The end of the Bruce Lee Museum.
It seems that this is now old news now, and that it was a done deal even by the start of 2011, but unfortunately a lack of reporting in Hong Kong means that it has completely gone under my (and everyone else’s) radar until just now and I am, to be honest, pretty astounded that it has been brushed under the carpet after the blaze of publicity we saw in 2008 and then again in 2010. Anyway, shock over, I thought I would round off the whole 41 Cumberland Road saga with a final post on the subject so as to vent a bit and add some speculation as to what happened (in the absence of any official press releases).
This has come about almost entirely thanks to a journalist called Simon Parry who runs his Red Door News company from the verdant pastures of Sai Kung. Simon got in touch with me a few weeks ago after seeing a small article in the Sai Kung Magazine about my ‘discovery’ of the forgotten Bruce Lee location of Unicorn Fist. It seems as though Simon is also a bit of a Lee fan and is fairly befuddled, like the rest of us, as to why there isn’t a more permanent memorial to Lee in what was essentially his hometown (okay, you can argue the point but the fact remains that Bruce spent 18 years of his life here followed by another 2 years immediately preceding his death). It was enough to prompt Simon to put pen to paper and write a pretty good article about the Sai Kung location for the SCMP (I’ll try and stick it up later).
Actually, on an aside the Sai Kung Mag article was full of errors – possibly due to the writer mixing the Sai Kung location up with my other ‘lost location’ post concerning the Sammo/Bruce fight scene. But even so, the article was enough to stimulate a bit of interest to the point where another Sai Kung’er – Guy Shirra – may have been able to identify the hillside location used for the Game Of Death publicity stills and footage (more about that at a later date – but I will say it is not at Nam Shan San Tsuen as some people believe).
So anyway, Simon decided that Bruce needs a bit more of a fitting dedication and had decided to find out about how the museum project was coming along – and so the cat was let out of the bag. The Govt has ditched the idea, the property has been sold on to another owner and the ‘Romantic Hotel’ is still very much in business! WTF!?
The truth will probably never out, especially when a huge loss of face by the Govt is on the cards, and after my own enquiries all I got was a bog-standard response talking about an inability to reach a consensus with the owner blah blah blah.
I can’t say I’m surprised really. In hindsight, the writing had been on the wall a while ago and, in fact, I was informed of some rumours flying around some time ago (Xmas of 2009) that the landlord was after a land swap deal. I dismissed them at the time because I figured they were just hearsay (it’s amazing how many so-called rumours turn out to be true in HK). Also, after a period of silence last year when everyone was celebrating Bruce’s 70th Anniversary, his elder adopted sister Phoebe and younger brother Robert were seen on TV asking the Govt to make this thing work. Why would they need to do that unless it was already hitting trouble? What does surprise me though is the way the whole thing has been quietly dropped, almost in the hope that no one will notice. Why does that surprise me? I don’t know perhaps I’m still a little green behind my ears when it comes to political shenanigans and maneuvering in HK.
So what is the situation now?
Well, if you go down to the Tong today you’re not in for a big surprise. The property, it seems, has been sold on ‘as is’ and the Romantic Hotel (that bastion of Kowloon Tong hourly room rates - and NOT a brothel) is operating – business as usual. There is still some turbaned Nazi standing in the driveway jumping on anyone who strolls in with a camera but I am pretty sure that the new owners have probably been able to increase the rent a bit as the Hotel can cash in on the recent Lee association being in the news a bit more.
So who owns it? It’s beyond my humble abilities to ascertain – partly because a property of this type is usually owned by an offshore shelf company – meaning you can’t trace its ownership. This is a common way of dealing with property in HK especially for those who wish to avoid Govt fees or just simply to stay anonymous. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter because the house seems to have been given a stay of execution and the new owner(s) seem happy to let the status quo continue. The biggest fear at the announcement of the sale in May 2008 was that some developer would come in and level the place.
So what about those rumours?
Well, as mentioned, I heard that Yu Panglin – the oh-so-generous donor (in fact, officially the most generous man in China) had decided to try and wangle a land swap deal as well as imposing his restrictive conditions on the donation. However, I’m of the opinion that the land swap deal was probably only asked for once the Govt had already rejected the unrealistic conditions of the donation – let’s face it, Yu probably thought given the deal afforded to Cheung Chung-kiu over King Yin Lei, that it may be worth a shot.
Also consider that, donation aside, the house would need a lot of money spending on it to get it looking good again. Regardless of whether it was going to be restored or turned into something more modern it would require a whole lot of money throwing at it – money which the Govt is obviously not keen on giving out.
Over the border in China – in Foshan city to be precise – the Chinese authorities have spent a lot of money building Bruce Lee Paradise. It’s essentially an overblown Chinese-style theme park based on the very tenuous link that it’s Bruce’s ancestral home (i.e. where his dad was from). He certainly spent little or no time there and yet by all reports the park is doing good business. Seems as though our Chinese neighbours see more value in Bruce’s name than we do.
Initially set up as a complete and utter ‘Bruceploitation’, the park has gained some legitimacy over the past couple of years with visits from Lee’s family, and despite the normally litigious nature of Shannon Lee’s crackdown of unofficial commercial exploitation of her dad’s name and image she looks to have recently switched sides and got behind it giving it the official blessing. I’m sure it would have carried on regardless but perhaps this recent endorsement by Shannon is also an indication that she saw the HK project going down the pan? Just my thoughts of course.
The consolation prize, if you can call it that, is that the Govt has decided to set up an exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Shatin – to be opened sometime at the end of 2012. It may or may not be a permanent exhibition and entirely depends on its popularity. Now, I’ve been to a few of the local ones set up by the local Bruce Lee Club (who also have a shop on Nathan Rd – number 530 I think?) and I can say that they seem to be very popular despite their often obscure locations (the last one was at Lok Fu Shopping Centre followed by a stint at the Wo Che Shopping Centre in Shatin), but the problem for me is that they are aimed at the locals and are all done in Chinese. It surprises me because it just goes to show that there is still a lot of interest in Bruce even in Hong Kong. Well, anyway, it would be nice to have an English exhibition as well and so I look forward to this one if it ever gets completed – however, I won’t be holding my breath.
Until that time comes fans from all over the world (not just HK) will have to contend themselves with the Avenue of Star’s statue, the goddamned awful wax model outside Madame Tussaud’s on the peak, or places like this blog that have an informal list of places to visit that may be of interest.