All of 40 years after Enter the Dragon was released on July 26, 1973, its iconic superstar, Bruce Lee, is all over this city — which is celebrating his life that ended prematurely just six days before the blockbuster release.
The Hollywood martial arts movie turned Bruce Lee into a legend of popular culture across the world. With a Chinese father and an American mother, he was born in San Francisco but was raised in Hong Kong. He died of an unexplained swelling in the brain, at 32, on the threshold of fame.
Scores of fans, and tourists driven by plain curiosity, still crowd around his statue, standing in classic kung fu posture, on the Avenue of the Stars along the Kowloon waterfront in Hong Kong.
The past week saw art gallery shows, exhibitions and even street graffiti dedicated to him in this throbbing city that has since Bruce Lee’s time made a political transition from being a British colony. But that has, however, seemingly wrought hardly any change in Hong Kong’s cultural ethos — under the one country-two systems structure.
Although his spirit of youthful rebellion and a willingness to fight oppressors had once made the official establishment wary of his image, today it supports a five-year-long exhibition that opened last week on his death anniversary. It will remain open till 2018. The Bruce Lee Foundation, of which Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee is chairwoman, is one of the organisers. The Foundation has lent memorabilia, including notebooks, poetry, and family photographs, for the exhibition, which features more than 600 items. The exhibition includes clothes Lee wore in life and in his movies — including a yellow tracksuit he wore in Game of Death. There is a fast-paced three-dimensional and video footage chronicling his life.
“I’ve all of his library books, thousands of books and he would underline in them and write notes in the margins, so I know him from him,” Ms. Lee was quoted as saying last week. She has studied some martial arts, but is a 44-year-old businesswoman with a 10-year old child — and proud of her father.
Her brother Brandon Lee, who was a martial artist, appeared in a handful of films in supporting roles, but died in an accident while filming his first major role in 1993 when he was just 27.
The exhibition, titled ‘Bruce Lee: Kung fu. Art. Life,’ continues to attract throngs of visitors, young and old. It opened at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum on July 20.
The government film archive is producing documentaries of his life, and new prints of some of Bruce Lee’s other films, which include Fist of Fury (1972) and Way of the Dragon (1972). But it was not immediately clear if Enter the Dragon was still running in any of Hong Kong’s many cinemas this week.
But some fans are unhappy over the lack of a permanent memorial or museum to honour Bruce Lee, who took Chinese martial arts to the world stage from the confines of the Shaolin temples where they were nurtured over the centuries, and evolved his own fighting style. Negotiations two years ago to buy and restore Lee’s former mansion in the upmarket Kowloon Tong suburb to create a museum devoted to him failed. The building now houses a hotel.
But fans, many of them born after he was gone, remain undeterred. Amid the bustle of the business and entertainment district of Wanchai, a graffiti caricature of Bruce Lee marks the entrance to an alley that leads to an art gallery. Artists have represented his fighting style in paintings along the walls.
T-shirts emblazoned with Bruce Lee in his celebrated fighting stance, scars on his torso, are hot items in street-markets. Posters showing him abound, too.
Fans have also been crowding at the school here that young Lee went to, as one of several stops on an unofficial “Bruce Lee Trail.” Other points include the statue and the Bruce Lee Club house, both in the Tsim Sha Tsui neighbourhood, and a monastery in the New Territories that was featured in ‘Enter the Dragon’.
Still-reigning action star Jackie Chan, also from Hong Kong, appeared as a guard during an underground battle scene in Enter the Dragon, and had his neck ‘snapped’ by Bruce Lee. He also performed several stunts for the film, including the scene where Bruce Lee’s character scrambles up a rooftop. Jackie Chan was then 17 years old.