The legacy of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee spans 50 years in | Malay Mail

HONG KONG, July 19 — Hong Kong businessman W. Wong still remembers the day in 1972 when he first heard neighborhood children whispering about a figure who seemed larger than life: Bruce Lee.

Lee, a consummate martial artist whose films spawned a kung fu craze worldwide, was one of the first Asian men to achieve Hollywood superstardom before his death at age 32.

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His influence is still felt in Hong Kong, where he spent his childhood and later years, as fans this week hold exhibitions and martial arts workshops to mark the 50th anniversary of Lee’s death.

“Every kid needs some kind of role model, and I chose Bruce Lee,” said Wong, 54, who has led the city’s largest fan club devoted to the star for nearly three decades.

“I hope my life will be like the Bruce Lee I saw: handsome, strong, with great martial arts skills and a heroic image.”

In a studio for Wing Chun — a style of martial arts practiced by Lee before he invented his own Jeet Kune Do technique — the martial arts master is revered as something akin to a patron saint.

Studio owner Cheng Chi-ping, 69, told AFP his team began their training under the shadow of Lee’s cultural influence but “we cannot match his speed, strength or physique”.

Lee’s appeal has not diminished for the next generation, said Mic Leung, 45, who trained at the same studio and, as a teenager, sought out Lee’s films on old videotapes.

“When we talk about the ‘god of martial arts’, we can only talk about Bruce Lee. Nothing else,” he said.

Breaking barriers

Born in San Francisco in 1940, Lee was raised in Hong Kong and rose to fame as a child actor, supported by his father, who was a famous Cantonese opera singer.

At 18, he continued his studies in the United States and for the next decade taught martial arts and scored minor parts in Hollywood, before landing the role of Kato in the television series. The Green Hornet.

But it wasn’t until Lee returned to Hong Kong that he landed his first lead role in a martial arts film The Big Bosswhich made him a household name in Asia after its release in 1971.

The next year saw two more box office hits — Fist of Fury and The Way of the Dragon — cementing Lee’s persona as a relentless, fast-paced fighter.

Lee has finished filming his fourth star vehicle, Enter the Dragonand was in the middle of his fifth when he died on July 20, 1973 from swelling of the brain, related to an adverse reaction to painkillers.

Film scholar Aaron Han Joon Magnan-Park, who taught Lee’s films at the University of Hong Kong, said Lee expressed a kind of Chinese identity that transcended national boundaries.

“I would call Bruce Lee a model of Sinophone soft power success with Hong Kong characteristics,” he told AFP.

In Hollywood, Lee represented a rebuke to racist stereotypes, showing that Asian men were more than servants and villains.

The scenes where he bares his body and flexes his muscles — what Magnan-Park calls “kung fu striptease” — are important because they show how Asian heroes can also belong broken bodies.

“She makes Asian men look sexy, and that’s something I don’t think we talk about enough,” she said.

Heritage preservation

Fans successfully petitioned in 2004 to set up a bronze statue of Lee on Hong Kong’s famous waterfront, but a campaign to revive his former mansion failed to survive demolition in 2019. — Reuters pic

Despite Lee’s enduring popularity, it will not be easy to preserve his legacy in Hong Kong, fan club chairman Wong told AFP. The government’s support is repeated, he said.

Fans successfully petitioned in 2004 to set up a bronze statue of Lee on Hong Kong’s famous waterfront, but a campaign to revive his former mansion from demolition in 2019 failed to save it.

At an exhibit at the government-run museum commemorating Lee’s life, a woman surnamed Yip told AFP she wanted to share “a symbol of old Hong Kong” with her two children.

Wong, who organized a smaller exhibit in the Sham Shui Po district, acknowledged the decline in interest among young people but said Lee’s philosophy always had the potential to become relevant again.

He pointed out how protesters in Hong Kong’s 2019 democracy movement invoked the martial artist’s mantra — “Be water, my friend” — as a reminder to adopt flexible tactics of resistance.

That discussion largely died down after the authorities cracked down on dissent, but Wong remembers the public at the time wondering why the young protesters were taken by Lee.

“As long as everyone remembers (Lee), when your interest is piqued, you have the opportunity to rediscover him,” he said. — AFP

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