POSTED JULY 20, 2008
July 20, 2008

BRUCE LEE AND ME: Remembering the Dragon (part one)

Today marks the anniversary of Bruce Lee’s untimely passing, and I’m attending an exhibition of memorabilia staged by the Hong Kong Bruce Lee Club. (That’s my son Calvin doing his best ‘wa-tahhh!’ in the photo above.) The exhibition is located in Kowloon Tong, not far from Lee’s former home, so, afterwards, I take the kids to check out the Little Dragon’s abode at 41, Cumberland Road. (The building, recently scheduled for demolition, is now, hopefully, to be turned into a Bruce Lee museum.) I remember when I first had my photo taken outside the Lee home, when, as a 19 year old, I first visited Hong Kong…

I remember when I first set eyes on my idol. It was in the Peterborough Odeon during the intermission (remember those?) for the film Born Free. The lobby had a concession stand selling movie memorabilia (those were the days…) and there was this large format black-and-white postcard of an Asian man, stripped to the waist, striking a cool pose while holding two sticks connected by a chain. The man was Bruce Lee, the sticks were his trademark weapon, the nunchaku, and this was a still from his film ‘Enter The Dragon’. From that single image, I knew I wanted to find out who this guy was…

At the time, the Bruce Lee films were only released in the UK in censored versions. For example, all scenes featuring the aforementioned nunchakus were cut. When VHS first came in (yes, folks, I’m that old…), there was a brief era when, bizarrely, theatrical versions of films were censored while those released on video were not. My late father was dispatched to the local video store to buy me the video of Enter The Dragon, and was under orders to demand that it was an uncensored version. (They must have thought he was some kind of pervert...)

I think we watched that video every weekend thereafter. I know I can still quote every word of the film. The last line of dialogue has Lee say “You have offended my family… and you have offended a Shaolin Temple…” And my late mother, bless her, pipes up with ‘what’s he done to Shirley Temple…?’

Though he had passed away almost before most of us had discovered him, Lee was still such a cult figure in the UK that, for several years after his death, there was a monthly magazine published devoted entirely to his life and films. It was called Kung Fu Monthly (aka KFM), and pretty much everything I knew about Bruce I learned from its pages. It was this publication that inspired me to make my first trip to Hong Kong. I visited the Golden Harvest studios, where Lee had made his films, and met Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao… I left town determined that I’d one day find a way to work in the industry, though I had no idea how!

On my return to the UK, I wrote a long letter to aforementioned KFM, and this was printed as an article. That started my career as a journalist, covering primarily martial arts and action movies. This position gave me the opportunity to interview and train under several of Lee’s disciples, including the legendary Dan Inosanto and the late, great Larry Hartsell. (I remember putting Larry on the cover of ‘Combat’ magazine, in his wrestling gear, and getting scolded by my publisher because “all that ground fighting stuff will never catch on…”). I met and befriended Bruce’s son, Brandon, who was taken from us far too soon. He was the first person of (around) my age whom I out-lived. I have a picture of Brandon and me, but I alone get older every year…

As Bruce Lee once said, quoting Goethe, “knowing is not enough, we must apply”, so, after years of writing about martial arts and martial arts movies, I relocated to Hong Kong. My first months here were simultaneously challenging and liberating. I didn’t have much money, but I had time. I trained in Hung Kuen under Sifu Cheung Yee-keung, learned Cantonese as best I could, wrote my ‘Hong Kong Action Cinema’ book. Every morning, for inspiration, I jogged from my apartment in San Po Kong to Bruce Lee’s house in Kowloon Tong.

My first Hong Kong movie experience, White Tiger, was a disaster, but I followed Lee’s advice to just ‘walk on’ from it. I got paid to write scripts for two (unmade) martial arts films for Lee’s ‘Enter The Dragon’ co-star, Bolo Yeung. I played Petrov opposite Donnie Yen’s Chen Jun in the TV version of ‘Fist Of Fury’. Finally, I was offered something approaching a proper job by a major, relatively new Hong Kong film company, Media Asia. They were handling worldwide distribution of Bruce Lee’s films, and I was to be, among other things, their in-house Little Dragonophile. That gave me access to their archives, and an amazing discovery…


