Sat, Jul 19, 2003 - Page 9 News List

Is Bruce Lee still a legend in Hong Kong?

The city's most famous son had a lot more than just kung fu and almost single-handedly put the Hong Kong film industry on the global map, but attempts to commemorate him have not been going well

By Steve Rose  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

One of Chan and Hung's first Golden Harvest projects, 1976's Hand of Death, was directed by John Woo, the man who went on to redefine Hong Kong and Hollywood action cinema. Mainland export Jet Li also got his first break thanks to Golden Harvest.

Hong Kong's fight choreographers have fared equally well, to the extent that it is practically impossible to contemplate making a Hollywood action movie without them. Charlie's Angels, X-Men, Daredevil, Blade II, Bulletproof Monk and even Scooby-Doo have all benefited from the Hong Kong touch. Most successful of all is Yuen Woo-ping, who has become a celebrity in his own right after working on the Matrix movies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. His latest project is Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill, which stars Uma Thurman in a very familiar yellow tracksuit.

Meanwhile, back in Hong Kong, attempts to commemorate Bruce Lee have not been going well. The government is investing more than HK$22 billion to build a new Disneyland, but the only visible monument to Lee is the waxwork in the local Madame Tussaud's. Fan groups have campaigned for a Lee memorial gallery and their proposal was approved by the local urban council in 1999 (despite one politician's objection that Lee's personal life was not respectable enough). The gallery was to be ready for the 60th anniversary of Lee's birth, in 2000, but the urban council was disbanded under China's political restructuring at the beginning of that year.

"I don't think it will ever happen," says W. Wong, chairman of the Bruce Lee Club. "It shows how short-sighted they are. Bruce Lee is one of Hong Kong's greatest public assets who has become a superstar all over the world. But instead they are building a Disneyland!"

The club runs a small Bruce Lee shop in a mall a few hundred yards from Lee's childhood home, and has more than 300 members, including local film stars. They are holding a 10-day exhibition at Hong Kong's arts centre to mark the 30th anniversary of his death, but their pleas to the government to buy the Romance Hotel and turn it into a museum have been fruitless.

Jon Benn, the boss in Enter the Dragon, milked his 15 minutes of fame by opening the Bruce Lee Cafe in the 1990s, with other non-Chinese investors. It was situated in the Mid-Levels, a primarily expatriate residential district, and was furnished with Benn's collection of Lee memorabilia.

"We had visitors from all over the world," he says, "mostly Japanese. Every day I'd have at least four or five little sweeties wanting to have their picture taken with me."

Benn tried to open another branch in Kowloon, and to persuade local fan groups to have their meetings in the cafe, but eventually it closed down. Benn moved to Shanghai, where he now runs a retirement home and crematorium.

"It seems like everybody in the world except people in Hong Kong is interested in Bruce Lee," he says.

The good news for Lee pilgrims is that a Bruce Lee museum now exists. The bad news is that it is in Shunde, an industrial port in southern China, a two-hour boat ride from Hong Kong. Shunde's only claim to fame was as "the kingdom of household electric appliances" until an enterprising local fan, Wang Dechau, discovered that Lee's father and grandfather were born there. Bruce visited the town once, when he was five. His films were strictly forbidden in China in the 1970s, possibly because he was a credible threat to Mao's own celebrity, but last year the provincial government gave Wang funds to open a museum of Shunde's famous "son."

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