Bruce Lee is a legend of Hong Kong film. Although his life and film career were short he single-handedly created the martial arts film genre and has been the genre's most lasting star. He also was the first to put Hong Kong on the map in international film. His films continue to be watched in almost every country in the world. In Hong Kong they call him “Little Dragon.”
Joel Stein wrote in Time, "In an America where the Chinese were still stereotyped as meek house servants and railroad workers, Bruce Lee was all steely sinew, threatening stare and cocky pointy fingers — a Clark Kent who didn't need to change outfits...He was the redeemer, not only for the Chinese but for all the geeks and dorks and pimpled teenage masses that went up to the theaters to see his action films. He was David, with spin-kicks and flying leaps more captivating than any slingshot."
Lee honed his craft as a martial arts instructor in the U.S. before making his debut in the short-lived TV series The Green Hornet. Struggling to break into Hollywood, he returned to his hometown Hong Kong, where he catapulted to global fame with hits like The Big Boss and Fist of Fury before passing away in 1972 at age 32 from swelling of the brain.
Lee amazed the world with his original moves and was a trailblazer in the martial arts film genre and also directed his films. “He was a man of originality and a pioneer,” said Jiro Chino, a Hong Kong kung fu film critic, told the Yomiuri Shimbun. “Hong Kong films had been looked down on at that time. But after Lee appeared in the films, Hong Kong movies suddenly became very popular. It may be due to Lee that current Hong Kong stars, including Jackie Chan, could make their way to Hollywood,” he pointed out. [Source: Katsuo Kokaji, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 28, 2013]
Lee also is said to have changed martial arts. Lee created Jeet Kune Do, an original martial art based on Wing Chun, a traditional Chinese kung fu for self-defense. In “Enter the Dragon,” there is a scene in which Lee throws opponents after punching and kicking them, then renders them unconscious using submission holds. This can be seen in today’s popular mixed martial arts. “You can only say that he was great, because he made such a splendid film in 1973,” Chino said.
See Separate Articles: MARTIAL ARTS FILMS: WUXIA, RUN RUN SHAW AND KUNG FU MOVIES factsanddetails.com ; FAMOUS CHINESE FILM ACTORS, CHOW YUN-FAT AND FOREIGN ACTORS IN CHINA ; ; FAMOUS CHINESE FILM ACTRESSES: GONG LI, ZHANG ZIYI AND OTHERS factsanddetails.com ; FAMOUS ACTRESSES IN THE EARLY DAYS OF CHINESE FILM factsanddetails.com ; JACKIE CHAN: HIS LIFE, FILMS, STUNTS, INJURIES, ENDORSEMENTS AND TROUBLES factsanddetails.com ; JET LI factsanddetails.com ; HONG KONG MOVIE INDUSTRY: ACTION, TRIADS AND GHOSTS factsanddetails.com ; HONG KONG FILM MAKERS: JOHN WOO, WONG-KAR-WAI, TSUI HARK AND STEPHEN CHOW factsanddetails.com
Websites: Love Hong Kong Film lovehkfilm ; Hong Kong Cinemagic hkcinemagic.com ; Hong Kong Movie Database hkmdb.com; Martial Artist’s Guide to Hong Kong Films magthkf.ronlim.com ; Chinese Film Classics chinesefilmclassics.org ; Senses of Cinema sensesofcinema.com; 100 Films to Understand China radiichina.com. dGenerate Films is a New York-based distribution company that collects post-Sixth Generation independent Chinese cinema dgeneratefilms.com; Internet Movie Database (IMDb) on Chinese Film imdb.com ; Wikipedia List of Chinese Filmmakers Wikipedia ; Shelly Kraicer’s Chinese Cinema site chinesecinemas.org ; Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Resource List mclc.osu.edu ; Love Asia Film loveasianfilm.com; Wikipedia article on Chinese Cinema Wikipedia ; Film in China (Chinese Government site) china.org.cn ; Directory of Interent Sources newton.uor.edu ; Chinese, Japanese, and Korean CDs and DVDs at Yes Asia yesasia.com and Zoom Movie zoommovie.com Bruce Lee, the Divine Wind bruceleedivinewind.com . Book: ”Bruce Lee: Fighting Spirit” by Bruce Thomas, the bassist in Elvis Costello’s group The Attractions. “Hong Kong Babylon, Guide to the Hollywood of the East”, a well researched book by New Yorker staff writer Frederic Dannen; the enthusiastic “Hollywood East: Hong Kong Movies and the People Who Make Them” by Stefan Hammond (Contemporary Books, 2000); “Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment” by David Bordwell (Harvard University Press, 2000); “The Hong Kong Filmography 1977-1997" by John Charles (McFarland).
