| Bruce Lee in the film Enter the Dragon
Hong Kong, Aug. 1: No. 41 Cumberland Road was once the home of the legendary Bruce Lee.
There, he built a gym and fine-tuned some of cinema’s most memorable kung fu moves. And he spent his final years there as a martial arts superstar, husband and father of two. He called it their “crane’s nest”.
Thirty years after he died of a brain aneurysm at 32, Lee’s last abode still stands on Cumberland Road — as a love motel. Clandestine couples pay by the hour at the Romance Hotel for one of the bedrooms inside the two-story villa that bears no resemblance to the residence of one of Hong Kong’s heroes.
The front yard is now a parking lot. A blue and white tarp conceals the licence plates of hotel guests. Everything that used to belong to Lee is gone, replaced by the barest essentials of a cheap thrill: mattresses, nightstands, televisions, whitewashed walls.
No public monument or permanent museum exists to honour Lee in the city where he made his fame and fortune.
Yet from California, where he was born, to Seattle, where he was buried, and from a southern Chinese province he visited as a kid to a Bosnian city he never saw, people continue to pay homage to the master. They honour him for single-handedly putting Hong Kong cinema on the map and bringing martial arts films into the mainstream.
To his fans in Hong Kong, the fate of Lee’s old house is not just an embarrassment; it’s evidence that their city doesn’t know how to make the most of its best cultural assets.
“The Hong Kong government is stupid,” said Wong Yiu-keung, president of the Hong Kong Bruce Lee Fan Club, which sponsored a 10-day exhibit marking the 30th anniversary of Lee’s death on July 20, 1973.
“They are spending lots of money to build a Disneyland,” Wong said. “But in Japan and the US, they all have Disneyland. Only Hong Kong has Bruce Lee. We have his old house and many locations from his movies. I don’t know why the government cannot get this point and do something to boost Hong Kong tourism. It’s not just Bruce Lee fans talking. It’s good business talking.”
The Hong Kong Film Archive once considered putting up a gallery of items about Lee on its rooftop. That proposal was scraped for safety concerns under the government of the former British colony.
Now that Hong King is a special administrative region of China, the city has been hit by the double-whammy of an economic meltdown and widespread criticism of the government.
Half a million people marched in the streets in July demanding more democracy and economic revival.
In the scheme of things, the quest for a Bruce Lee memorial may seem like a low priority. But to the folks who came out to mark the anniversary of his death, the “Little Dragon” — as he is known to Chinese — clearly has a place in their hearts.
“I’ve been watching him since I was a spoiled primary school kid,” said Cyril Koo, an insurance agent in a dark suit who left work to check out the anniversary exhibit of Lee film clips, action heroes, and wall-to-wall posters. “The government should do something to develop the culture of Bruce Lee. Otherwise his spirit and philosophy may not continue.”