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Sylvia Lai recalls Bruce Lee & his JKD

July 16 2015 at 7:20 AM
LJF  (Login LJF)

Sylvia Lai, aka Sam-Sam (1951.06.23 - ) was HK famous movie and TV star between the 60s-80s. She was Robert Lee’s ex-wife and Bruce Lee’s ex-sister-in-law. Bruce taught her some basic JKD during his trip to HK in 1970 and while returning to HK for his movie career in 1971.

Here are some photos of Sylvia and Bruce:
(photos courtesy of

Pop Queen of Hong Kong
In 1967, Sylvia won the title of “Pop Queen of Hong Kong” in a singing competition. In that same year, the pretty, silky long hair Sylvia was invited by producer, Robert Chua to join TVB and became the first group of contract artists to perform in TVB. The rest of the pioneer artists include Lydia Shum, Betty Chung, Leung Sing Bo, Sai Siu Lan, Yu Ming, Dou Peng, Cheng Gwan Meng etc. Almost 2 decades later, in 1985, Sylvia joined ATV. She moved to Macau after remarrying in 1992 and had retired since then. But every year, she will be invited to perform in U.S., Canada and South-East-Asia.

The Lai-Sisters
In 1967, Sylvia and her younger sister, Betty Lai, aka Ban-Ban (1953 - ), together with 4 male musicians formed “The Bumble Bees Band Group. In 1973, Betty Lai (Ban-Ban) joined TVB. Both She and Sylvia then formed the “Lai Sisters Band Group” and released several albums jointly with other artists.

According to Apple Daily dated 2012.11.19, Betty Lai (Ban-Ban) in fact, had a crush on Robert Lee (Bruce’s younger brother). Betty Lai said, “Robert Lee had a band group called “The Thunderbirds” then and ours was “The Bumble Bees,” which were quite similar in style and performance. I always watched Robert performing live on the EYT shows and I was attracted by him. One day, Robert Lee organised a party and invited both my sister (Sylvia Lai) and me. I was really overjoyed initially. But to my surprise and disappointment, he did not asked me for a dance at the party. Instead, he invited my sister, Sylvia.” That was the beginning of Robert and Sylvia’s love relationship.

Sylvia & Robert Lee
However, Sylvia and Robert’s relationship faded away when Robert pursued further study in U.S. in 1969. Luckily, after several years of departure, they were reunited and their love rekindled when Sylvia was invited for an overseas performance in L.A in 1976. That same year, TVB gathered the Lai sisters, Robert Lee and Louie Ka to form the “Band of four” and performed in a series of TV special, which received good show ratings. Both Sylvia and Robert got married in Dec 1977. Bruce had passed away when they got married. In 1980, Sylvia gave birth to a son, Clarence Lee, the youngest cousin of Brandon and Shannon Lee. Unfortunately, their marriage lasted only for 6 years. It was rumored that Sylvia caught Robert in bed with a guy at their house that led to the divorce.

Enter Bruce Lee & JKD
On the other hand, Sylvia knew Bruce very well. She said, “When Bruce got to know that Robert and I were in a relationship, he looked for me after returning to HK in 1970. We dined and “yam cha” (drank tea) together with our family and close friends. He then talked to me about his JKD and taught me how to kick boards and promised that under his instructions, I would definitely know how to kick and break boards within half an hour.”

Bruce also taught Sylvia basic JKD techniques and she picked it up pretty fast. Bruce praised her for being smart and agile but reminded her that in a situation where a lady is facing a bigger and stronger male attacker, the first thing she ought to do is to kick his vital part hard and then run away as fast as possible. The key to survival in fighting is simply “Fight smart!”

Bruce also told her, “JKD emphasises on speed, accuracy and power in actual combat.” It also stressed in maximising the situation to your advantage as far as possible. In their practice sessions, Bruce also showed her his one-inch punch and two fingers push up. She also got a feel of his washboard stomach that she felt, was like the solid iron bar.

Bruce & Sylvia JKD demo
According to the memory of some HK audience, Bruce and Sylvia had a short demo on JKD in EYT show, which probably took place either on Apr 9th, 1970 or Sep 3rd, 1971. The later date was the day when Bruce and the crew returned from Bangkok. Bruce spoke at Kai Tek airport conference in the afternoon upon arrival and in the evening, he was being invited by TVB to talk on his new movie, The Big Boss on EYT. The host was Tam Peng Man. There were several photos of Sylvia and Bruce being taken together with TVB crew behind the EYT scenes.

Sylvia’s Memory of Bruce
In spite of Sylvia’s fading relationship with Robert Lee during the early 70s, the Lee’s family and Lai’s family maintained close contact. This could be seen from the photos of Bruce and Linda attending Sylvia Lai first Mandarin musical show “Lady White” at Kowloon’s Princess Theatre on March 12th 1972. Also, there were photos of Sylvia Lai and Betty Lai welcoming Bruce’s home from Rome at the Kai Tek airport on May 18th, 1972, as well as other photos of them together at the TVB studio and restaurants.
Till today, when thinking about Bruce, the first thing that came to Sylvia’s mind was Bruce’s innocent, charming wide grin. Behind that unique signature smile was his charismatic, kind-hearted and big brother image that will forever stay in her memory.

 Respond to this message   

  • Thanks for posting, good article nt - Greg P on Jul 16, 2015, 9:07 PM
  • Thanks - Kathdragon on Jul 17, 2015, 10:02 AM
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