Bruce Lee's Early Life
The son of a Hong Kong opera singer, Lee was born in San Francisco on November 27, 1940, the Year of the Dragon, while his father was on tour. Lee was a sickly child with a female name (Li Jun Fan) given to him by his mother to ward off evil spirits. She also pierced one of his ears in the belief that the spirits would leave him alone if they thought he was a girl.
Bruce Lee’s father was from Shunde in southern Guangdong Province. In 1941 he moved with his family to Hong Kong. Beginning at the age of five Bruce appeared as a child star in 20 films and rarely showed up at school. Growing up in Hong Kong he took ballroom dancing classes, trained in the Chinese kung fu style of wing chun, took part in inter-school boxing competitions and was greatly affected by the drug addiction of a childhood friend.
Lee was skinny, bespectacled kid. In 1953, he lost a street fight and began taking kung-fu lessons as a means of protecting himself. He also began a life-long quest to turn his body into a well-tuned fighting machine through diet, exercise, weight training, and meditation. As a teenager Lee was formally trained in the martial arts in the Wing Chin kung fu order under a master teacher in Hong Kong. Lee’s style was known as Jee Kune Do (“Way of the Intercepting Fist”).
In 1959, at the age of 18, Lee returned to the United States to study philosophy at the University of Washington in Seattle. His mother sent him there so he could receive dual citizenship and to keep him away from his local gang. He worked at a Chinese restaurant, met his wife, went to college, and got a job teaching the Wing Chun-style of marital arts. In 1963, Lee opened his first kung-fu school, teaching Jee Kune Do. He taught in both Seattle in Oakland.
Bruce Lee’s Brother on Bruce
One inch punchRobert Lee, Bruce Lee’s younger brother was well-known as a singer and the executive-producer of “Bruce Lee, My Brother.” ““For more than 20 years, I thought of shooting a film to tell Bruce’s real story. Except for small things, about 80 percent of the movie accurately depicts him,” he told the Yomiuri Shimbun. [Source: Katsuo Kokaji, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 28, 2013]
“Robert, who is eight years younger than Bruce, lived with his brother until 1959 when his brother left Hong Kong for the United States. “Bruce was friendly and thoughtful to his friends, but he had a fiery temper,” Robert recalled. Bruce became a disciple of Ip Man and was always fighting while studying Wing Chun. “Bruce never teased others without a reason. It seemed that he wanted to use kung fu in a real fight,” Robert said.
“In 1958, Bruce took part in a student boxing competition and beat a British champion. It was also in the same year that Bruce and Robert participated in a dance competition and won the event. “Bruce had many girlfriends. As he had difficulty in choosing one, he used me as his partner and we practiced dancing for three months,” he said. Bruce was cautioned by the Hong Kong police not to fight any more and warned that if he fought again he would be arrested.In 1959, their parents sent Bruce alone to the United States. “On the night before leaving Hong Kong, he came to my room and told me he was anxious about the move. It was the first time that I saw him worried,” Robert said.
“It was 10 years before they saw each other again. Bruce asked Robert to bring a video recorder and they recorded a boxing match of Muhammad Ali to study his footwork. Bruce has already appeared on a TV program, “The Green Hornet.” When he looked at Robert’s thin body, he told Robert not to tell others Robert was his brother. During the two-week stay, Bruce ordered Robert to undergo special training. “In addition to the training, Bruce had me drink a smoothie made with milk, banana and two raw eggs in shell. It was tough for me,” Robert said. Then, Robert remembered Bruce saying, “I don’t want to get old,” when he saw an old man walking with a cane. “The comment might have foretold his destiny...” Robert said.
Bruce Lee's Action Style, Physical Fitness and Television
In 1964, Lee entered a tournament in Long Beach, California — the first major American demonstration of kung fu. He have back belt Dan Inosanto a good fight. Inosanto asked Lee to be his student. Lee moved to Los Angeles and become a physical fitness freak. He ran, lifted weights and did isometrics. He experimented with electrical impulses which he used to stimulate his muscles while he slept. He consumed vitamins, royal jelly, steroids and even liquid steaks. Lee once wrote: "Research your won experiences for the truth. Absorb what is useful...Add what is specifically your won...The creating individual...is more important than any style or system."
