandarin Cut? As alluded to above, you can first mention what unfortunately still is not included: The infamous violent tip from the finale, documented in the form of set photos, where Bruce rams a handsaw into the head of an opponent, was not found in this longer print either. Perhaps this scene was ultimately removed even before the very first theatrical release. In general, the actual Mandarin print had a few minor blemishes (some of them censorship-related). But Arrow fortunately took the 4K scan of the standard version as a basis and added all the longer footage here, so there are no master-related missing scenes in the Mandarin Cut. Presumably, in any case, the Mandarin theatrical print used last screened at the Bruce Lee Film Festival in London in 1979. This has been a major source for information on lost scenes (articly by Jason Hart) for years.
With over 10 minutes of additional material, a few of these oft-discussed scenes can now be confirmed. The longest addition is the sequence mentioned in the article just linked, in which Bruce and James are attacked again in an alley by the baddies from the gambling den and then tell about it right afterwards back home. Just before the "factory run" found in old versions, there is also more of the murder of the two workers to see, a severed body part (presumably a head) is thrown into a box here. Bruce encounters Nora Miao one more time and James Tien's bleeding head can be seen longer too. When Bruce finds the bodies of his cousins, a bloody shot is also clearly longer. The river scene, including another flashback to the corpses, is finally complete without little jump cuts in the music. And also the visit to the brothel right before the finale is now included in the film. Most of this material actually rounds off the film better in terms of both action and plot.
But there are also a few more additions that should be completely new even for die-hard fans, and some of them set interesting focal points. For example, it is striking that James Tien beats up the troublemakers on the market right at the beginning for a much longer time and quite brutally. Here, as well as in the follow-up scene already mentioned earlier from articles, in which Bruce praises his fighting skills and Tien brags a bit to the other workers, it becomes clear that Tien's role was originally set up differently. It's common knowledge that the production was initially planned with him more as an established studio star in the lead, and then as filming progressed, thanks to Lee's charisma, his part became more prominent. Thus, it is easy to understand why these scenes were cut - but they are exciting to watch. It is also noticeable that Ah Kun, played by Lee Kwan, gets more screentime with a few silly moments. Nora Miao has a longer moment at the very beginning of the film and the training fight of Mi's men also has some small additions. How Chow Mei's (Maria Yi) kidnappers infiltrate the mansion is now also seen for the first time.
Also, as expected, there are all the little snippets of scenes here that add up to just under 50 sec in total and were found on the German VHS. This VHS, in turn, had quite a few censorship cuts in other places and was thus ultimately useless. At least three of these bits with a duration of 15 sec were also included in the old US DVD and we had already unraveled this in detail in our dedicated report back then. In the new Mandarin Cut all this stuff only becomes a side note though within the total 10 minutes of additional material. Anyway, it's nice to see that even these small moments are now saved for eternity in HD/4K.
A last very big aspect, which we naturally can badly represent in our format, is the other soundtrack/score. In the original Mandarin soundtrack, you can hear a score attributed to composer Wang Fu-ling, which recycles many pieces of music from Japanese films like Daimajin, among others. So the atmosphere of many scenes here is quite different to the more commonly known releases. Curiously, the new score by Peter Thomas with its catchy brass, originally used for German 1973 theatrical release, also made an impression internationally and was adopted for theatrical releases in the UK and the US. In Japan, the same English dub was used as a basis, but the score was newly created by the legendary Joseph Koo, who also scored the two following Lee films. And the score created in 1983 by Frankie Chan for the Cantonese re-release then mixes parts from the Thomas and Koo scores with new pieces. The latter variant is, as said, in principle the internationally most widespread. Arrow also uses it as the default audio option for the standard version of the movie. But you can also play all four other audio tracks matched to this cut of the movie as well.
Three more versions of THE BIG BOSS and a conclusion
Yes, you read correctly: In addition to the most widely distributed Hong Kong "standard version" and the new Mandarin Cut, there are actually three additional versions to choose from in the Arrow set. As a quick recap on that: In 4K, both the original English export version from 1972 and the subsequent US theatrical version (under the misleading title FistS of Fury) have been reconstructed. For the most part, however, only the credits diverge here and some of the minor added bits are included as well. Censorship and plot trims from the releases of the time have (thankfully) not been fully reconstructed. As a 1080p bonus, the Mandarin Cut disc also includes the raw scan, which is about one minute shorter. Details will follow in corresponding reports.
