A quick visit to the Muslim Cemetery, Happy Valley
No, I’m not a Muslim (actually, I’m not religious at all for what it’s worth) but I’m on a bit of a roll with the Enter The Dragon at the moment – so apologies for those who aren’t into the Bruce Lee stuff.
Even though I covered the film to a large extent in my main Bruce Lee’s Hong Kong entry, I am still physically working my way through all the various identified locations (as well as unidentified ones) to expand on them a bit more and get some decent snaps. It’s taking longer than expected but I’m getting there, slowly. Last week was Golden Harvest studios, this week it’s the Muslim Cemetery.
I’ll be honest, I have no idea why this location was chosen for the shooting of the movie, it’s completely dead! (yes – a joke so bad even Tommy Cooper is turning in his grave). It’s a wonderfully serene place, very quiet, and the top tier – used in the film – gets a refreshing breeze across it to cools you down on a hot day. Perhaps that was reason enough?
Regardless, the upshot is that the film crew traipsed up some very steep steps to the top level of the cemetery and did their stuff – filmed the scene in the movie when Lee goes to his mother’s grave to beg explain why he must do what he has to do i.e. open up a whole can of whupass on some baddies.
Thankfully, I was only carrying my trusty old Canon G7 so I had it relatively easy, but it’s still a steep climb and is completely off-limits if you are in a wheelchair, I’m afraid. If you do manage to find the spot (clues on the way) then you’ll see it’s relatively unchanged since 1973.
The cemetery itself sits behind the Cosmopolitan Hotel/Xinhau News Agency building on Queens Rd East and looks to be one of the better vantage points for this part of town – Happy Valley – unless you happen to live in one of the high-rises that gets a grandstand view of the racecourse. In the film we don’t see any views over the racecourse because the angle is looking more-or-less north over Queens Road East, but I suspect that was intentional to make the place look a bit more inconspicuous.
In 1973, it probably was still the best view in the area, however, for the most part I am usually distracted by Lee’s outrageously-fly suit he wears for the scene – total kick-ass bell bottoms, platform shoes that would make Kim Jong Il jealous, and a shirt collar so long and pointed it’s probably where he hid his trusty nunchaku. This was a scene that was, without doubt, filmed in the 1970′s.
Anyway, back to 2011 and here is our destination viewed from Queens Road East. That’s the old A.I.A building which can be seen on the right of the picture. There are some publicity stills floating about on the internet that have that building behind Bruce, but for the purpose of the film I am not sure it can be seen.
Cross the road, walk past the Sikh Temple (hmm, possible topic for a future post as it too has a lot of history behind it) and down past the Cosmo/Xinhua building. Turn the corner and you will find a small entrance to the cemetery on the opposite side of Hau Tak Lane. I seem to remember the place closes at around 5:30(?) at which time the gate will be locked, but I can’t be sure of the exact time (I suspect it is ‘googleable’ but I can’t be bothered).
Take the first steep flight of steps up. They look like this from the top.
At the top of the stairs you will see this small plot of graves. You need to walk to the opposite steps on the left, go up them and turn right (try not to walk all over the graves if you can help it).
Once you have turned right you will see more steps going up but on a less steep angle. Follow them all the way to the path at the top and keep going. You only need to stop when you see the following covered bench.
By now things should be looking familiar because that smallish headstone, directly to the left of the metal legs of the shelter, is the same one that old Brucey was looking at during the film. It looks bigger on film because they had the camera angle directly above and behind, so of course it was closer to the camera. But anyway, that’s the one. Proof is coming up, but first let’s see whose headstone it actually is.
The grave is final resting place of Sheik Ackber who died on the 29th January 1930. Assuming it was put there when the occupant died, then this is a grave that has seen a lot of HK’s history pass before it. For example, it had already been in place for 11 years when the Japanese invaded and committed some pretty horrific atrocities along the way, it was still there when they got booted out 4 years later. It had already been there for 19 years when the Commies finally took over the Mainland and even when Bruce Lee was standing opposite it, that grave stone had already been in place for 43 years. Here we are another 38 years on and it still stands there just as it has done for the last 81 years. I can now understand why historians find graveyards such a fascinating place to research (check out Patrica Lim’s latest book if you don’t believe me).
Here’s a snap from the film.
Okay, not great, but you’ll see the screenshot has some leaves obscuring the left hand side courtesy of the tree that you can see behind the bench in the earlier snap. Notice the pointed headstone on the right is still there but has since tilted (probably from all those dumb BL fans standing on it to get snaps ). The other thing you may notice are the two small grave markers behind Lee with the numbers 2512 and 2617. Of course they are still there and are useful in identifying the right spot (in case the big white metal roof over the bench wasn’t enough).
You’ll also see many of the headstones in the film are still around, as well as the inevitable new ones. The next shot gives a better view as Lee walks away from camera.
The buildings in the background of this shot are on Queens Road East, so this view is looking almost directly north. The one centre screen might possibly still be there but it looks slightly different now, so I’m not so sure. It’s the Tang Chi Ngong Clinic at # 284. The current building has a vague similarity (and looks old enough) but if it is the same building then it has had a facelift – as you would expect for a lapse of 38 years.
It’s an interesting place and I know John Little’s documentary also covers this place for his HK segment – so I’m still looking forward to seeing John’s official finished product on that front.
Readers of this site will already know that King Yin Lei was used to represent Han’s Island mansion in the film, but I can tell you that a hunch I had about where the mansion was filmed from has been proven correct. When I first identified the site a few years ago I guessed that the angle used in film may have been taken from the muslim cemetery, and as you will see from the comparison below, that is exactly where the shot was done.
I should say that at the time I made this discovery I couldn’t find any reference to King Yin Lei in this context at all and so figured I must have been the only one to connect the dots (and in case you are wondering, yes, I am the one who updated wikipedia with that info). But alas, someone got in touch with me and told me that Bey Logan had filmed outside the house a couple of years before as part of a documentary.
I have no idea what happened to the documentary (would love someone to give me a link or name) but it seems as though Bey got a nice personal guided (but unfilmed) tour of the place from the owner. The story of my life: right place, wrong time *sigh*.
On the upside, the Govt should be opening the place soon – although in what form I have no idea – which means we will all get to see what it looks like inside. In the meantime, here is the comparison shot (I suspect the closeup on film may have been due to keeping the illusion on if being on an island – yes, okay, I know it IS on an island but you know what I mean) and the fact that the surrounding area was probably already beginning to show signs of rampant upward development even in 1973.
Obviously smog and haze weren’t quite as bad in 1973 as they are now. The trees you see bottom screen are actually on the slope above Bowen Road.
This entry was posted on March 5, 2011 at 6:36 pm and is filed under Bruce Lee, Film locations, Hong Kong Island with tags Bruce Lee, cemetery, Enter the Dragon, Happy Valley, King Yin Lei, 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.