Pak Chong – A Detailed Tour of Filming Locations for Bruce Lee’s “The Big Boss”
I spent last weekend travelling around Nakhorn Ratchasima and Saraburi provinces, and made a rather pleasant discovery while staying overnight in Pak Chong.
Pak Chong Town
Pak Chong town is a small town of about 40,000 people, on the western edge of Nakhorn Ratchasima province. It is considered the gateway to the North East of Thailand. The name itself refers to the construction of the railway from Bangkok to the North East, back in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Upon reaching the border with Nakhorn Ratchasima, the mountains of the area required blasting to create a channel for the railway. The Thai word for this channel is “Chong”, and Pak Chong marks the gateway for this channel.
Pak Chong was also important given that the old Highway 2 (the old highway from Bangkok to Surin and Sri Saket) passes through Pak Chong. This highway (now renamed as highway 2422) is still the main road that passes through the town, although a newer and larger highway now bypasses the town a few kilometres to the south (that new highway is now labelled as highway 2).
In addition to being a gateway town and railway hub, Pak Chong also received a considerable boost in the 1960s because it was the location for Thailand’s dairy and beef industries. In particular, Chok Chai Farms received the contract with the US Government to supply beef and dairy to the US and coalition forces in Thailand and Vietnam during the Vietnam War. In addition, it was around the same time that Khao Yai National Park became declared as Thailand’s first UNESCO conservation area, and thereafter becoming a popular place for tourists to visit.
Today, Pak Chong is still a popular gateway town for those heading towards Khao Yai National Park. In addition, the hills around the town have become a popular tourist attraction in themselves as this area has very scenic countryside and now hosts a large collection of resorts. It has also become a popular retirement area for Thai and Westerners alike.
Bruce Lee and the Filming of ‘The Big Boss’
Bruce Lee, the legendary martial artist, who redefined the art in so many ways, and who introduced “kung fu” to the West, filmed the first of his five feature films in Thailand, the Big Boss. Note, the Big Boss was released in some countries under the name “Fists of Fury”, but don’t confuse this film with the 1972 film “Fist of Fury”. The Big Boss was filmed primarily within Pak Chong town during July and August of 1971. Bruce and the rest of the crew stayed in Pak Chong town during this period.
For those that aren’t familiar with the film, it is about Cheng (Bruce Lee), who is a Chinese who migrates to rural Thailand to work together with other Chinese migrants at an ice factory. While working at the ice factory, Cheng witnesses the ice factory manager being unfair towards the Chinese workers, as well as local gangsters bullying the migrants. Cheng is a skilled fighter, but his mother made him swear not to fight any more, and gave him a jade amulet necklace, to act as a reminder of that oath. Eventually, some of the migrant workers discover that the ice in the factory is being used to smuggle heroine. The workers who make the discovery are killed. Eventually, the other migrants, upset about their missing comrades, refuse to work, and this results in a fight scene at the ice factory, resulting in Cheng’s amulet being broken. He then starts taking on all of the gangsters, culminating in a final fight scene at the Big Boss’s house.
As a bit of gossip, Bruce was not overly enthusiastic about Pak Chong. As evidenced by letters he wrote to his wife at the time, Bruce didn’t cope well with the food, felt that the town was lawless, and lacked development. The film company even had to pay the local prostitutes to encourage them to stay away from film crew, to avoid the crew from being overly distracted. Bruce was also not happy with his accommodation, which he described as being infested with mosquitos and cockroaches (although Bruce had requested that he wanted to stay in the same hotel as the crew). Fortunately for any of you who want to retrace his steps, the town has significantly improved since then.
For other Bruce Lee films, the filming locations have become major landmarks and tourist attractions. The Big Boss is perhaps the only film in the Bruce Lee stable that is not well documented in this way. I have been to Pak Chong many times over the years (first time was around 1986). However, it was only on this last visit, while carefully studying the surrounding area on Google Maps that I noticed a small notation on the outskirts of town depicting that the local ice factory was a Bruce Lee filming location. After that, I did a lot more research and re-watched the film. I used google street maps and street view to check possible filming locations, before finally uncovering a bunch more, and finally, I hired a taxi for the day and drove around to each location.
I have now put together a map (for your benefit) showing the locations (and likely locations for buildings no longer standing) used in the filming of The Big Boss.