At this point it should also be mentioned again that Arrow uses the 4K master of the standard version for the Mandarin Cut as far as possible. At the beginning, the inserts to the Mandarin source are a bit longer than you actually see additional bits. But especially when only a small snippet at the beginning/end of shots was longer, the image source usually switches specifically only for those brief moments. The Mandarin print has burned-in Chinese/English subtitles and is noticeably brighter, but still quite watchable. For a mass audience, the standard version without such inserts probably remains the first choice. However, any fan is strongly advised to go for the Mandarin Cut. It adds quite a few missing pieces of the puzzle, both in terms of short fight scenes as well as plot elements and simply some small connection errors. Even without the saw scene, it's an unexpected happy ending for this legendary case of a film that has been classified as being cut virtually worldwide until now.
Last but not least, the bonus material includes The Not-Quite-Biggest Boss, a highly recommended featurette. In the appendix of this report, we also summarize this in detail, because several further missing scenes (even apart from the so often mentioned saw scene!) are nicely explained here. Thus, we can really bundle everything about this complex case in the following report for the time being.
After identical reference to Fortune Star, the Mandarin Cut shows the older intro of Golden Harvest.
Mandarin Cut 3 sec longer
01:01 / 01:04-01:10
Right at the beginning of the opening credits, the Mandarin Cut has a few elements flying into the frame as well as the title card in addition.
Above the identical footage afterwards, the overlays diverge.
01:11-01:17 / 01:21
Now also the regular version has the part including the title card. Inappropriately, some credits overlap the film title here though.
+ 6.4 sec
The other credits usually come a little earlier in the Mandarin Cut, but in principle they (and the animations below them) are identical.
03:15 / 03:18-03:30
Nora Miao (no role name known) scrapes around the ice block much sooner.
Note: By the way, this also fixes a small continuity error in the standard version, because there the cloth over the ice block suddenly disappeared between the two shots. In this Mandarin-exclusive part, she takes the cloth off at the beginning.
Like the complete opening credits, the rest of this shot and the beginning of the following one (both also included in the regular version) can be seen in the Mandarin Cut from the theatrical print with correspondingly poorer picture quality. Here exemplarily illustrated as well:
03:31 / 03:46-03:54
The follow-up shot is also much longer.
06:08 / 06:30-07:16
When the guy with the red top picks himself up from the floor, the standard version immediately switches to a more distant shot of him running away. In the Mandarin Cut, Hsu Chien (James Tien) takes another swing and kicks him in the face. More henchmen also try their luck again and are quite roughly fended off by Hsu. They realize that they have no chance and want to run away - whereupon Hsu jumps after them with a now furiously determined look. A few meters further on he continues to beat them brutally. Cheng (Bruce Lee) makes a questioning gesture to his uncle, who proudly points out that hardly anyone would stand a chance against Hsu Chien. Hsu delivers a few more blows and kicks, until you come to the moment, also known from the standard version, when the guy in the red shirt flees. For this then again in the middle of the shot the image source changes and the Mandarin Cut shows the rest then again from the good standard master.
Note: Besides the nice bit of action, it is of course exciting here that this probably points somewhat to the early phase of the film, in which James Tien's character still had a much larger role. He acts similarly mercilessly as Bruce at the end of the film and tackles the comparatively harmless bullies rather hard. As noted in Bentley's scene commentary, his later murder seems more dramatic due to the shortening of this scene, as without it, he is a more laid-back figure for the viewers, making his death more shocking.
06:26 / 07:34-08:19
Then, before Cheng arrives home, there is a first scene with the workers/cousins. They sit at the gambling table and talk excitedly. It is noticeable here that Ah Kun (Lee Kwan) immediately appears a bit as a comic relief, because he is obviously cheating and tries to mischievously cover this up, while the others criticize him for it. From outside, the uncle then calls out that they have a guest and the troupe sets off.
