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How Much Bruce Lee Got Paid For His First Kung Fu Movie

The Big Boss was Bruce Lee’s first kung fu movie and the role that made him a star. Here’s how much money Lee received for making the film.

How much money did Bruce Lee receive for his first kung fu movie? Released in 1971 and directed by Lo Wei, The Big Boss was the first of four martial arts films that Lee completed in his acting career. Due to struggles the actor had in landing roles in Hollywood, Lee spent years lobbying for movie roles but didn’t become a star until deciding to make a name for himself in Hong Kong.

Co-starring in ABC’s The Green Hornet show as Kato wasn’t enough to get Lee the Hollywood attention he craved. Much to his disappointment, the role didn’t immediately lead to any big movie parts. After heading back to Hong Kong, Lee made a life-changing deal with Golden Harvest, a struggling kung fu movie studio. With them, Lee starred in The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, and The Way of the Dragon. He also worked with them on Game of Death, but the martial arts legend died before the filming process could be completed. Upon returning to the United States, Lee headlined Enter the Dragon, which is the movie that made him a household name. But of course, none of the fame he achieved would have been possible without The Big Boss, the movie that started it at all.

Related: Why Warner Bros Almost Replaced Bruce Lee In Enter The Dragon

To make his first action vehicle, Lee was paid $7,500. To some, that figure may seem incredibly low. And for Hollywood standards (even during this era), it certainly would have been. But, it was actually well above what most actors were making in the Hong Kong industry at the time. Lee’s $7,500 salary for The Big Boss greatly dwarfed the paychecks of all his co-stars, and it wasn’t a sum that he came by easily. Getting that much out of Golden Harvest took a fair amount of negotiating.

What Lee worked out with the studio was a $15,000 two-picture deal. The first half was for The Big Boss, while the second was for Fist of Fury. The contract was signed on the heels of his talks with their rival, Shaw Brothers. According to Bruce Lee: A Life by Matthew Polly, Lee agreed to work for Shaw Brothers for $10,000, but the studio refused because his price was much higher than what they paid other actors, who were already big stars. However, his meeting with them did pay off. It seemingly led to the favorable deal he made with Golden Harvest, who naturally wanted to keep him away from Shaw Brothers.

For the actor, the deal came at a time when the money was sorely needed. His acting career was suffering, which is why he was willing to temporarily put aside his Hollywood plans for Golden Harvest’s movies. Lee felt that starring in The Big Boss was necessary for his career to stay alive, and the success it brought him proved his decision to be the right one. And before long, the money he made from The Big Boss seemed insignificant compared to what he earned from making Enter the Dragon, which turned Bruce Lee into the highest-paid Asian actor in Hollywood.

More: How Bruce Lee Got Chuck Norris His First Movie Role (Not Way Of The Dragon)

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