In 1966 and 1967, Lee played Kato, a Japanese chauffeur, on the Green Hornet, a tongue-and-cheek super hero television series made by the creators of Batman. The role gave his teaching career a boost. Among his students were Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Lee developed the idea for television series that became Kung Fu. David Carradine was selected over Lee for the leading role. According to a Warner Bros memo: "The American public won’t sit for a Chinaman appearing in their living room every week."
Lee played a cocky little guy who was not afraid of anything. He fought against larger, muscle-bound opponents, small armies of fighters, drug dealers and Japanese soldiers. Most crumpled or flew in the air, and collapsed dead or unconscious, after just one of Lee's blow to the face. Off screen, he had reputation for arrogance and aggression. Insanto later said, "Although he had a short temper, Bruce Lee was a very humane and multidimensional person. If you were in his circle of close friends, he was open and joking all the time.
Lee was is known for the funny sounds he made when he fought and the unusual poses and stances he struck as he prepared to do battle. He was famous for a combat technique called the “one-inch punch” and reportedly used fencing techniques in his martial arts maneuvers but used his arms instead of a sword. "No one could make violence as beautiful as Lee's," wrote Stein. "He had a cockiness that passed as charisma. And when he whooped like a crane, jumped in the air and simultaneously kicked two bad guys into unconsciousness, all while punching out two others...Off screen, you knew the real Lee could do that to."
Bruce Lee's Films
Bruce Lee Statue Lee did a few child roles but starred in only four films — “The Big Boss” (1971), “Fist of Fury” (1972), “The Way of the Dragon” (1972) and “Enter the Dragon” (1973) — and one incomplete film, “Game of Death.” Stock footage was used to complete “Game of Death” in 1978.Lee’s only known interview is on the Canadian TV program “The Pierre Berton Show” in 1971. [Source: Katsuo Kokaji, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 28, 2013]
To become a film star, Lee had to leave Los Angeles for Hong Kong. He blamed his lack of opportunities in Hollywood on discrimination against Asians. In 1971, he signed a contact with the Hong Kong company Golden Harvest. Lee starred in three Hong Kong films: “Big Boss” (1971); “Fist of Fury” (1972), featuring classic numchuk work; “Way of the Dragon” (1972), in which Lee battles American karate killers and Mafia killers. Of these three one was almost unwatchable and other two had only the fight scenes to redeem them. The New York Times film critic Vincent Canby wrote, his films make "the worst Italian western look like the most solemn and noble achievements of the early Soviet Cinema."
The plot of Lee's films were all pretty much the same. He plays a Robin-Hood-like good guy who sticks ofr irdnary Chinese who are getting pushed around by criminals and bullies. At he beginning Lee makes a vow not too fight. After people close to him are exploited and killed he renounces his vow and seek retribution by killing lots of people.
Lee's films made lots of money in Asia, which caught Hollywood’s attention. He was invited back to the United States to make films, something he dreamed about. “Enter the Dragon” (1973), a joint Hollywood and Hong Kong production was the result. In “Enter the Dragon” Lee battles villains who runs a kung fu academy as a cover for a drug smuggling operation. The climatic fight scene takes place in a room of mirrors against a claw-fisted rival. The film has earned more than $200 million and is still popular today. .
“Game of Death” (1978) was released five years after Lee's death. Lee died while making the film and appears in only about 40 minutes of the film. Many scenes use Lee look-a -likes with fake beards and sunglasses and clips from previous Bruce Lee films. There is even some footage from Lee’s real life funeral. In the film Lee fights 7-foot-1-inch basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabar and was able to kick him in the face with one foot still on the ground. The film was absurd and didn’t do very at the box office.
