When the movie was first released in 1971 in Hong Kong, the film featured multiple scenes that have since “disappeared” from all mainstream cuts of the film. It has been speculated that this is a result of the “1972 Hong Kong movie censorship crackdown”, in which more and more Hong Kong martial arts films became censored for extreme violence or other acts. Another example of this censorship is the Jimmy Wang Yu film the One Armed Boxer, also released by Golden Harvest. In the case of The Big Boss, this included scenes of a body being cut in half with a circular saw (the mainstream cuts only show part of this), a blood vessel cut with a knife causing blood to spew from a character’s forehead, and most infamous of all, a henchman falling victim to “vertical partial cranial laceration” with a hand saw.
However, when these cuts were asked to be made, editors also took the opportunity to cut out full sequences, most likely to increase the pacing of the film. These were the scenes that were cut:
The first confirmed missing scene takes place after Cheng Chao-an and Hsiu Chien have beaten the six men from the casino. As they are walking down an alley, one of the remaining men appears, lights a cart of coal on fire and attempts to run them over with it. However, Hsiu grabs Cheng and they leap onto the side of a wall to avoid it.
A large number of photos from this missing scene were featured as an easter egg on the original “Hong Kong Legends” DVD.
The next missing scene took place soon after the first. Cheng and Hsiu have returned home, and Hsiu doesn’t hesitate to tell the other cousins all about what happened, right down to acting out a dramatization of the fight using Ah Kun as an example. The scene ends with Chiao Mei entering, presumably telling everyone that they need to get to bed.
Footage of Hsiu giving his example has appears in the original Mandarin trailer, and a still exists of the part in which Mei enters.
The third takes place right after the stock footage sunrise shot. Cheng and his uncle get ready to leave for the ferry, Chiao Mei seeing them off with two small glasses of tea. They have their drinks, say their goodbyes and leave. The scene ends with Chiao Mei looking off as they leave.
The final shot, of Chiao Mei looking off after Cheng and his uncle as they leave, is present in the mainstream cuts. The deletion of Cheng and his uncle’s departure makes it seem like she’s simply watching the sunrise. In the mainstream cuts, when Mei knocks on the front door to wake everyone up, she can be seen her holding a tray with two empty glasses on it. A still of this scene exists as well.
The next scene somehow involves Cheng and the girl who owns the drinkstand, played by Nora Miao.
This is one of three deleted scenes from the film that appear in the Mandarin trailer, but no one exactly remembers what took place in the full scene.
The next cut is this first one involving violence, in which the first two cousins, Chen and Wong, are killed. In the mainstream cuts, the scene starts with Chen being killed with a hatchet to the head and Wong being killed with a knife to the stomach. Their bodies are taken to the circular saws, Wong’s being the first to be cut. The mainstream versions end with the saw just reaching Wong’s back, and then jump cuts to the ice containers being lowered into the freezer. It’s been said that the original version shows Wong being cut completely in half with the saw, as well as various shots of the Thai foremen placing the severed limbs of Chen and Wong into the ice containers.
While no visible proof has been presented to substantiate these claims, in the edited Mandarin versions a jump cut in the music can clearly be heard where the cuts most likely took place.
The next cut, which is a very short one, is when Hsiu’s forehead is cut by Hsiao Chiun’s knife. In the mainstream versions, the scene plays out with Hsiao Chiun leaping over Hsiu with his knife and then cuts to a shot of Chiun standing up, still holding the knife. However, in the uncut print, after Chiun has leapt over Hsiu, Hsiu’s wound is clearly visible as he stumbles back with a gush of blood literally pouring from the top of his forehead.
This shot was previously only visible in a rare Spanish trailer for the film, which was only likely to be possessed by the most ardent collectors of Bruce Lee footage. However, the new Hong Kong Legends Platinum Edition DVD features a slightly better quality and full 2.35 widescreen version of the shot (as pictured).
The next cut, and most recently acknowledged one, takes place during the banquet when Cheng Chao-an becomes drunk. In the regular prints, he sees Wu Mang (the prostitute), his vision blurs, and then he hallucinates, seeing Chiao Mei standing where Wu Mang was. However, according to the audio commentary on the Hong Kong Legends platinum edition DVD of the film, before he sees Chiao Mei, he first hallucinates and sees Wu Mang standing there topless. However, there is currently no visible proof in backing up this claim, only another eyewitness report.
The next cut is from the scene in which Cheng investigates in the icehouse at night. While we see him discover a severed hand and a disembodied head, as well as the remains of Hsiu, apparently the scene was longer. One shot included a deformed face, caused by some type of trauma.
This shot was included in the aforementioned Spanish trailer as well.
