41 Cumberland Road, Kowloon
For most people, even those living in Hong Kong, this seemingly anonymous address would mean absolutely nothing to them, and why would it? Since its last private owner vacated the premises back in the 1980′s, it has been used as a ‘Love Hotel’ and the current owners don’t really take too kindly to nosy people, like me, sticking our heads through the front gate to get a look inside.
Most people walk past the place and don’t give it a second look because down the road there are scores of huge private residences surrounded by high walls that strike a more imposing presence than this one.
Actually, the nature of the properties in and around Kowloon Tong – high surrounding walls, large gated courtyards and generally immense properties inside – mean that it is very popular with the rich (well, its hardly going to be popular with the poor I guess), whether they be business people, film stars, singers etc. Throughout the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s, Kowloon Tong was the place to be if you had money and fame and in fact there are still a few famous residents such as Chow Yun Fat and Andy Lau.
So who used to live here? Well, its most famous occupant was a man who put Kung Fu cinema and Chinese pride on the map back in the early 70′s. He also, virtually single-handedly, introduced martial arts in general to the western world. I am, of course, talking about Bruce Lee.
When Bruce moved back to Hong Kong in 1971 (I think), he made two breakthrough films: The Big Boss and Fist of Fury. At the time he was initially living in Sunlight Gardens – a residential block in Ho Man Tin – but in July 1972, after some significant success (top grossing HK film ever), he had enough money to move into what was, at the time, a plush residence in Kowloon Tong. It was this house that he lived in and used it as his base right up until his death on 20th July 1973.
Post-Bruce and another famous film star took up residence at number 41. Although by no means as famous as Bruce has become, Alexander Fu Sheng was a major player in the Shaw Bros film company and starred in some very famous Shaw productions in the late 1970′s and early 80′s. It was Fu Sheng’s untimely death (car accident in 1984) whilst being the resident of number 41 that started the rumours about the house having bad fung shui. It was bad for Bruce and bad for Fu Sheng. It was perhaps these unfortunate incidents that sealed the fate of the property for the next 25 years and it was leased out to a new resident who turned it into the now infamous “Romantic Hotel”.
Since I first wrote (on my old Livespace blog) about number 41 back in August 2007, much has happened. The Szechuan earthquake on May 12 2007 was the trigger that led the owner of the property, Yu Panglin, to offer the house for sale to raise funds for the disaster. An outcry ensued by Lee’s fans and Panglin took the house off the market and, after some tense negotiations, donated it to the Govt to turn it into a museum.
Of course, much time has now passed since that project was mooted and you should all now know that (as predicted by me in the comments below) it was eventually canned in 2011. An expose in the SCMP (or China Daily – I can’t remember) written by Simon Parry was syndicated to newspapers around the world and only after this did the Govt finally admit what had happened.
On an aside, I recently stumbled across an old web interview with Bey Logan where he mentions the house featured in a couple of films back in the 1970′s. The first was a 1974 film starring Angela Mao called “The Tournament” and the second was in a 1976 Golden Harvest musical called “Gonna Get You” starring The Wynners (old HK pop group that launched the career of Alan Tam, and were parodied in Jackie Chan’s “Armour of God” as The Losers).
Actually, in my old blog, I also included a translation of an article that appeared in “East Week” soon after the house sale was announced. The article included some photos of the houses original features; a wall fresco in the garden, internal columns that once supported the balcony etc. So rather than repeat that blog entry here, I have included those snaps below.
As a Brucey bonus (groan!, sorry), UK based Bruce Lee biographer – Steve Kerridge – sent me a picture to use for my Bruce Lee stuff. It’s the black & white above that shows Brandon Lee riding his bicycle on the driveway at #41. The wall fresco can be seen on the wall to the right of the driveway. I guess it shows that even though the outside and top of the wall has been remodeled, the inside has been kept as it was. Anyway, many thanks to Steve Kerridge for the photo (keep an eye out for the next edition of Chronicles of the Dragon – an ebook written by Steve and due out sometime this year).