Bruce Lee’s Clash with Bros. During the Making of “Enter the Dragon”
In 2020, Bruce Lee’s daughter published letter he sent to Warner Bros. during their clash over “Enter the Drago”. Zack Sharf wrote in Indiewire: “Bruce Lee’s battle against the producers of his 1973 martial arts classic “Enter the Dragon” has been well documented, but the true story gets a personal re-telling from the perspective of Bruce’s daughter, Shannon Lee, in her new book “Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee.” A letter by Bruce published in the book recount how he fought hard to rewrite the original “Enter the Dragon” script in order to achieve his goal of “showing the Western world the glory of Chinese gung fu” and “expressing himself fully in a true, on-screen representation of a Chinese man.” [Source: Zack Sharf, Indiewire, October 6, 2020]
“While Warner Bros. told Bruce Lee it would listen to his request to let go of the original screenwriter, the studio ended up lying by keeping the writer in Hong Kong to make “small tweaks” to the new pages of the script that Lee turned in. Lee also urged the studio to get rid of the original titles, “Blood and Steel” and “Han’s Island,” and use “Enter the Dragon” instead. “This original script had none of the iconic scenes that exist today,” Shannon Lee writes. “No ‘finger pointing at the moon.’ No ‘art of fighting without fighting.’ No philosophical scene with the monk discussing the true nature of mastery — ‘I do not hit. It hits all by itself.'”
“Under the impression that he was getting creative control over the script, Bruce Lee began “training like he had never trained before” for the project. The studio also tapped Lee to choreograph the fight scenes. Amid the clash over the script, Lee sent a letter to Warner Bros. chairman Ted Ashley to express his excitement over the project and drive home his commitment to make a great film.
“Bruce Lee’s letter reads: “I am sure you agree with me that quality, extreme hard work, and professionalism is what cinema is all about. My twenty years of experience, both in martial arts and acting has led to the successful harmony of showmanship and genuine, efficient, artful expression. In short, this is it, and ain’t nobody knows it like I know it. Pardon my bluntness, but that is me! You see, my obsession is to make, pardon the expression, the f — ingest action motion picture that has ever been made. In closing, I will give you my heart, but please do not give me your head only. In return, I, Bruce Lee, will always feel the deepest appreciation for the intensity of your involvement.”
“The letter did not solve Bruce Lee’s problems, as the actor refused to show up to set on the first day of filming after discovering the producers were not using any of his script changes. As Shannon writes, “He knew that if he didn’t take a stand, he would be marginalized over and over again by people who ‘knew better.'” A two-week standoff between Bruce Lee and the production ensued. Shannon Lee writes that the producers “created cover-up stories about how my father was so nervous about being in a Hollywood movie and being a failure that he was terrified to show up to set.” Lee refused to give in, and finally Warner Bros. demanded the producers use Lee’s script changes so that production could resume.
Bruce Lee's Death
Lee died at the age of 32 on July 20, 1973 of a cerebral edema at his mistress's home one month before the premier of “Enter the Dragon”. Some believe the injury was caused by a blow to the head. Others say he died became of a problem with his adrenaline gland, exacerbated by the overuse of cortisone. An autopsy reported his death was linked to a strange reaction to a prescription painkiller called Equagesic. “Two months before his death, Bruce was assured by three doctors that he was as healthy as an 18-year-old. I have concerns that there was some external factors in his death,” is brother Robert said.
Doctors also found traces of marijuana in his blood. Some have speculated that died from eating hash cookies. According to the theory his body, which had only 1 percent fat, was unable to deal with large amounts of THC. Some believe his stash was poisoned with cortisone by jealous Hong Kong move moguls.
Lee was buried at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle. He left no will and was not a wealthy man. At the time of his death, Lee was a fairly big star in Asia but still relatively unknown in the United States. His obituary in the New York Times was only eight sentences long. The documentary “Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend” was released in 1973. It contains interviews with Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Chuck Norris.
Graves of Bruce and Brandon Lee
Bruce Lee's Legacy
Lee had two children with his wife, actress Linda Lee-Cadwell. His son Brandon Lee was killed in 1993 while making his first feature film, “The Crow”. His daughter Shannon Lee was in the 1998 film “Enter the Eagles”. The mansion in Hong Kong where Lee lived is now a by-the-hour love hotel. It was sold two years after his death and transformed by its owner into the "Romantic Hotel."
Bruce Lee is more popular and recognized in Hong Kong and the West than in mainland China in part because when he was the height of his fame in the 1970s China was in the middle of the Cultural Revolution.
Lee is admired for helping boost the status of Chinese in particular and instilling pride in minorities in general. Liu Jikang, a representative with Sony films in Beijing, told the Los Angeles Times, “Before his movies few foreigners knew about the Chinese, but his films abruptly gave up a very positive image of China.”
