“This is probably the biggest thing to hit the Mandarin film business since the invention of fake blood,” ran the South China Morning Post story announcing Bruce Lee’s explosion onto the movie scene with The Big Boss, 45 years ago.

“It took exactly three days for this film to gross a million dollars, which is a new record,” the November 7 story continued. “Every cinema showing this film is packed to the fire exits. […] Newcomer Bruce Li (or is it Lee? The studio seems to spell it both ways) is a talented young fellow and is well-enough supported by his cast.

Hong Kong’s most famous son, and a legacy that won’t die

“He boxes better than he acts,” the writer noted, “but this is not necessarily a draw­back in Chinese films. The leading lady, Maria Yi, acts better than she boxes.”

A week later, on November 14, 1971, under the headline “‘Big Boss’ set for $3m gross”, the newspaper quoted producer Raymond Chow Man-wai as saying the film had taken $2.7 million, surpassing the old record, held by The Sound of Music (1965).

In an interview with the Post on November 21, Lee explained how he got into the film busi­ness: “After I left the University of Washington in Seattle where I was study­ing – are you ready for this? – philosophy, I planned to open a whole bunch of schools, teaching martial arts.

“I started off in basements and parking lots and places like that, and then eventually I started teaching actors. I used to make very good bread doing that, man. […] Steve McQueen was one of my students.

“Just about that time I discovered I didn’t really want to teach self-defence for the rest of my life, I went to the Long Beach International Karate Tournament and got myself discovered by Hollywood. That was 1964. Naturally, I was signed up to play the Number One son of Charlie Chan, only the movie never got made.

“Then I got into the Batman series, and finally did a season playing Kato in The Green Hornet. You know why I got that Green Hornet job? [...] Because the hero’s name was Britt Reid, and I was the only Chinese guy in all of California who could pronounce Britt Reid, that’s why.”

Twenty months later, on July 21, 1973, the Post reported Lee’s death.