Bruce Lee: Kung Fu. Art. Life

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Jul 18-Jul 1

An exhibition showcasing Bruce Lee movie memorabilia, costumes, scripts and photographs. The show launches on July 20 2013, marking 40 years since Lee died in 1973. We pick out highlights of the exhibition below, charting the legend’s life in the process.

1. Application form for American Citizen’s Return Certificate, March 1941

The National Archives at San Francisco

Bruce Lee was born to Hongkonger parents on November 27, 1940, in San Francisco, USA, in both the Year and the Hour of the Dragon, according to the Chinese zodiac. And it was fitting because in time he would be known in Asia by Siu-lung, which means ‘little dragon’ in Chinese. To ward off evil spirits by making them think Lee was a girl, his mother pierced the baby boy’s left ear – evident in this certificate.

2. Pretty cool glasses

TM & © Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC All rights reserved

Lee became shortsighted when he was six because he liked to stay up late and read. This meant that when he didn’t wear glasses or contact lenses, he had difficulty seeing his opponent at a distance. So by the time he started to learn martial arts, he picked the Wing Chun discipline – an ideal technique for close-range combat. In his own words: “I accepted my limitations for what they were and capitalised on them.”

3. Film still from The Kid, 1950

© Asia Televsion Limited

Lee made his film debut as a three-month-old infant in Golden Gate Girl. He was given the chance because his father was a celebrated Cantonese opera star. This film still is from The Kid which starred the 10-year old Lee in his first leading role.

4. Lee’s notebook

TM & © Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC All rights reserved

Who knew this deadly warrior was also a graceful cha-cha dancer? In 1958, the Kowloon resident won the HK Cha-cha Championship, with his brother as his partner as he didn’t want to upset his multiple girlfriends at the time. Lee’s first job in the US was as a dance instructor. He marked down 108 

cha-cha steps in this notebook.

5. Walking Along Lake Wash,
written in the 1960s

TM & © Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC All rights reserved

As if dancing cha-cha wasn’t charming enough, Lee also wrote poems. He didn’t care much about the meticulous forms or patterns, preferring a free-verse style, truly reflective of his famous philosophy: “Be formless and shapeless – like water.” This ode is a fairly beautiful handwritten effort.

6. Nunchaku, 1960s

Image credit: Kenneth Y Hao

If the sword is the soul of a samurai and the lightsabre is the force of a Jedi, then the nunchaku (or nunchucks) is the spirit of Bruce Lee. The nunchaku used by Lee on screen, however, are much lighter than the actual combat weapons, enabling him to spin and switch the chain sticks at lightning speed, adding to the cinematic effect.

7.  A TV guide published in the USA, 1966

Image credit: Perry Lee

This marks Lee’s first cover appearance in a US magazine. He plays Kato in American TV show The Green Hornet. The series signified the first time kung fu was seen onscreen in the West, outside of the cinemas in all the Chinatowns. 

8. Lee’s conceptual drawings for the fight scenes in Enter the Dragon, 1972-1973

Image credit: Kenneth Y Hao

This shows the working of a genius’ mind as Lee maps out the kung fu scenes in these drawings. His own martial arts philosophy, dubbed ‘jeet kune do’, emphasises ‘practicality, flexibility, speed and efficiency’.

9. That yellow tracksuit from Game of Death, 1972–1973

© Fortune Star Media Limited

It was said that Lee chose this iconic yellow tracksuit to ‘show imagination rising above tradition’. It symbolises his philosophy of ‘the style of no style’. The modern sportsuit had no affiliation with any existing martial arts style. However, the icon died in mysterious circumstances in Kowloon Tong on July 20, 1973, aged 32, before Game of Death was completed.

10. Handbill of The Way of the Dragon, 1972

© Fortune Star Media Limited

After his enormous box office successes with The Big Boss and Fists of Fury, Lee formed Concord Productions so he could write, direct, star in and produce The Way of the Dragon. Lee featured Chuck Norris as his opponent in the climatic death fight at the Colosseum in Rome – one of the most celebrated scenes in martial arts film history. Samuel Lai

Bruce Lee: Kung Fu. Art. Life Hong Kong Heritage Museum Jul 20 2013 - Jul 2018, 10am-6pm (weekdays), 10am-7pm (weekends and public holidays), 2180 8188; Tickets: $10, free on Wed.


Heritage Museum details

1 Man Lam Rd

Area Sha Tin

Telephone2180 8188

Open 10am-6pm (weekdays), 10am-7pm (weekends and public holidays)
$10, free on Wed.

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