The next cut is the most widely known: the infamous “saw-in-the-head” shot. Despite the popularity of this shot, there are two interesting factors. First, many people believe that the shot itself was probably only 3–6 seconds. Also, many people have concluded that the scene only existed in the premiere print (as stated by co-star Maria Yi in a rare interview), and was never used in any of the releases after the premiere. According to the interview with Yi, apparently the shot was made up of a crudely put together animation and just did not look good. However, many people believe it was “reverse animation” in which a prop handsaw was created with a gap to put on the stuntman’s head, and then Lee would quickly pull the prop off. Then, in post production it would be reversed to create the illusion of the saw going into his head.
While print of the shot is said to no longer exist, two completely different images of the shot do. One is a forty-five degree angled shot while the other (and more gruesome) one is a side shot (as pictured). The latter was most widely seen in the Bruce Lee documentary, Curse of the Dragon.
The next cut takes place when Cheng arrives back home, only to find his remaining cousins murdered. The only shot that known to be missing is an extended shot of Ah Shan’s dead body covered in blood.
The mainstream cuts simply cut away once Cheng has lifted Shan’s mosquito net, but a jump cut in the music can be heard where the cut takes place.
The next cut takes place when Cheng is sitting by the creek, involving superimposed shots of his dead cousins as Cheng looks into the creek. While the mainstream version shows a “group photo” style shot of the cousins, supposedly extra shots explicitly show their dead bodies. No full details have ever been released on what the images looked like.
The next takes place during the same scene as the above, right after Cheng throws his possessions into the water. In the mainstream cuts, he simply looks up at the sky, then Cheng is shown running away. However, in the original print, Cheng raises his fist into proclaiming that he will get revenge.
In the mainstream cuts, just before Cheng runs off, we see his fist raised out of nowhere.
The next cut is another entirely deleted scene, and another popular one alongside of the “saw-in-the-head” scene. After Cheng runs down the road from the creek, rather than cutting to him arriving at Hsiao Mi’s mansion like the mainstream cuts, he returns to the brothel for a third time. Here, he picks up the prostitute in a red sweater-type dress (seen in the background the second time Cheng visits the brothel). Cheng and the prostitute go to her room, Cheng pushes her onto the bed, and the two begin to strip. Cheng stands in front of the bed, completely nude, but also completely emotionless. The shot apparently ends either fading or blurring out and back in to show Cheng putting his final article of clothing back on while the prostitute lies asleep. Cheng then takes out all of his money and lays it by the prostitute, which is apparently much more than he needs to pay. As he’s about to leave, he grabs a bag of prawn crackers, which he is seen carrying when he finally arrives at the mansion later on.
The above scene is described in eyewitness reports and corroborated by a short amount of footage in the rare Mandarin trailer. In the mainstream cut, when listening to the Mandarin mono track (at least on the Universe Video CD version), a distinct jump cut in the music can be heard when Cheng arrives at the mansion, where the music plays for an extra second or two longer than it should, and then suddenly cuts off.
Supposedly, there is at least one more cut in the finale after Hsiao Mi slashes Cheng’s stomach. As with the fight with Hsiao Chiun, Cheng tastes his own blood. However, there’s been little proof to back this deleted shot.
It has been said[by whom?] that a print shown in London in 1979 as part of a Bruce Lee film festival did indeed include all of these scenes, with the exception of the “saw-in-the-head” shot. Also, rumors have spread about a Thai “live dub” version that was shown less than a decade ago in which an alternate cut of the film, which featured some of the above mentioned scenes but deleted some of the “regular” scenes, was shown with live voice actors dubbing over the movie in Thai. Also, in 2004, a version was to be released on DVD by budget DVD company Video Asia entitled The Big Boss: The Version You’ve Never Seen!. The only “never before seen” media on the disc that has been confirmed is the original rejected English dub, which used the classic style of British voice actors made famous by the English dubs of the Golden Harvest and Shaw Brothers films of the seventies.
However, this dub is said[by whom?] to have been created in synch with the extended Mandarin print, as a rare export trailer of the film features the footage from the Mandarin trailer, but with English voice actors. Also, this dub features the original score by Wang Fu Ling rather than the regular English dub score by Peter Thomas. Due to copyright issues, this “Version You’ve Never Seen” still hasn’t been seen by the mainstream public, and is currently only in the hands of a select few collectors. However, a two-minute clip of the opening from this version is on YouTube (see external links).
For the time being, the deleted shots and scenes exist in the eyes of the public only as still photos or quick snippets of footage in trailers, though there are supposedly collectors who possess copies of the footage, presumably having reasons as to why they can or will not present it. As of August 2007, there was intense speculation that the uncut print may finally make its way to DVD via a release by Joy Sales/Fortune Star. However, unfortunately in August 2009, Fortune Star released the latest HD Blu-Ray disc of The Big Boss with none of the aforementioned missing scenes. Worth noting is that it has been confirmed that Steve Kerridge, author of the recently published Bruce Lee book “Legends of the Dragon”, does indeed possess a full/complete original version of The Big Boss. Unfortunately Kerridge, who is based in London, is not willing to release this copy nor discuss the content in any detail. This print is said to be worth a substantial amount of money.