BEY’S BLOG

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…