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HK Bruce Lee’s Historian – Paul Lee

July 20 2015 at 4:17 AM
LJF  (Login LJF)

Paul Lee Chi-Yuan, 58 years old, was born and raised in HK. He is HK foremost BL’s historian and the founder of popular HK “Kung Fu Monthly” magazines (1979-1984). He was also the author of a very sellable BL book “From Limited to Limitless” that published in 1999. Furthermore, Paul Lee also founded both the HK “Lee’s Archive Studio” and “Bruce Lee Education Foundation” in the late 90s.
In the summer of 2009, when John Little looked for HK-based Phi Kenny for help while making his BL documentary in HK (a documentary concerning many of the filming locations used in several of Lee's later films), Phi Kenny turned to Paul Lee for help in gaining the most information regarding this subject.
In fact, Paul Lee has been doing his ground works of research since 1969. Although he carried with him tons of information relating to Bruce, his spirit of finding the truth urged him to always verify information first before showing them to the BL fans. That is why he is considered one of the most authoritative sources to BL information in HK.

Below are excerpts partly from his book, “From Limited to Limitless” and mainly from his original interview published in a popular mainland Chinese martial arts magazine called “Boxing & Fights” published in 2006.

Q1: When did you learnt about Bruce Lee?
PL: In 1969, when I was a teenager, I first saw a U.S. TV series called “The Green Hornet” which was being shown on HK TV. It was natural that I compared it with “Batman” which was played almost the same period of time. Unlike “The Green Hornet,” I found “Batman” to be too unrealistic. Bruce as Kato, was absolutely awesome. At that time, many of my friends liked Bruce and started to collect materials related to him. In order to satisfy the audience, TV station played his last Cantonese movie, “The Orphan” in the “Great Film Hour” during the weekend. All of us idolise him even more. Then, later in 1971, Bruce returned to HK and shot several movies as well as attended many TV shows. He became HK superstar and Kung Fu idol. I collected many materials that are related to him for over few decades. I am always willing to contribute to Bruce’s legacy by using these valuable materials to help others in any areas that are beneficial to them.

Q2: In what way do you contribute? Can you be more specific?
PL: I am willing to let others access these materials and then, understand Bruce as a real person, not god because his fighting spirit really inspires people in many ways. For many years in HK, I have organised more than 100 seminars on Bruce Lee and have communicated with fans from Japan, U.S. and many other countries. We exchanged information and verify the accuracy of the materials. In 1997, I converted one of my storehouses into “Lee’s Archives Studio.” I put all my collection of over 3,000 pages of Bruce Lee’s and related materials in there and let Bruce Lee fans from all over the world come to see and read them. From Nov. 1998 till Nov. 1999, it was estimated that more than 5,000 visitors, including many celebrities, have visited this archives studio within a year.

Q3: Have you met Bruce Lee before?
PL: Yes, I did. Around March, 1973, I went to a martial arts supplies shop which I usually hang around after school. The shop was located at Tsim Sha Tsui. As I walked near the shop, I saw a red Mercedes Benz parked just right outside the shop. I was curious and then looked carefully, the car plate no. was AX6521. I suddenly remembered it was Bruce Lee’s car! As I turned my head and looked inside, I saw Bruce wearing a vest standing there. Guess who was next to him? It was Betty Ting Pei. They were shopping for goods. I was thrilled and have two thoughts in my mind instantly. First, to stay there and wait for him to come out and get him to sign his autograph on my “Black Belt” magazine which was in my schoolbag. Second, to go home, get my camera and take a photo with him. I decided to run home as fast as I could and got my camera. Unfortunately, when I returned, Bruce had already left. I really regretted it until today. That was the first and only time I met him personally. He did not appear to be as big as he was on the screen but he looked very smart and sturdy.

Q4: Have you ever spoke to Betty Ting Pei before? What is your impression on her?
PL: She is an “extraordinary” person. Frankly, I found her still infatuated with Bruce till now. Compare to her well-known erotic sexy image in the 70s, she has now changed to a completely different person, a devoted Buddhist. Nowadays, she actively promotes and studies Buddhism. She was influenced most by Bruce Lee. Whenever asked about what Bruce meant to her. She would always reply without any hesitation, “Bruce is the Buddha in my heart.”
Several years after Bruce’s passing, Betty married to Charles Heung. Charles was then, an unknown actor until he formed Win’s Movie Production Company in 1987. They both have a daughter. Although Betty and Charles later divorced but for many years, both of them still kept in touch and maintained a very good relationship. Charles was remarried and gave birth to a son who was also raised up together by Betty.

I once asked Betty what was the reaction of Charles about her admiration of Bruce. She replied, “Nothing, Charles liked Bruce too. Normally, if Charles found out that there were movies or clips of Bruce showing on TV, he would remind me to watch.” When asked whether she regretted to know Bruce. Betty commented, “It was my greatest pleasure in my life to have known him.” Interesting enough, this same remark made about Bruce was told to me not only by Betty Ting but Nora Miao, Eunice Lam and Pamela Peck on different occasions. They are all prominent figures in HK who know Bruce but they just happened to make the same comments about him.

Q5: When did you begin your career in martial arts publication? Any interesting accounts you would like to share with us during your career?
PL: In 1975, I started to work as a reporter for HK “Martial Magazine.” In that same year, I met Dan Inosanto. He went to Japan first and then came to HK to sign a production and marketing contract of a teaching material on “The Skills of Nunchaku.” Inosanto’s nunchaku demos were later captured on the 8mm film footage. I took this chance to discuss with Inosanto about Bruce’s JKD concepts. Then, I sparred with his student to testify some fighting techniques. Of course, I lost even I have Karate and some other martial arts background. The most impressive thing I saw, however, was Inosanto’s nunchaku performance. He used his nunchaku to hit the matchsticks that were thrown into the air. The nunchaku hit them precisely 3 times in a row. I picked up the matchsticks on the floor and saw all of them bended into “V” shapes right from the center mark. The precision in his nunchaku strikes was incredible.

