King Yin Lei, Stubbs Road
45 Stubbs Road. At last, after three years of espousing its unique architectural beauty and past use as a film location, I have finally made the effort to go up there and see how things are going. I was going to do this a couple of years ago, but events started happening quite quickly that preempted the usefulness of a visit.
As you may or may not know, in the summer of 2007 it was sold to a new owner who proceeded to take a bulldozer to the place. The public outcry was immense (I too, took pen to paper and wrote to the AMO to do something about its wanton destruction). The Govt finally acted, calling a halt to the work but severe damage had already been done. The roof had been 90% destroyed, antique fixtures such as window frames had been ripped out and dumped and some fool had taken a jackhammer to the brickwork and made large holes in the distinctive red brickwork.
Even to this day it’s hard to tell if this was pure cynical calculation, by the new owner, to wangle some sort of deal from the Govt (that would have to be one helluva calculation) or whether the owner just underestimated the public’s sentimental attachment to the place. I suspect the latter simply because I know that most property developers here have no qualms about getting rid of culturally significant and unique buildings if it means an extra few hundred million dollars in their pocket. Plus the very similar uproar with Bruce Lee’s old house has lead me to believe that developers in general, like the Govt puppets whose strings they pull, are drastically out of touch with the general HK public.
So there you go, just as I was about to do a small piece on the place, it all went awry and so I decided to wait until the place was looking a bit better before I went back up there. I’m pleased to report, after capturing a small glimpse during my Bowen Road walk, that the roof has been completely replaced. The only difference is that the colour, the new tiles are a much lighter shade of green. It’s a shame they couldn’t match the deeper green of the original but, frankly, I’m just happy to see that they have done a pretty good job.
So what about this house anyway, what’s all the fuss about? Well, first it’s quite old for a HK building. It was built in 1937 making it one of only a very limited number of pre-war buildings of this nature still standing. I think perhaps you really need to live in HK and experience its dynamism to appreciate this sentiment. Things just don’t last long in HK, as soon as their perceived worth is exhausted they are removed and replaced – out with the old and in with the new. So the fact that this place had not only survived the war, an experience that was quite devastating for HK, it has lasted all the renewal and expansion seen through the post-war years and into the 60′s and 70′s. This, by itself, is pretty amazing.
Next is the design. This place looks amazing. It is an architectural fusion of western construction and eastern flourishes. The AMO site called it Chinese Renaissance architecture because of the modern construction method meeting Chinese aesthetic. There are only a few buildings of this type left in HK now. I’ve already told you about Tao Fung Shan, another fine example of this type of building. It’s no wonder that this place was used as the location for Clark Gable’s private mansion in “Soldier of Fortune” and it was used in two long-shots in “Enter the Dragon” to represent Han’s fortress. Contrary to rumours, it never featured in “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing”, inside or out (possible confusion with the Mok Residence at 41a Conduit Road).
Actually, I’m excited. I was recently involved in the shooting of a Bruce Lee HK Locations documentary with an overseas film crew (who will remain anonymous until a later time). The HK side of it came about almost directly as a result of my previous blog entry on Bruce Lee’s Hong Kong, and I was contacted by the producer to help out when they were in town (basically, that blog entry saved him the hassle of research and has formed the basis for the doc). Anyway, thanks to this blog, King Yin Lei has now been officially identified as a Bruce Lee location (albeit ‘tenuous’ because I doubt he ever went there) because of its use in “Enter The Dragon”. Hooray! At last, my puerile, boring and ill-informed mumblings have finally achieved something worthwhile.
Here is some blurb from a Govt document that describes some of the buildings history. The full article can be found here: http://www.legco.gov.hk/yr07-08/english/subleg/brief/175_brf.pdf
“The site was sold at HK$24,000,000 in 1977, and the Yow family named the house “Ultamia” (景賢里, King Yin Lei), literally “House of Virtuous View”. The name is inscribed on the Pai-lau (牌樓) at the entrance to the site.“
When Stephen Yow eventually sold the house in the summer of 2007, he had already approached the Govt several times to see if they would be interested in purchasing it and using it as a tourist attraction. The Govt basically cold-shouldered him and when he sold it to the vandal for a figure thought to be in the region of HK$450 million, it was he who was used as a scapegoat for the Govt’s apathy. Thankfully the truth came out and now you know why the Govt took a lot of flak over its destruction. They had the opportunity to take it over in 2007 and they messed it up. The identity of the mysterious owner who took the wrecking ball to it has never been revealed…or has it? All business was done through a company, called Ice Wisdom, registered in the British Virgin islands. Some clever person at the SCMP has found documents that reveal the new owner to be none other than self-made billionaire Cheung Chung-Kiu – a well-known developer of luxury properties in HK. Honestly, look at his photo on the link – all that money and he still can’t afford a decent hairdo…
Anyway, in an even sadder postscript to the story of the house’s near destruction, it turns out the antique fixtures and fittings hadn’t been dumped after all. No, not dumped – they were pinched! One of the contractors hired to carry out the demolition had actually kept hold of the items and was recently trying to blackmail the Govt, quite publicly, to pay him lots of money for the safe return of said items, non-payment would result in a very public display of destruction. Can you believe it? I hope the Govt set the police on him for 1. blackmail and 2. stealing Govt property 3. being a complete idiot.
The aerial snapshot of the property (above) is from the AMO website, taken from the high-rise opposite. It shows the landscaped grounds which are actually built on a large column supported platform. Beyond the wall is a steep drop through woodland down onto Bowen Road. For a look at some screen grabs from “Soldier of Fortune”, which used KYL as a location, go to the GwuLo.com thread I created at this location: http://gwulo.com/soldier-of-fortune-hong-kong-locations
This entry was posted on October 2, 2009 at 11:06 pm and is filed under Bruce Lee, Hong Kong Island with tags Chinese Renaissance, garden, gate, heritage, King Yin Lei, mansion, pai lau, Pavilion, Stubbs Road, Wanchai. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.