David Henry Hwang, who is working on a play about Lee, said the Lee helped elevate Chinese from the ranks of cooks and laundry men to math geniuses and company leaders. He told the Los Angeles Times, “For the first time on the 20th century a Chinese man was seen as a hero, as someone, who stood for justice and all the things we associated with heroism. That was completely different for Chinese at the time he came along.”
All the rights to Bruce Lee’s name. likeness, trademarks and works are owned by Concord Moon, a Los-Angeles-based limited partnership managed in part by Shannon Lee. Licensing the Bruce Lee’s name and products is worth millions of dollars but can not attached, according to Shannon Lee’s wishes, to tobacco products, alcohol or weapons. “Basically, what we try to do is run the business with my father’s legacy I mind,” Shannon said.
In mainland China Lee’s films are widely pirated and his image is widely used without permission or royalty fees. Real Fym — a chain of a 100 or so restaurants, doesn’t use the Lee name but in their logo the use an image of a jumping kung fu fighter that looks unmistakable like Lee.
Bruce Lee's Projects
The 50-part, $7.3 million prime time series “The Legend of Bruce Lee” began airing in October 2008 on CCTV’s main channel. The series was shot over nine months at locations in China, Hong Kong, Macao, Italy, Thailand and the United States, with action star Chen Guokun playing Lee.
In 2006, the family of Bruce Lee said that was working on a film of Bruce Lee’s life based a biography about Lee by his brother Robert Lee Chun-fai; and the first statue of Bruce Lee was unveiled in the Bosnian town of Mostar as way of uniting the different ethnic groups in Bosnia.
Among the project involving Concord Moon are a CGI movie, an animated feature film, a live-action television series and a Broadway musical by David Henry Hwang, whose “M Butterfly” won a Tony award for best play in 1988. Concord Moon has given its approval to the CCTV project.
The CGI movie is being produced by Li Cheng and J.A. Media. Plans are to start shooting in April of 2005 and release the film before the 2008 Olympics. There are plans for shooting in Hong Kong and Seattle and perhaps other cities in the U.S., Europe or mainland China. It is not clear what sort of arrangements have been made with the Lee family.
The film “Finishing the Game” by director Justin Lin spoofs a film made after Lee’s death with body doubles and features 50 Bruce-Lee look-likes selected from a massive audition in Los Angeles that aimed to get 100 of them. Men of Asian descent from a variety of countries showed up. One Korean-America actor who got a part told the New York Times, “People told me I look like Bruce Lee but I grew up in the West so I’ve had people tell me I look like Sandra Oh.” The story behind the film is that the look-alikes all want a single part and are their numbers are reduced in some very unpleasant ways
In 2006, it was announced that a Bruce Lee-themed park will be built in Shunde — the ancestral home of Bruce Lee’s family. It will contain a statue of Bruce Lee, memorial hall, martial arts academy and conference center and a rollercoaster that let out a Bruce Lee howl. The park is expected to cost $25.5 million and be completed in time ofr the Olympics in 2008. the actress Betty Ting Pei donated a pair numchucks that Lee once used. Shunde was the hometown of Lee’s father and grandfather. Lee was born in San Francisco and only visited the town once when he was a kid.
In January 2009, a plan was approved to transform Bruce Lee’s Kowloon home from a love hotel into a tourist attraction after the hotel’s owner released it and hotel tycoon Yu Pang-line decided to donate the use of it to the city of Hong Kong. The plan calls for Lee’s study and training room to be decorated with weapons and paraphernalia like those used in his films.
Mirror scene from Enter the Dragon
Films and Documentaries About Bruce Lee and His Mentor Ip Man
Bruce Lee created the global “Dragon Boom.” His popularity has not flagged. Media memorializing Lee have been churned with some regularity They include documentaries and films about Lee himself and about those associated with him, namely his mentor, the martial artist Ip Man. [Source: Katsuo Kokaji, Yomiuri Shimbun, June 28, 2013]
The documentary “I Am Bruce Lee” shows actors, film producers, martial artists and even dancers talk about the large influence Lee left on film, martial arts and the music world. “Bruce Lee, My Brother” depicts his relatively unknown youth in Hong Kong. Aarif Lee gives a very accurate portrayal of Bruce Lee in the film. Lee’s only known interview is on the Canadian TV program “The Pierre Berton Show” in 1971 and an eight-millimeter film shot by actress Ahna Capri, who costarred in “Enter the Dragon,” during breaks in shooting, are included in “I Am Bruce Lee.”