(click the map for a larger image)
The New Wanchai Hotel
The crew of the movie (including Bruce, the director and the producers) all stayed at this hotel. In 1971, the New Wanchai was the main hotel for Pak Chong and its tallest building, but given that Pak Chong did not receive too many foreign visitors, it wasn’t really anywhere close to the standard you would expect. This hotel was not only the lodgings for the film crew but was actually featured in the movie. The main dining room was used for the dinner scene that was supposed to be in the Big Boss’s house. In addition, for the brothel scene, the footage inside the room (as opposed to outside the brothel or in the corridor) was filmed in one of the New Wanchai guest rooms rather than in the brothel.
Locals in town have informed me that the New Wanchai closed in the 1980s and remained closed for about 15 years before it finally re-opened under new ownership (and considerable renovation) as the Rimtarn Inn. To confuse matters, another hotel has renamed itself now as the “New Wanchai” which is just next door.
The new owner of the Rimtarn does know that the hotel was used in the movie, but I suspect most of its staff do not know this. However, if you want to really retrace Bruce’s footsteps, then ask to stay in room 407. The exterior frame of the building is the same, except that it has been touched up, repainted and had some cladding added to it. However, the lobby, dining area and guest rooms have all been refurbished.
The Ice Factory
The Ice Factory is one of the main locations for the movie. This is where Bruce Lee’s character worked, where the drugs were discovered and where some of the fight scenes took place. The Ice Factory is documented on Google Maps and the original building used in the movie is still standing. The Ice Factory is still used as an ice factory, and they still make ice in pretty much the same way that they did in 1971. However, the factory has been extended, with a new wing on the left (which is where the ice is frozen). You can see the main original building because it has the large teak floor boards.
The factory is a fully functioning business, and given the way ice is handled, it is a hazardous work site. It is easy enough to view the factory from the side walk or from its parking lot. The interior is largely exposed so you can easily photograph the interior without having to enter. The owner of the factory knows about the ice factory’s history and is a nice enough guy that he would provide a tour. However, I suspect that if this became a regular occurrence, he might start to find it irritating. For that reason, I instead ask readers to abstain from requesting tours. You can see everything that you need to from the parking lot.
The Big Boss’s House
One of the things that always confused me when I watched The Big Boss, was that the Big Boss’s house never appeared to me to be a building that would be used as a house in Thailand. Sure enough, when I finally located the filming location for the house, I found that I was correct. The building is a temple where Buddha statues are located, rather than a house.
The Big Boss’s house is actually located on the grounds of Wat Siri Samphan (Wat Samphao Uppatham). Wikipedia states the Big Boss’s house was filmed at a mausoleum. However, when conferring with locals, they stated this temple has always been purely for Buddha worship, so I am not sure where the mausoleum information comes from.
Out of all of the filming locations that still remain today, this one is the most intact and any fan of the film will instantly recognise the exact spots where those epic fight scenes took place. The pathways, grass, trees, pond, main building, are all untouched. They are also much in need of maintenance, so feel free to add some coin to the temple donation box.
Bruce Lee’s House
The single story wooden house where Bruce Lee’s character and the other Chinese immigrant workers resided is a tricky one to locate. Some people suggested it was a couple of bungalows that the film crew rented behind the ice factory. However, each time I watched the footage, the area seemed too built up and must have been just near the Pak Chong train station. I was able to work this out by studying the surrounding skyline in the movie, and then comparing it to the existing skyline near the train station. Some of the taller buildings (and one under construction during filming) still exist today. This is the centre of town, and many of the wooden buildings are gone, replaced with concrete shop houses. The immigrant wooden house is one that I believe has been demolished, but I think I have identified the approximate spot where it used to stand. Many of the neighbouring buildings seen in the film (especially the concrete ones) are likely to still exist.
In the film, there are several scenes involving a brothel, including the one where Bruce makes a visit (he actually wanted this scene written out of the film). The filming location was an actual brothel. However, the brothel eventually burned down (this seems to be a common occurrence for brothels in Thailand). Surprisingly, it wasn’t too hard to track down the brothel because the street sign is featured in the film. Even though Pak Chong now has the newer/updated street signs (in English and Thai) on all main intersections, this particular sign (in Thai only) still stands. It is just near the corner of Tesaban Soi 19 and Train Station Road (no English sign, but it is the road parallel with the tracks). This is confirmed by the water tower in the background that is still there today. The sign from the film in transliterated English says “Ket Rot Fai”, which means “Train Area”. The original brothel used to stand just beside the sign, and in its place today is a series of four concrete, four storey shop houses.
