Unicorn Fist – another ‘lost’ Bruce Lee location rediscovered
Whoops! I’ve done it again.
Flushed with my success at nailing down the location for the fight scene between Sammo Hung and Bruce at the beginning of Enter The Dragon a couple of years ago now (whoosh! doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun), I figured I would turn my hand to some other places that people (BL fans I mean – only some of them could be classed as ‘people’…just kidding) no longer know where they took place. One of them being the forgotten and rather anonymous location seen in the opening and closing credits of Unicorn Fist (aka Unicorn Palm/Fist of Unicorn).
This location seems to have eluded even the best Bruce Lee investigators mainly due to the complete lack of clues from the footage. Thankfully, what small clues there are provided me with enough information to start making some informed guesses and it turns out that one of my guesses was right. However, it’s only just today that I finally got to test out my hunch.
So what is the background to this place? Well, it’s not really part of Lee’s main film-lore because it involved a little story that was going on behind the scenes of another film – Unicorn Fist – with which he played only a very peripheral part as ‘action coordinator’. I keep saying I’m not a real BL historian because I actually know very little of him outside of his films so any factual errors that follow are all mine and I hope someone will take the time to set me right if I make a booboo. Please feel free to correct the ‘facts’ as I relate them here.
So when Lee returned to Hong Kong in (circa) 1970 to try and secure a film deal, he met up with one of his childhood film star friends – Unicorn Chan (real name Chan Ling Chung) – and Chan was able to hook him up with some of his contacts. (Unicorn was a very old friend of Bruce’s and had starred with him – both as young boys – in films such as The Birth of Mankind, Little Cheung and Blame it on Father). Basically, Chan called in some favours on Bruce’s behalf and Bruce knew that Unicorn was really helping him out. Bruce got his deal with Raymond Chow, and the rest is cinema history blah blah blah.
Of course, Unicorn went on to feature in both Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon and it wasn’t long after the making of WOTD that he managed to swing a deal for himself as the star of a new kungfu film. There was just one catch. The production company, Sing Hoi, would only give Unicorn the deal if he could somehow get his friend Bruce Lee involved in some way, preferably as a co-star but actually any involvement just so they could stick Bruce’s name on the credits and market it as a Bruce Lee film…Kerching!
You need to remember that by this time Bruce was absolutely hot stuff, his first three films had already broken Hong Kong box office records and had launched him on his meteoric rise – any project that even featured him serving tea to the cameraman would be bound to make lots of money. This was the motivation behind the Sing Hoi deal.
Of course Unicorn gave Bruce the facts and so to save his friend’s face – and repay what he considered to be a huge debt to Unicorn – Bruce said he would come along and help choreograph some of the fight scenes. What entailed was Bruce coming to the set (at this location – don’t worry I’ll get to it) and putting some of the actors through their paces.
Supposedly unbeknownst to him, Bruce was filmed by a camera that had secretly been left running. The footage of him down at the outdoor location turned up at the beginning AND end credits of the film (as well as a dodgy ‘lookalike’ serving as Unicorn’s kungfu teacher in the film). Not only that, Lee was given a star billing!
Suffice to say he was pissed off and sued the company. A lawsuit that was still in progress at the time of his death – adding fuel to the death conspiracies.
However, it seems that perhaps Bruce had known about the setup after all, but had agreed to go along with it because he was really indebted to Unicorn and was determined to pay him back. The prospect of getting screwed over by Sing Hoi was just something he was prepared to endure for his friend.
On an aside, serious fans will also know that the film also had a launch party/press conference at the Miramar Hotel (now the Mira). I spoke to the Mira’s manager not so long ago and he was able to confirm (by asking staff who were working there in 1972) that the after-conference meal was held at the “Kanetanake” Japanese Restaurant – it used to be on the first floor of the hotel’s new wing. Here is the footage of the press-conference on YouTube. In it Bruce wears a red shirt and dark glasses and spends most of the time on the phone. Even our old friend Jon Benn was there (I did meet Jon a few weeks back and asked him about it but he said he couldn’t remember much – after all it was nearly 40 years ago, and Jon was probably too busy ogling the women – hehe, just kidding Jon).