“The Grandmaster” is about masters of Chinese martial arts, focusing on Ip Man. Tony Leung plays Lee. Wang Kar Wai, the director of “The Grandmaster,” had wanted to shoot a film about Lee. He said that Lee is unique because unlike martial artists of old, Lee experienced both Chinese and Western cultures, and became a symbol of modern martial artists.
“In “Ip Man-The Final Fight,” Anthony Wong plays the leading role. The film depicts the hard times of Ip Man, who defected from China to Hong Kong and died in 1972. There is a scene in the film showing Lee, after finding success as an actor, displaying insolence toward Ip Man when he visited Ip Man. Lee is very rarely portrayed as a “bad guy” in a film.
A $4.6 million Chinese-language production released two days before what would have been Lee's 70th birthday on November 27, 2010 was about Lee’s early life before he became famous and was based on memories of Lee's siblings. “Bruce Lee, My Brother” traces the actor's life growing up in Hong Kong before he left to study in the U.S. "Many people know about his movies and his fighting philosophy after he became famous. But very few people know about his family, his parents, his first love, what he did on movie sets as a young actor," producer Manfred Wong told AP. "This production offers a new perspective to understanding a person. We see someone who is real and fragile. The Bruce Lee we see in his films is deified," said Wong Yiu-keung, head of the Hong Kong Bruce Lee fan club and an adviser to the film. [Source: AP, October 28, 2010]
AP reported: “Audiences see Lee courting his first love interest,launching his entertainment career as a popular child actor and pained by a childhood friend's drug addiction. He flashes his ballroom dance moves, starts training in the Chinese kung fu style of wing chun and takes part in an inter-school boxing competition. Cast in the lead role is Hong Kong newcomer Aarif Lee, who is not related to the late actor. The sharp facial features of the 23-year-old singer-songwriter who hails from a family of mixed Chinese, Malaysian and Middle Eastern heritage make him a credible stand-in for Bruce Lee, whose mother was part German. The production was based on input from Lee's younger brother Robert and his two older sisters. Lee's daughter Shannon Lee and widow Linda Lee Cadwell, however, were not involved and there have been suggestions of interfamily controversy.
Rebirth of Bruce Lee's Wing Chun Kung Fu Style
In December 2011, AFP reported: ‘sam Lau picks up his sword and waves it in a series of terrifying slashes as he runs towards a student, who retreats laughing nervously. All around them, kung fu students grapple fiercely. The pupils have come to Lau's Hong Kong studio — some from as far away as Italy — to hone their moves in the kung fu style called wing chun, which is on the rise again decades after the death of its most famous follower, Bruce Lee. [Source: AFP, December 5, 2011]
Many credit wing chun's renewed popularity to a series of films about Yip Man, one of the art's greatest "sifus", or teachers, and most famously the man who turned Lee from street fighter to martial arts legend. "I started to learn wing chun because of the movie 'Ip Man'. He was a great person," said Sam Ng, 12. "When Yip Man saw someone beating someone else, he would stand up and help to rescue them." Ng shows off a series of sharp chopping gestures followed by a formal bow.
But though students may be brought to wing chun by the 2008 blockbuster starring Donnie Yen — or its sequel and prequel — it is the health and self-defence benefits that keep them sparring, said Yip's son, Yip Ching, 77. "Yip Man let the world know about wing chun but it's even more popular now," he said. Lau, 64, was once Yip's assistant and is now a sifu in his own right with over 1,000 pupils. He says that wing chun appeals to a broad range of students because of its emphasis on cunning and focus rather than brute force. "I like it because now I am not shy," an Italian student said. "Before, I was shy, but now I have found a different part of myself. I have more positive energy."
Lau also credits the growth in student numbers to the Internet, which allows would-be martial artists to instantly find Yip's followers and their kung fu schools rather than what he sees as cheap imitations. "Wing chun is the best kung fu in the world, and we have to tell the world, this is the correct wing chun," he said. "People see my website, they say this is very good, this is Bruce Lee again." But exact numbers of wing chun students around the world are hard to come by, and this, says Lau, is a symptom of wing chun's problems.