Opening Fight Scene
The opening scene with the female drink vendor and the gang picking on the boy was filmed in two separate locations. The drink vendor is located along the side street that runs beside the Ice Factory. When the fight actually commences (ie the scene with the orange bus in the background), filming has now shifted to just near the train station (on Tesaban Soi 15, just before the intersection with Train Station Rd). The comms antenna for the train station can be seen in the background, as well as the “Ket Rot Fai” sign.
The River Clothes Washing Scene
I assume this was filmed somewhere along the Lam Tha Khong River, which passes by Pak Chong (and passes almost beside the New Wanchai hotel. However, the scenery along the river (and the river itself) has changed a bit over the years. Notwithstanding that, I think it was filmed just behind the Rimtarn Inn (follow side road beside the hotel down to the river), near the bridge (you can see a section in the river where the water cascades over, just like in the movie.
The River Ferry Scene
This is one of the few scenes that was filmed outside of Pak Chong. As you would notice, the river is quite wide. Some people though it was the Chao Phraya river, which runs through Bangkok. However, it was actually filmed at a ferry terminal on the Bang Pakong river in Chonburi province. The next time I pass by that way, I will have a go at identifying exactly which ferry terminal it was (most ferry terminals in that area are really old, so I suspect it will largely be untouched).
Getting to Pak Chong
There are four options for getting from Bangkok to Pak Chong, depending on your budget. The most expensive but easiest, is to either charter a taxi or limo (or Grab Cab etc). Cost will be B2,500 plus.
The normal way to get there is to head to the North-east bus station (Moh Chit Mai), and either get a bus direct to Pak Chong, or get the bus heading to Khorat but tell them you want to get off at Pak Chong. If you do the latter, you will be dropped off at the Tesco Lotus, which is a few kilometres south of the main town and you will then need to either take the songtaew, motorbike taxi or (infrequent) taxi into town. Cost is around B191 per ticket depending on bus company and class.
The third option is to take a mini bus to Pak Chong. You can get mini buses Moh Chit Mai. Cost is around B120.
The fourth, and slowest but most scenic option, is to take the train. You can catch the train from Hualamphong station, and it will drop you off at the Pak Chong train station. Third class tickets are around B34.
Where to Stay
We recommend either the Rimtarn Inn, where Bruce Lee stayed. Prices are around B1,300 per night (and up) depending on season and which room you want. For somewhere a lot nicer, the Pino Hotel is around B1,600 and up. I feel like the Pino is a lot nicer for the price, but the Rimtarn offers the possibility that you may be sleeping in Bruce Lee’s old room.
Getting Around Town
Unexpectedly, getting around town and nearby is a major pain if you don’t have your own car. There is a public songtaew service going up and down main streets, but the service is kind of sporadic. There is a real lack of normal taxis in town. However, there are “private” taxis, who have a spot near the main road (see the map). You negotiate the fair, and prices are a little steep. For example, from the main town down to Tesco Lotus, they wanted B150. It would have cost less in Bangkok for that distance using a meter. However, I talked to these guys and explained the main Bruce Lee filming locations to them. As such, they should be able to take you to them as a tour (try and negotiate it down to B200 to B300, depending on how much time you want to spend wandering the locations).
The other option to get around quickly, is to just use the local motorbike taxis. Not ideal if you are carrying a lot of luggage though, so try to pack light if you can.
I really enjoyed my last trip to Pak Chong. Realising that one of my childhood ideals had been there before me was really cool, and seeing the sites in the flesh was a special experience. Being able to not only visit the documented sites, but to play detective and discover others on my own was even cooler.
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Pak Chong – A Detailed Tour of Filming Locations for Bruce Lee’s “The Big Boss”
Bruce Lee’s first martial arts feature film “The Big Boss” was filmed in Pak Chong in Thailand. Pete recently explored this town and uncovered many of the filming locations.
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