Anyway, let’s get back to that location. The available footage was filmed somewhere near to a river, and if you watch the film you will know that this river also has a very distinctive bridge going over it. So here are a couple of screen grabs to set the scene. Of course, it’s better to view the footage on Youtube simply because it gives a better sense of the location.
That’s Bruce centre-screen, without the shirt on (hey, come on, if I was as ripped as that I’d probably have my shirt off all the time too). Note a few things: the river in the background (in the video you can see it is flowing towards us) and the bend it makes at the back. These were my first clues to the location.
Let’s see another picture.
This one gives us a few more clues. First is that someone has disappeared into the background and dropped down onto the river bank (you can see their head between the two guys on the right). Also notice the partially exposed river bank in the background – can you see the dark line that runs along the middle? It’s a tidal mark and you should make a note of it because we will come back to it later.
The next shot is actually taken from the film and I’ll be honest, this was the clincher for me. It took a while to identify but anyway, here it is as it appears on film.
This bridge features a lot in the film. It is basically next to the place where the young boy – played by Meng Hoi – lives with his mum. So it’s no surprise that a lot of filming took place around here and of course was next to the spot where Bruce was filmed doing the fight rehearsals.
Here is a more modern shot, albeit taken from the opposite side of the river bank. Many people familiar with Sai Kung countryside will probably be able to place this thing immediately once they see the next picture.
Yes, that’s right, this is the famous stone bridge that crosses the tidal river in Pak Tam Chung – also known as the Fuk Hing Bridge (except in my case, because it took so long to find, I prefer to call it “THAT Fuk Hing Bridge”).
In case you need further convincing here is a shot from the excellent Hiking in HK website (run by the AFCD?) that shows the background ridge-line much better than my shot (when I took these photos it was fairly hazy). See it in its original context right here.
Check out the bumpy ridge-line in the background and you will see it is the exact same one on film here (albeit the film shot below used a different screen ratio that has stretched the shot somewhat).
So anyway, what about the place where the fight choreography was going on, where we know Bruce was? Well, it’s not far away from the bridge – just a few metres south down the river. The actual spot now looks to be over grown and has the Pak Tam Chung nature trail running through it (complete with concreted pathway), but the general area looks quite similar.
I can confirm that there is a flowing ‘river’ as seen on the clip but it is linked to the sea and is tidal so I expect the fact that we see it flowing away from the sea in film is related to an incoming tide. It was doing exactly the same when I was there earlier today.
There is a river bank (not seen in the footage but we know its there because someone walks down to it) and it is largely rocky and algae covered, but the one thing I did notice (and remember I told you to take a note of it?) is that the opposite bank of the river – with its dark tidal stripe running along the middle) looks the same as it did in 1972. No surprise really. Here is a shot from my exploration earlier today.
Of course I couldn’t create the exact angle, because the actual spot is too overgrown but this is as close as we can get after a break of 39 years. In reality, I am much further to the right than the guys are on the screen grab, so the background isn’t quite perfect, but for me the black line along the far bank is a perfect match even from the slightly different angle. In case you can’t see it here it is indicated.
My hunch is that the Pak Tam Chung nature trail pathway runs along the edge of the area they are on (where the guy’s head is) because even today there is a bit of a steep drop onto the river embankment.
Anyway, so that’s it. If you are a Bruce Lee fan and are as obsessed about the various locations as I am then you can easily get to this location. Catch the #94 bus from Sai Kung bus terminus and get off at the Pak Tam Chung barrier gate (which marks the entrance to the Sai Kung Country Park). Walk along the road on the right hand side and after a couple of hundred metres you will see the bridge immediately on your right.
My parting shot is to give you a GoogleEarth shot of the same area (ringed in red) and you can see the Fuk Hing Bridge just to the north of it. Just put these coordinates into GoogleEarth to find it on there: 22°23’53.40″N 114°19’19.69″E