Wing Chun Style of Kung Fu
Lee created Jeet Kune Do, an original martial art based on Wing Chun, a traditional Chinese kung fu for self-defense. According to legend the wing chun style of kung fu was founded by Yim Wing Chun, a young woman in southern China during the Qing dynasty who used techniques taught to her by a nun to overcome a local warlord trying to trap her into marriage. Yip Man brought her art to Hong Kong and, through Bruce Lee and the heyday of Hong Kong film, to the attention of the world."A lady in a dangerous situation can do something very serious, very fierce — attack the eye, the chin, the neck — wing chun is real fighting, real defence that relies on your technique," Lau said. [Source: AFP, December 5, 2011]
Fortunately, Lau's studios in Hong Kong's teeming Tsim Sha Tsui are free of pupils gouging one another's eyes out. Instead they stand in pairs grappling with their arms in an exercise called chi sao, or "sticky hands" — a key element of wing chun in which students learn to respond instantly to an opponent's movements.Other exercises involve kicks and punches, while students may also train with wooden dummies and, in advanced stages, poles or swords.
Students learn to outwit opponents with speed and deliver multiple punches in quick succession while staying balanced around a centre line. The most important exercises are not the most spectacular, but Lau's students say they train the body to react faster than the brain.They also lead to a different state of mind and body in which relaxation enables total focus, says Lau's disciple, Italian Furio Piccinini.
"Even when punching incredibly fast you have to also be relaxed... Normally you think that to punch you use force, but that's not true, you use the body weight to punch and to develop power," Piccinini said. "If you are relaxed, you can develop great power. I think that's incredible — it's like geometry, physics. With a simple movement you can push very, very hard."
With roots in down-and-dirty street fighting, the sport has no standardised system of exams and competitions, and lacks the international profile of other martial arts like judo and taekwondo. Lau sees it as his mission to "unify wing chun" to preserve Yip Man's techniques for the future. "I have been asking the Chinese government to promote wing chun, to develop it and tell the world to follow," he said. "But they only know about gold medals and the Olympic Games. With several teachers claiming to be the heirs of Yip Man, Lau's quest to become the head of a united wing chun movement may prove difficult.
The crowd that gathers at Yip's grave for an autumn commemoration shows the old man is far from forgotten. Some European visitors have no language in common with Yip's local fans, but all rowdily honour him with incense, rice wine and a whole barbecued pig. One Hong Kong disciple, Tony Ng, has only been learning for a year but sees wing chun featuring heavily in his future. "I'm learning to use my whole body for fighting," he said. "It's very easy to say but very difficult to do."
Auctioning of Bruce Lee Stuff
In December 2013, the yellow jumpsuit worn by Lee in his final film has sold for US$100,000 at an auction in Hong Kong. The BBC reported: “The polyester black-striped garment still has a zip damaged in a fight scene, auction house Spink said. The jumpsuit, which made three times its estimate, was part of a collection of Lee memorabilia which fetched US$258,000. Other items that were snapped up included the star's nunchaku — a pair of wooden lacquered sticks connected by a length of cord — one of the prop weapons used by Lee in his final screen outing. They were designed to match his yellow jumpsuit. British collector George Phillips successfully bid US$70,000 for the nunchaku, calling it an "iconic item". A green bamboo stick used by the star was another item of martial arts weaponry which sold at the auction. [Source: BBC, December 2013]
In August 2011, Bruce Lee fur-lined coat sold at Hong Kong auction for US$77,000, almost nine times the expected price. The BBC reported: “It was bought by a US couple. The coat was worn by Lee in 1973 for the filming of Game of Death and for pre-publicity photo shoots and to the Hong Kong premiere of “Enter the Dragon”. “Silvana and Greg Manning, the US couple who won the auction, said it was "a unique item and a memorabilia for an iconic figure". [Source: BBC6 August 2011
“Twelve other items, including a letter and a name-card, also went under the hammer, raising a total of US$225,000. The items were all being sold by a private collector in what was the largest-ever auction of Bruce Lee memorabilia. A two-page letter Lee wrote to his friend Taky Kimura in 1966, in which he talked about filming his TV show The Green Hornet, sold for US$5,000. Albert Wong, a Hong Kong businessman who bought several items, said Lee had taught him to "challenge the unlimited". "He also tried his best to search for excellence," Mr Wong told reporters.
Image Sources: Wikipedia
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated December 2021