The spirit of Bruce Lee lives on

Sep 28, 2013, 07:05 IST | Minal Daswani

An ongoing five-year exhibition, commemorating the life and times of the King of Kung Fu, continues to draw crowds in Hong Kong

HONG KONG, September 28

It has been more than two months since the Hong Kong Heritage Museum opened an exhibition called ‘Bruce Lee: Kung Fu, Art, Life’ on July 20, and still the crowds have not stopped streaming in.

PICTURES: Mainland tourists pose for photos in front of a statue of movie icon Bruce Lee in Hong Kong

The exhibition which is to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the actor and martial artiste’s death, is set to run for five long years. In a world where everything is instant -- from coffee to gratification, a time period of five years is attest to the popularity and power of the King of Kung Fu.

LEGEND: A man walks past graffiti depicting the late martial arts icon Bruce Lee in Hong Kong

Bruce Lee fans will know that in September 1972, Lee began shooting the movie, The Game of Death, which he had written, and which he was to direct and star in. However, Lee passed away on July 20, 1973 due to swelling in his brain, leaving behind a shocked nation, disbelieving fans and angry followers who still believe that he was killed. Otherwise, how could the fittest man in the world die at 32? they asked. He also left behind a legacy that still lives on giving credence to the simple legend that stand near Bruce Lee’s pictures - the spirit of Bruce Lee lives on, they say.

LEE-GACY: Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee (C), with her 10-year-old daughter Wren (L) and Lee’s elder sister Phoebe, at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum during the opening of the five-year-long exhibition on Lee. Pics/AFP

The ground floor of the Heritage Museum features a 3.5-meter (3.8-yard) statue of Bruce Lee mid-kick, which was sculpted by Chu Tat-Shing, this is just one could say, an appetizer to the main course. The exhibition is actually held on the second floor of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and is broken up into four different sections to reveal the three different sides of Lee: the man, the actor, the kung fu master and the legend, as Bruce Lee was a multi-dimensional personality.

The exhibition contains over a 600 items from his life such as family photos, posters, props and costumes. 400 of these items are on loan from the Bruce Lee Foundation, which is run by Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee. The exhibition is the first time that the Bruce Lee Foundation has loaned such a large amount of Lee’s personal items to an exhibition.

The Kung Fu master section features a recreation of Lee’s gym where fans are treated to a holographic demonstration showing off his moves with the nunchaku along with some of Lee’s training equipment and routines. A punching bag and Lee’s nunchaku are on display.

In 1964, in Oakland, California, Lee had a controversial match with a Kung Fu expert, Wong Jack Man. Wong was unhappy that Lee was teaching non-Chinese kung fu and so he was challenged to a fight with Wong. It was agreed that if Lee won the match, he would continue teaching whomsoever he wanted, but if he lost he would have to close down his school. Lee won the match, but he was disturbed by the restrictions that were placed on martial arts.

Lee wrote to a friend, George Lee, and asked him to create a miniature gravestone with “In memory of a once fluid man crammed and distorted by the classical mess” inscribed on it. He wanted to use the gravestone as a symbol for traditional martial arts followers, and it is on display at the exhibition.

Fans can explore a different side of Lee, since the exhibition also displays the notebook he kept featuring 82 different cha cha dance steps, photos and a video of Lee doing the dance. Visitors can take a look at the famous yellow tracksuit Bruce Lee wore in the unfinished film that Lee wrote and was meant to direct, The Game of Death.

While Lee is most famous for his acting and martial arts skills, he was also a philosopher and writer. Among the 600 items on display, the exhibition features some of Lee’s poems and articles. In one of Lee’s pieces, he shared some of his ideas and beliefs about what actors should be. He wrote that they should be “artists capable of expressing themselves psychologically and physically with realism and appropriateness.”
Dotted along the exhibition are video clips from a couple of his movies and video testimonials from his friends, family, colleagues and students.

Outside the main exhibition hall, is another smaller section dedicated to Lee, which houses a Collectors’ Corner. The smaller section explores the legend that Lee is. Fans will be able to take a look at the pop culture icon Lee was, by looking at the plaques honouring him including a copy of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There’s also a section containing many of Lee’s The Green Hornet collectibles, provided by an American collector, Perry Lee.

On the way out of the museum, fans can visit the gift shop where they are able to purchase Bruce Lee’s movies, action figures and other items. As a tie-in with the exhibition, a documentary titled The Brilliant Life of Bruce Lee, produced by the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers, is shown at the Theatre of the Heritage Museum.

The museum has many other programmes to go along with the exhibition, including lectures, interactive demonstrations and sharing sessions. These are organized for the public oncurrently with the five-year exhibition.

The Lee exhibition is attracting a cross section of people and is a heavy tourist draw. Many, visitors of course, are fans of his but others want to know more about the local legend. Visitor Robert Spiezlo believes that Lee “inspires not just the older generation, but the younger ones as well.” Some are interested to find out how Lee, who was born in Hong Kong, managed to achieve so much fame outside China. Many say that Lee inspired them to practise martial arts.

Samantha Wong, of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, believes that there has been an increase in overseas tourists visiting the museum due to the exhibition, which is to fulfil the public’s enthusiastic aspirations for an exhibition on Bruce Lee. “It was this reason why the Hong Kong government had decided to open an exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in July 2013 to showcase his legendary life and contribution.”

The exhibition, of course, is a must see for die-hard Bruce Lee fans. Yet, it is also educative for those who do not know their Kung Fu from their karate. For there was so much more to the Little Dragon than lightning fast strikes and blood curling kiais (martial arts war cry) and fancy footwork. It was his philosophy, profound knowledge of the human condition and in the end, he himself with his faults, foibles and deep wisdom, which made Bruce Lee the fighter, the philosopher, and the legend that he will always be.

The Hong Kong Heritage Museum: 1 Man Lam Road, Sha Tin, Hong Kong. People can visit the museum by car or MTR.
Tickets: HK$10 (US$1.30 or R 79.92 approx) for adults HK$5 (US$0.65, R 39.96 approx) for students.
The price includes a look at the exhibition and a screening of the documentary. Visitors can also pick up a booklet featuring the exhibit highlights.

Philosopher, fighter
Bruce Lee was a Chinese-American martial artiste, an actor, a martial arts instructor and a filmmaker. Bruce Lee was born on November 27, 1940 in San Francisco. He and his family moved to Hong Kong, where he grew up and started his martial arts training. It was after many close calls and scrapes that Lee’s father decided to send him to the US to complete his education.

In March 1961, Lee attended the University of Washington. Lee studied philosophy, psychology, drama and various other subjects. Also, Lee met his wife, Linda Emery, while he was studying at the University of Washington. The couple married in August 1964. The couple had two children: Brandon Lee (1965-93) and Shannon Lee (1969). 

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