Note: The first 3 frames of the Mandarin master can also be seen in the following shot, before switching to the standard image master.
06:57 / 08:50-08:54
End and beginning of two shots as Cheng and co go inside.
13:47 / 15:44-15:46
Just one frame at the end of a shot can be seen of the Mandarin master. Afterwards, Cheng and Hsu are seen earlier. We already know this part from the German VHS.
14:17 / 16:16-16:19
Also known from the German VHS: The baddies can be seen for a longer time before the fight begins. The guy with the yellow top speaks his threat onscreen a little longer and raises his hand admonishingly a second time.
15:17 / 17:18-20:11
A scene with Cheng and Hsu in an alley as well as the following conversation with the rest of the workers' troupe are completely missing. Again, Hsu rather mimes the hero here and probably that's why it was removed from the better known versions of the film. Ah Kun also has a few silly moments again. In more detail:
In the alley Cheng asks Hsu where he learned to fight. Hsu says he merely took it from books and taught himself. Cheng says it's all about speed and strength, and enthusiastically demonstrates a few moves. They are startled to see a car coming towards them, pushed by one of the baddies from the gambling den. When they turn around, they see another baddie pushing another cart towards them. Hsu and Cheng jump up at the last second and the carts collide. The assassins flee, whereupon Hsu immediately wants to run after them. Cheng, however, holds him back. Hsu calms down and they walk away.
Back at home, Hsu comments briefly on what has happened, whereupon Cheng makes a gesture: since someone is sleeping in the background, he should be quiet. Ah Kun, however, looks out from under his blanket and asks Hsu if he has gotten into another fight. The others now wake up as well and want to hear the whole story. He then tells what we have seen before: When they found old Ma gambling with loaded dice, 6 henchmen would have followed them. Theatrically Hsu tells about the actual fight and uses Ah Kun as a punching ball when he recapitulates some of his moves. Now the uncle wakes up and wants to know if Cheng was involved in the fight as well. Hsu denies this and adds that Cheng almost took a punch. The uncle goes back to sleep.
in total 172.5 sec (= 2:52 min)
16:29 / 21:23-21:49
Before the scene on the riverbank, there is a second scene with Nora Miao. Cheng comes down the street and she smiles at him. Ashamed, he looks away and quickly walks on.
18:15 / 23:35-23:39
The beard scene: Already on the old German tape, Cheng and Ah Kun were seen for a longer time. The latter gestures the peculiarities of the foreman (beard and braid). This is also included now in the Mandarin Cut.
22:39 / 28:03-28:04
Also known from the German VHS: The two workers look a little longer helplessly at the manager, when he wants to bribe them.
23:11 / 28:36-28:37
As on the German VHS, the end/beginning of two shots is a bit longer.
25:30 / 30:56-31:14
Exciting extension at the end of the dismemberment scene: The boss still looks down and throws a wrapped body part, to all appearances a head, into the box. This is then doused with water and sealed.
After that comes the fabric run, already known from the German VHS and in a shortened form also from the old US DVD: Hsu and the other workers come running to the factory early the next morning.
26:41 / 32:25-32:31
Also available on the German VHS and in the standard version as well as old US DVD it has been cut differently: Hsu speaks longer to Boss Mi and the follow-up shot of him also starts a bit earlier.
27:17 / 33:07-33:20
A transition between two shots that seemed quite choppy in all previous releases now reveals: Here, the training fight with Tony Liu actually goes on for a little longer. Nothing too spectacular, but at least a little more action and above all the scene is much more fluid with this bit in between.
Note: Also the one second at the end of the last shot, which was also in the standard version again, can still be seen in Arrow from the Mandarin master.
27:49 / 33:51-34:00
Several shots of Boss Mi and the men. He signals them to attack.
27:53 / 34:04-34:19
After you saw briefly in the standard version how the guy in the red shirt was thrown to the ground, here another guy in the yellow shirt tries his luck. He gets a punch in the stomach and Mi fends off another one in front of him. Then they all try to hold him down together, but Mi hurls them to the ground with no problem. Again he makes it clear with a hand gesture that they should attack. In a long shot, they run at him one more time - and the standard version resumes with his leap into the air.
