The four years following the cancellation of The Green Hornet was a difficult and frustrating time for Bruce Lee. In 1970, he was incapacitated for several months after damaging a sacral nerve in his lower back while weightlifting. Money became tight as roles in Hollywood proved hard to come by, and wife Linda had to work evenings at an answering service to help pay the bills. Bruce was still keen to develop film and TV projects in Hollywood, but Warner Bros. was reluctant to accept a TV script project he had developed (the plotline of which was similar to, but not the same as, Kung Fu), and production on The Silent Flute had to be suspended indefinitely after a three-week trip to India with James Coburn and Stirling Silliphant to scout locations for the movie proved unproductive. In light of these recent events, Coburn suggested to Bruce that he try his luck in the increasingly growing Hong Kong film industry.”
In spring 1970, Bruce paid a visit to Hong Kong with his young son Brandon. Unbeknownst to Bruce, he had become famous there due to reruns of The Green Hornet on TV, and the enthusiastic reception he received took him by surprise. He was invited to appear on popular HKTVB chat show Enjoy Yourself Tonight, where he was interviewed and gave a board-breaking demonstration.
Encouraged by the interest in Hong Kong, Bruce asked his old friend Unicorn Chan to pass on his CV to Shaw Brothers, Hong Kong’s largest film production company. They offered Bruce a long-term contract and only US$2000 a film, which Bruce turned down. A second offer came out of the blue from Raymond Chow, a film producer who had in 1970 left Shaw Brothers to form a new company, Golden Harvest. Chow, aware of the rejected offer from Shaw Brothers, had been impressed by Bruce’s interviews on Hong Kong TV and radio, and also by his confidence during a long-distance phone call, during which Bruce picked the best action movie currently playing in Hong Kong and assured Chow that he could do much better.”
In June 1971, Chow sent one of his producers, Liu Liang-Hua (the wife of director Lo Wei) to Los Angeles to meet and negotiate with Bruce, who signed a contract to make two films for Golden Harvest for US$15,000 ($10,000 for The Big Boss and $5000 on completion of a second film tentatively titled King of Chinese Boxers). This would allow Linda to quit her job and help ease their financial worries.
With the contract signed, Chow hastily arranged a meeting with his Golden Harvest executives and an old friend called Ma Thien-Ek (Fatty Ma), a Thai businessman, film distributor and cinema owner. Inspired by the success of a recent Shaw Brothers film about Muay Thai boxing (Duel of Fists), they came up with the idea of shooting an action film on location in Thailand, which would also help to keep costs down. Fatty Ma, an expert in Thai affairs, offered to help with locations and expenses.
Veteran Chinese novelist and screenwriter Ni Kuang was commissioned to come up with a script based loosely on Cheng Chi-Yong, a prominent Chinese figure in Thai society in the early 20th century. Ni Kuang changed the name of the character to Cheng Chao-an, after Chao’an county in eastern China, the home of Cheng Chi-Yong’s ancestors. He also came up with the idea of Cheng being sent by his mother to live and work with fellow Chinese migrants in Thailand, after his father had been killed in a fight. She gave her son a jade necklace symbolising peace, protection and good fortune, as a reminder to avoid trouble.
Bruce Lee flew from Los Angeles to Bangkok via Hong Kong on 12 July 1971. Raymond Chow, concerned about renewed interest from Shaw Brothers, had wanted him to fly directly to Bangkok, but Bruce refused, stopping in Hong Kong briefly to greet a friend and make a few phone calls. Bruce stayed in Bangkok for five nights, and it was here that he met most of the cast and crew and also Raymond Chow for the first time. Filming commenced on 22 July in Pak Chong, a small town situated some 90 miles northeast of Bangkok, on the northern edge of the Khao Yai National Park, Thailand’s oldest reserve; it also serves as the gateway to the northeast of Thailand from the Bangkok Metropolitan Region. Pak Chong would be Bruce’s home for about four weeks – from 18 July to 19 August – and he made no secret of his dislike for it in letters to wife Linda, describing it as a lawless, impoverished and undeveloped village. Due to the lack of fresh food, Bruce was losing weight due to a lack of proper diet, having to eat canned meat and supplement his diet with vitamins, which he had thankfully brought along. He occasionally lost his voice through trying to shout above the noise on set; mosquitoes and cockroaches were plentiful in the hotel, and the tap water was yellow.
When Bruce arrived in Pak Chong, rival film companies tried desperately to poach him away from Golden Harvest, including Shaw Brothers, with a new and improved offer. A film producer from Taiwan told Bruce to rip up his contract and promised to take care of any lawsuit. Bruce, a man of his word, had no intention of considering the offers, although it did add some extra tension on the film set.
Shooting did not go smoothly at first. After just a few days, the overbearing and aggressive original director, Wu Chia Hsiang, was replaced by Lo Wei (the husband of associate producer Liu Liang-Hua). Bruce was initially sceptical of Lo, describing him in letters to Linda as a fame lover and not particularly focused on being much of a director. Bruce sliced open the index finger of his right hand while washing a thin glass, the wound requiring ten stitches and a large plaster, which is very noticeable throughout the movie, especially the scenes filmed at the Thamrongthai ice factory, the first filming location used in Pak Chong. Fatty Ma had a contact who knew the owner of the ice factory, and arranged for Golden Harvest to film there for a few days.
Aside from the factory, other locations in Pak Chong used for filming include the Lam Ta Khong river (a tributary of the Mun River), and a local brothel (the Mitsumphun Hotel), which has since burnt down. The actual bedroom scenes however were filmed in a riverside bungalow owned by the nearby Rimtarninn Hotel (formerly New Wan Chai), where the film crew stayed during filming, due to the bedrooms in the brothel being smelly and unhygienic. The prostitutes charged only fifteen Baht in Thai money per client, but the film crew paid them one to two hundred Baht each to appear as extras in the film.