Your great story takes me back to my Bruce Lee discovery-in the state of Kentucky (USA)as a twelve year old back in 1975 (I remember when VHS came out as well). Thanks for adding a great deal of prestige and intelligence to the genre. Keep the blogs and DVD commentaries coming, they are very entertaining and informative! Continued success!
- Houston, California USA | 2008-07-21 11:05:13
hello may friend your number 1 from dvds of dragon dinasty
- ruben fuentes calderon, mexico city nuevoleon | 2008-07-21 23:43:58
What I want to know is whether or not Dragon Dynasty will ever be able to aquire the rights to any of Bruce's Hong Kong Films, i.e. Way of the Dragon, Fists of Fury or The Big Boss? All existing DVD versions are atrocious with s**t transfers, doing no kind of justice to the man & his legacy.
- James "Pixote" Ramirez, Salt Lake City, Utah | 2008-07-22 15:40:42
Gostei muito dessa reportagem, pois muito fã de Bruce Lee. Me lembrei ate a noite, hora em que ocorreu toda história e o começo do mito. Valeu! Vi essa semana uma reportagem onde dizia que transformaram a casa de Bruce em um museu, por favor dar uma visitinha por lá e mostra por dentro da casa onde Bruce viveu. Valeu!
- Janiel, Brasil, interior de Pernambuco | 2008-07-22 21:43:52
Alway's a great story Bey. Your Son looks so cool by Bruce.
- Loren Portillo, California | 2008-07-23 20:00:34
Definitely keep the dragon dynasty movies coming. I am a huge martial art fan. From watching Jet Li and Jackie chan etc. influence me to start training. Right now I studying brazilian jiujitsu and Muay thai kickboxing. I am also into mix martial arts. Keep also all your blogs and commentary coming. They are great to read and listen. Keep up the great work! Ni shi hen haode! xie xie nin.
- Keaton Williams, Albuquerque, New Mexico | 2008-07-25 17:12:02
Off topic but you could please ask the kind people at Dragon Dynasty to enable RSS for your blog?
- Spike, Hong Kong | 2008-07-27 03:37:26
Bey, is Dragon Dynasty going to do anything new with any of Bruce Lee's movies? Or (I'll Just rattle off a little wish list here) Armor of God 2: Operation Condor, or Jeff Speakman's Perfect Weapon (why isn't this out on dvd?), or Tan Tao Liang's The Leg Fighters? Please? Also, any progress toward a new version of The Bride With White Hair?
- Bruce, Sacramento, CA | 2008-07-27 19:00:45
What was Brandon like? Was he a big fan of Hong Kong action movies when you knew him? Was this while he was working in Hong Kong?
- Bruce, Sacramento, CA | 2008-07-27 19:03:16
Hi BEY ! No doubt , we followed the same way ( the discovery of BRUCE leading to the extreme passion for martial arts movies & the icons of the genre ! ), in different ( but neighbor ) countries ! We definitely get to meet each other next year ! Regards
- GONNEAU JEAN-LOUIS, PARIS , FRANCE | 2008-07-29 08:50:49
Hey, Bey. What a great article. I remember you talking about your first Bruce encounter back in the 90s in Impact - how time flies! People take for granted now how easily it is to obtain Bruce's films in unexpurgated form, but for fans growing up in the 70s we could only dream of seeing these uncut! Thinking of Bruce (and indeed Brandon) is always bittersweet - I'm now at the same age Bruce was when he passed, and that makes me appreciate his accomplishments all the more. So much done, so much influence on others in such a short time. By the way, my friend's brother and sister met Bruce, back when he was working on Fist of Unicorn - I managed to visit the village in HK 2 years ago and it seemed so small! Here's to Bruce and Brandon.
- Karlos, Hull, UK | 2008-07-29 09:47:54
Great story Bey! Your life is almost like a wishful dream to me!(can't believe you jogged Bruce's house and back!)plus all the amazing people you've worked with. Also love your DVD commentaries too I must say, keep up the good work!
- Kit, UK | 2008-07-29 15:54:38
Great experience Bey your living your dream, you have met most of the martial arts stars as well, what did you make of the bruce lee stuff on youtube and could i get my drunken master still back? cheers
- Robert O, london | 2008-07-30 10:15:10
Bruce Lee has been a huge influence on my life but there was always one thing annoying me whenever I watch his films. That annoying man talking for him in his HK movies. One thing I'd love to see if you guys ever take on any of these films is the original audio (providing it still exists). It just makes it so much better to hear Bruce Lee's voice saying the words.
- Ben, New York | 2008-07-30 23:41:42
Cool, man.
- The Dragon, Chicago, Il. | 2008-07-31 22:18:17
Bruce Lee is the greatis martal art fighter of all times. I will like to have all of the movies that he made, where can I find them.
- Keith Ross Sr., Richmond Virginia | 2008-08-03 09:02:03