31:23 / 37:50-37:53
Known from the German VHS: Mi responds earlier to Hsu's complaint that they still haven't heard anything new.
34:16 / 40:46-40:47
After a trivial frame more at the end of a shot, Hsu is seen for the first time with his head wound. A stream of blood runs down.
34:17 / 40:48-40:49
Tony is seen a moment longer and the follow-up shot of Hsu starts earlier. He reaches for his shirt. When he slips it over his shoulder, the standard version is there again.
34:17 / 40:49-40:51
More shots of Tony and Hsu before the fight continues.
64:33 / 71:08
After half an hour without deviations, a shot of Ah Kun and co is a few insignificant frames longer.
69:15 / 75:50-75:53
Again known from the German VHS: Mi is seen a little longer at the beginning of the conversation with Cheng.
70:39 / 77:17-77:21
Likewise on the German VHS: Mi sneakily praises Cheng in somewhat more detail.
77:32 / 84:14-84:15
Also the slightly longer shot of the prostitute (before she shows the brand on her chest) was already known from the German VHS.
78:18 / 85:02-85:24
Chow Mei does the laundry a little longer and the camera moves past her towards the gate in the background. The henchmen sneak around here and then go inside.
86:33 / 93:38-93:40
Cheng lifts the mosquito net longer and so not only Ah San's bloodied body but also his face as well as the knife in his stomach can be seen clearly.
89:52 / 96:59-97:46
The entire beginning of the shot is already shown in the Mandarin Cut from the Mandarin print, but it was still identical up to this point. From here on, we see Cheng sitting pensively by the river and thinking about what to do next. In addition, we see the corpses of his cousins again in flashbacks, each superimposed with the river water. Here it becomes clear that he has some doubts and only by the memory of the killed friends/cousins the thirst for revenge overcomes him.
At first he thinks that it would be his duty to die for his friends - but then who would take care of his mother? After the flashbacks, he sums up that with such cruel deeds, he must become an avenger himself: "They were slaughtered innocently. I'm not a fool, I must do it."
90:07 / 98:01-98:09
Cheng yells at the end/beginning of two shots that he will take revenge.
90:20 / 98:23-100:52
Shortly before the finale, we get to see another brothel visit: Cheng first walks through the streets and looks around helplessly. He sees the brothel's sign, hesitates briefly and then enters. Lots of girls sit inside and grin at Cheng (or rather, involuntarily at the camera). The scene was shot in a real brothel with the women employed there. Cheng pays at the counter, looks around, points to one and goes to the room with her.
She nestles against him briefly, he pushes her away and takes off his top. She does likewise and sexual intercourse is implied - Bruce moves toward her and a fade-out follows. It continues with a shot of the curtain in front of the table fan. Bruce then gets dressed again, throws her some money, takes a pack of crackers* and leaves.
In the audio commentary to the Deleted Scenes, Bentley describes what is surely for many the first impression to this scene: Just...why? He concludes that this little detour by Cheng before the grand finale fight fits his character development in that at the beginning of the film (including in the additional scene with Nora Miao at 16:29 / 21:23-21:49) he was a shy and socially awkward man who avoided any violent confrontations. Together with his new focus on revenge, it is only logical that he now also takes on a dominant role in dealing with women, driven by primal instincts.
* It also explains why Cheng is carrying that same box of crackers in the very next scene. Another continuity error was thus solved.
in total 149.5 sec (= 2:29 min)
98:21 / 108:53-109:00
Probably the most famous part of the many little snippets that could already be discovered on the German VHS and the old DVD: When Cheng rams his hands into Mi's chest, the shot is actually much longer, with the two rotating around for another 180°. The resulting body position also explains the continuity error in the standard version, that Cheng suddenly stands on the right and Mi on the left.
Note: Interestingly, this part was also incomplete in the Mandarin print. Here you only saw the beginning of the shot (also included in the standard version) and before the camera goes up, it immediately switches to the last 4 seconds of the rotation. So while more (resp. different) footage can be seen as in the standard version, it was not complete either. Fortunately, for the reconstructed Mandarin Cut by Arrow another source was used for this, so the scene can be seen in the longest possible pieced-together form.