Perhaps the most iconic location seen in the film is the titular big boss’s mansion and gardens, which was a Buddhist temple situated on the main road called Wat Siri Samphan, built in 1963. Like the ice factory, it is still in Pak Chong today and remains largely unchanged, much to the delight of the dedicated fans who have made the pilgrimage to Thailand to view the filming locations.
There has been some speculation that Bruce was involved in a real fight on the set of The Big Boss, as depicted in the 1993 biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Although no such fight actually took place, Bruce did interact extensively with a few of the Thai stuntmen (one of whom was a former Muay Thai bantamweight champion), and exchanged info and skills with them between takes. Bruce reportedly though seemed unimpressed and called their kicks “telegraphed”, while the Hong Kong stunt team (Lam Ching-Ying, Billy Chan and his brother Peter Chan Lung) were initially unimpressed with Bruce, and doubted his abilities. Their opinion of him soon changed when Lam challenged Bruce in the hotel, and Bruce sidekicked him across the room.
After an eventful and at times chaotic first few days’ filming in Pak Chong, by early August 1971 the filming had picked up speed, and was progressing well. Bruce and Lo Wei were collaborating, but they still clashed over a few of the scenes, in particular the use of trampolines and mattresses to propel people through the air, and also the scene where Bruce punches a man through a wooden wall, leaving a cartoonish outline in the wood. Bruce was also hesitant to go along with Lo Wei’s ideas of filming risky scenes of his character getting in bed with Thai ladies portraying prostitutes, although he eventually agreed to do them as Lo insisted it would add to his character’s newfound image as a revenge-driven warrior. In both cases the director stuck to his guns.
The final scene filmed in Pak Chong was the climatic fight between Bruce and the boss (played by Han Ying Chieh, who also served as the fight choreographer), which proved to be problematic: Bruce endured “two days of hell” when he sprained his ankle from a high jump on a slipped mattress, and had to be driven to Bangkok to see a doctor, where he caught a virus in the hot and stuffy conditions. Close-ups were used to finish the fight, as Bruce struggled and had to drag his leg, which contributed to his character’s worn out, exhausted appearance.
The cast and crew spent the last twelve days in August filming further scenes in Bangkok, where Bruce enjoyed breakfast in bed at the Thai Hotel, a luxury he never had in Pak Chong. At times filming had to be delayed by heavy rain. One of the main locations used for filming in Bangkok was the Chao Phraya River in Phra Pradaeng District, for the opening scene in the film where Bruce and his uncle step off the ferry boat and walk through the busy pier. The dinner party scene was filmed in the back room of the Poonsin Chinese Restaurant, close to the Thai Hotel. An old teak house in the east side of Phra Pradaeng district was used as the family home, while Nora Miao’s scenes (and part of the opening fight sequence) were filmed on the quieter west side, which resembled rural Pak Chong.
The Big Boss film crew finally returned to Hong Kong on 3 September, where there would be a further day of filming for insert shots including close-ups of Bruce avoiding the dogs and the “leg-grappling” scene during the fight with the boss (these were filmed at the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club). The final scene filmed was the now deleted “pushcart attack” in the alleyway, at Wader Studio in Hong Kong, as Golden Harvest had not as yet moved into their famous studios on Hammer Hill Road. Bruce viewed the raw, unedited three-hour footage on 5 September, before flying to the US the next day to film further episodes of Longstreet; he would return to Hong Kong on 16 October to promote the release of The Big Boss and begin pre-production work on his second film for Golden Harvest, Fist of Fury.
1971 / Muay Thai Boxer / Pak Chong, Thailand, Set of “The Big Boss” (source: Bey Logan, witnesses Bee Chan (Stuntman), Tony Liu in the documentary “Intercepting Fist” 1999).
Tony Liu gave a descprition how it went:
“The action co-coordinator had hired many Thai Boxers. Their Stuntmen practised Thai Boxing. They questioned Bruce´s fighting techniques and ability. They didn´t think Bruce was better than the action co-coordinator, so Bruce took up the challenge. He said: “Ok, Come on. If you are a good fighter come and fight me.” Then he walked up to one of the Thai Boxers. He said “Now I am going to punch you, i am going to punch you NOW, get ready!” BANG, he hit him. You knew that he was going to punch you…then the punch landed. Very fast. His punches and kicks were executed very quickly.”
The video below is called “Bruce Lee VS Muay Thai Fighter in 1971. The Fight Last 18 Secs!” by BruceLeeRealFight.
Welcome to BruceLeeRealFight channel.
In July, 1971, Bruce Lee flew from Los Angeles to Bangkok to shoot the movie The Big Boss. During the filming, a Muay Thai king challenges Bruce on film set, the fight lasts 18 seconds.
Charles was born in the late 1930s. He won the Muay Thai King title seven times in Thailand.
According to what has been recorded, his only loss is to Bruce Lee, who founded Jeet Kune Do. Charles was famous for his Muay Thai kick, namely Tae Tad (sidekick or round kick), Tae Kod (hook kick), Tae Chiang (diagonal kick), and some others. In 1971, he challenged Bruce Lee on film set and was taken down by Bruce within 18 seconds. He was shocked and surprised with what Bruce Lee was able to do to him at that time.
We do not have more details of Charles. However, he was once a popular Muay Thai King in the late 20s. As a matter of fact, he loses to Bruce in just 18 seconds. Witness of this fight, Liu Yong has confirmed everything personally in a recent interview.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” – Bruce Lee
“Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man. But sooner or later, the man who wins, is the man who thinks he can.” – Bruce Lee
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