In search of Bruce Lee’s last filming location
You may or may not know that there is a scene in “Enter the Dragon” which was Bruce Lee’s last filmed scene before he died in July 1973. The story goes that once filming of EtD had wrapped and the Warner’s crew had all dispersed back to their native shores, Bruce still felt it needed a little bit of a kick start (as it turns out he applied this quite literally) and he spent sometime creating a storyboard for an opening sequence which would provide this little bit of initial oomph!
I’ve been told that Bruce made some notes on paper from the “Restaurant Yamato” at 14 Ashley Road – now known as Osaka Japanese Restaurant, officially Hong Kong’s longest running Japanese restaurant – consisting of a fight routine against Samo Hung Gam Bo, that he intended to use in this additional opening fight sequence. There have even been interviews with Bruce’s former stunt team – including Bee Chan – where they remembered working out with Sammo, on the mats, in Bruce’s garden at 41 Cumberland Road (one of these interviews can be found on the “Fist of Unicorn” DVD).
There is an added poignancy to this scene because as well as being the last scene he ever shot, it is also the scene that introduced him, in full fighting glory, to the world. Remember, Bruce wasn’t internationally known until after the release of Enter The Dragon, by which time he was already dead. This scene therefore holds great significance in terms of his on-film life.
When I was recently contacted by the documentary people making a film about Bruce related locations in Hong Kong, this scene and its location was one of the first things I was asked about – the filmmakers had the same thoughts about the significance of it. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no idea where it was despite asking around several local experts. This was back in June/July 2009.
Initially I was told that it may have been filmed in Lam Tsuen, Tai Po, near to where I live, but alas nothing can be that easy it seems. I know Lam Tsuen quite well as I had stayed there for a month back in 1995 and although I could see why someone might think this, the terrain was just wrong. My doubts were confirmed by one of the village elders when I asked him about possible sites. The next lead came from Tung Wai. Tung Wai is a famous local film director who was also an actor in EtD. You will remember him from the famous ‘finger pointing’ scene filmed at Tsing Shan Monastery – Tung Wai played Lao the young student. Although he wasn’t involved in the scene, he told the documentary crew that he believed the location was in Yuen Long and used to be known as “The Rose Garden” (Mui Gwai Yuen in Cantonese). This led to another fruitless search eventually leading (thanks to an email from Tuen Mun District Council) to a long-vanished pub at Shui Pin Wai in Yuen Long. It seems that this location has been used in films before, but not this particular scene. Back to the drawing board.
Now, you have to bear in mind that EtD was filmed in 1973 – almost 40 years ago – hard to believe but there you have it. The only people who could know were people directly related to the filming. Of the known people this included Bruce Lee, Roy Chiao (Qiao Hong – who played the orange garbed monk), Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah (Bruce’s stuntman at the time who performed the flips over the monks arms at the end of that scene). Of these people, Bruce was dead before the end of the year, Roy Chiao passed away in 1999, Yuen Wah said he couldn’t remember (well, it was a long time ago) and Samo was unreachable at that time (August 2009) due to the fact that he was in hospital undergoing heart surgery – suffice to say the timing wasn’t too great.
So, here I was, I had completely failed to locate this place. Even Bey Logan – master of all things kung fu film related – was at a loss and, therefore, so was I. The doc crew had gone home with all the shots they could get of many other locations. However I had now taken on the task of nailing this sucker out of personal pride. Besides, it would be a shame if this sort of knowledge is lost in the depths of time. All I had was the actual scene in the film, some screen grabs showing various mountains, GoogleEarth and a ton of pictures (of various mountain scenery in the New Territories) to crawl through on the internet.
Then earlier this week I was playing around with Microsoft’s Photosynth and joined a few pictures together – from the part in the fight when Sammo is being thrown around the mats by Bruce – and got some semblance of a distant ridge-line to work from. The thing about HK is that almost everything changes, especially during a gap of 40 years, except for the mountains (usually, at least). If you can match a ridge-line or a peak then it can be easy to nail a location and in the end this is what I had to do.
The good news…
I had some screen grabs from “Way of the Dragon”, from the New Territories scene with Bob Wall and Whang In Sik. This was shot in Sheung Shui – at Woodland Crest to be precise (another location that has completely changed) but I suddenly recognised some of the background mountains as the same ones in the EtD scene I described above. It took a while to confirm the match and then it was a case of lining up the panorama with possible corresponding areas. This helped me identify the mountain that can be seen behind Sammo (doing a backflip) in the following screen shot.
I had already pinpointed the potential filming site as a small clump of forested land above Ho Sheung Heung – in fact it is the villages’ ‘fung shui’ wood – and spent a frustrating two hours trying in vain to break through the dense forest and undergrowth to the point I felt was right. The unfortunate thing about all of this is that this location is currently unreachable. I took a break and ended up chatting to a villager who remembered very well when the location was accessible (an open park as seen in EtD) but he told me that the place has been neglected for the best part of the past 30 years and as such is overgrown and full of snakes! It will take some serious effort to clear a way up to the right place and I doubt that will ever happen unless someone can convince the village elders that opening up the land would be beneficial to the village.
So, I ended up having to content myself with taking some shots of where the location is and some of the surrounding hills – one of which can be seen behind Roy Chiao and is still there – albeit with some industrial activity going on in the dip between the filming location and the hill. Anyway, for those who are interested here is a picture of the location, taken from the slopes of Tai Shek Mo. The actual location was in somewhere behind the small hillock that is centre photo.
And here is a picture of Roy’s hill. Perhaps we should petition the village to name it after him Unfortunately, inaccessibility to the physical location (not through want of trying mind you) means that I can’t recreate the same angle and had to settle for this shot taken from much further north. Here is Roy Chiao as the monk in the film, the hill I am referring to can be seen bottom left.
And the following photo shows the same hill from a different angle, but as you can see, still alive and kicking and not a high-rise in sight. (one of the most surprising things about this little project is that for the first time in Hong Kong history, someone has been prevented getting to a location by nature as opposed to it being completely redeveloped and turned into a shopping mall!).
In case you are confused (easily done when it comes to hill spotting – believe me!) it’s the small hillock in the mid ground behind the huts.
The story isn’t over yet. I have asked the local postman (a friendly man who goes by the name of Tim Choi) to ask around on his village rounds next week to see if he can find anyone who actually remembers the filming taking place (when the doc crew went to the WOTD location there was a nearby villager from Wa Shan Tsuen who remembered the filming going on then, so it’s not a complete stretch of reality to hope someone might have some useful information). I’ll keep the blog updated with anymore news.
In the meantime, Bruce Lee fans of the world will have to be satisfied in the knowledge that this location does still exist, albeit under 30 years of unchecked tree growth.