98:31 / 109:10-109:11
This, in turn, is actually a "new" and another exciting moment: there is another punch in the face to be seen as Mi lies on the ground in front of Cheng.
99:46-100:09 / 110:26-110:48
The end fade-in comes much earlier in the Mandarin Cut above the last shot from the top. It also deviates a bit to the standard one.
Standard version 1.1 sec longer
Finally, a little look at the 8-minute featurette "The Not-Quite-Biggest Boss", which summarizes further scenes that are presumably lost forever, or in some cases may not have been shot at all.
First, Chiao Mei's part is discussed. Another scene with her would probably be in the vicinity of the scene described at 15:17 / 17:18-20:11, when Hsu tells the cousins about the fight against the minions from the gambling den. Here, according to the available set photo, she would probably have joined in and criticized the fact that the youngest of the cousins is still awake so late and that Cheng won't get enough sleep before his first day at work. In addition, Bentley points out that shortly before the end of the included additional sequence also small jumps on the soundtrack would be noticeable, right when the uncle just wakes up.
Furthermore, foot noises could be heard in the background during the scene when she looks into the sunrise. She is holding a pair of glasses in her hand: this detail of the scene is partially darkened for visualization. Together with a set photo, in which she can be seen with glasses in her hand and next to the uncle as well as Cheng, this indicates that another scene actually belongs here. Ultimately, this was probably one of the first sacrifices made for trimming the movie to a shorter running time (resp. additional theatrical runs associated with it).
Next up is the murder on the ousins in the first half of the film. First of all, it is summarized that at least the scene at 25:30 / 30:56-31:14 shows, that Boss Mi throws a severed head into the box. But jumps on the Mandarin soundtrack indicate what was already suspected by fans around this rather brutal scene: Possibly the part with the implied dismemberment was originally a bit more drastic. Especially during the transition of the shot from Mi looking down to the close-up of the switch, a choppy groan could be heard. Probably there was a more explicit shot explaining this groan in between, which unfortunately was already missing in the present Mandarin print.
We jump to the final sequence, where according to previous rumors another body in the ice blocks was to be expected. For this purpose, early trailers are summarized first, in which one could e.g. see the scene with the prostitute and James Tien's bleeding head. The first Mandarin trailer also featured such an additional shot of a disfigured corpse in the ice. In the end, however, it never appeared in a film version and was possibly just a leftover bit used purely in the trailer.
The most well-known missing scene follows, i.e. a few comments on the infamous saw in the head. Promo shots, negatives and the well-known black and white photo, which was most likely first shown in the 1993 documentary "The Curse of the Dragon", are presented. At the end of the 90s, Spanish lobby cards with a slightly different angle appeared. But that's still everything there is out there up onto this day - video material has still not been found. With a small blood animation over a B/W still image of the close-up seen in the film, a second of the Mandarin audio track is addressed again, which possibly reflects the moment the saw hit the head. In addition, the continuity error is pointed out that the fighter with the light blue top suddenly changes position during the scene. Ultimately, however, there is only one conclusion: The probability that this scene will ever be seen as a moving original shot is probably the lowest of all the lost material.
It continues with an additional extension of Lee's visit to the brothel. The actual act is not shown during the scene described at 90:20 / 98:23-100:52. Supposedly one would have seen another customer and a different prostitute in the next room at this point. The suitor probably wanted to listen to what Lee was doing and after he paid his lady some extra money, he was allowed to do so. In addition, the prostitute in the purple shirt is highlighted in front of the entrance to the room. According to theory, she would later have been said prostitute in the next room. In addition, some photos are shown in which Bruce poses with the actresses of the scene. On one where he can be seen particularly tightly entwined with "his" girl, the bandage around his finger also clearly matches the one seen in the additional scene of the Mandarin Cut. But in the end, this possible additional scene is also highly speculative and not concretely documented.
Finally, it is summarized again that further set photos or allegedly deviating scenes remain unclear. You can also see a meme clip that shows another box of film reels with the inscription "Remaining Missing Big Boss Footage - Don't open 'til Xmas 2071". Ultimately, however, one should of course be happy with what was surprisingly found. There is nothing further to add to this statement from our side!