Q6: Brandon’s death was enveloped in a shroud of mystery. In your opinion, what kind of feeling or affection did he have about Bruce?
PL: You know, when Brandon was 10, he actually sent a letter from US with a registration fee to enroll into HK’s Bruce Lee Club and became a member. I was around 16 or 17 then and knew the chairman of the club. I found the club’s attitude was very passive towards their members. Hence, I volunteered to communicate with Brandon for almost two years. From the communication with Brandon, I sensed that the young Brandon idolised his father very much and wanted to know more about him.

In 1986, Brandon flew to HK and filmed his one and only HK movie, “Legacy of Rage.” The main sponsor for that movie was from Japan. The company paid Brandon a huge sum of money, hoping to see good result in the box office by reaping on his father - Bruce’s influence. However, Brandon disliked the idea of trying to behave like his father in terms of mannerism. He seemed to be very rebellious and uncooperative throughout the whole process. He did not want to mention or imitate his father. The journalists felt that his behavior seemed like he had a big resentment towards his father. (Note: refer to Chan Wai-Man’s interview posted here before. Chan said similar things about the young Brandon but as he got older, he became more mature, friendly and was more open to talk about his father.)

Q7: Why is there a shortage of original Bruce Lee’s materials in the market, like his photos, footage etc.? What happened in 1981 regarding the destroying of plenty of Bruce’s related materials by the HK government?
PL: After Bruce’s passing in 1973, his market value suddenly rocketed sky high. The famous “Bruce Lee Jeet Kune Do Club” and “Budo Research Society” in HK did extensive searches and acquisitions of all Bruce Lee’s photos and negatives. If the buyers were from foreign countries like Japan’s “Roadshow” Monthly magazine and “Movies” magazine, the sellers would increase the price to a shocking rate.

In May 1981, HK Immigration department arrested 10 people (include BL JKD Club and Budo Research Society’s directors, editors and publishers) who were involved in an overseas HK-US’s copyright infringement charges. Tons of BL original photos, printing plate, manuscript, estimated to be over few million HK dollars were confiscated and destroyed at Sai Wan. Others ended up in the ashes include many original Bruce Lee’s handwriting notes, young Brandon Lee’s letters and Linda Lee’s letters to the HK JKD Club, Inosanto’s teaching materials etc.
Under such circumstances where there are huge market value and profit yet may caused copyright infringement issues, worried owners thus, locked away the remaining rare photos and negatives to refrain them from being confiscated or lost. Since then, the quality of HK Bruce Lee’s materials were not able to match those from U.S., Europe and Japan.

Q8: Do you have any information pertaining to Bruce’s real fighting video footage?
PL: Yes, it was a informal challenge (Note: there was more than a challenge from ETD’s extras). During the shooting of ETD, there was a 1.8m tall extra who insisted to spar with Bruce. They finally fought at the ETD shooting location. Eye-witnesses like Shih Kien and cameraman, Henry Wong told me the specific details. Henry Wong shot the fight and it was all captured on the reel of 5 hours ETD behind-the-scene footage (Unless it surface, we would not have a chance to see the actual fighting footage of Bruce and the extra).

According to witness, Shih Kien, it happened so fast that he was not able to see it clearly. When the fight began, he just saw Bruce dashed towards the extra, then, it was too fast to see anything. The next moment, he saw the extra half-kneeled with his back stuck unto the wall. Bruce blocked the extra from moving his body and used his forehand to press against the extra’s neck and his back hand kept up with the attack. But Shih thought Bruce was a bit hesitate to strike because he paused for a second. Ultimately, Bruce punched and KO his opponent.

Henry Wong who was filming ETD behind-the-scenes footage, coincidentally witnessed and shot the entire fight. His recollections on the fight matched about 60%-70% to Shih Kien’s description. However, unlike Shih Kien, he saw very clearly about the fight from the angle where he was standing. He said Bruce’s first strike was 2 kicks to the extra and the extra fell way back to the wall…… Henry said he returned the reel of 5 hours footage to Warner Bros after completing his shooting. In the 90s, Warner Bros thought they might have it in their possession, hence, Henry was invited to search this missing footage in the warehouse but he declined the offer due to his old age and the footage was not uncovered.

Photos of Henry Wong, Bruce and the ETD extras:

Q9: Was Bruce’s speed really that amazing?
A: Yes. Eunice Lam (Peter Lee’s ex-wife) once told me about a “Bruce in 1 Second” account. In 1965, Bruce returned to HK. After attending a “Welcome U.S. Abroad Students” function held at Hong Kong island region, Bruce and Eunice took a ferry back to Kowloon. The sea breeze was quite strong then. So, Bruce being a gentleman, took off his jacket and put it over Eunice’s shoulder. This revealed his pink shirt under the jacket. There were four hooligans in the ferry who saw Bruce wearing that pink shirt. They started to point fingers at him and giggled at him. Bruce warned them to stop the nonsense otherwise they would be in deep trouble. When the ferry finally reached the destination, the four of them got down before Eunice and Bruce. They waited for Bruce near the flagpoles of the quay and wanted to challenge him. Bruce asked Eunice to step aside. Then, in a nick of time, Bruce moved like a flash towards the 4 punks. Eunice stood aghast and felt like just in one second, two punks have fallen to the ground, another punk ran away and left one staring in bewilderment who later knelt on the ground with hands covering over his face. (Note: Eunice gave the same account during her radio interview, “Dragon Seeks Its Path” in recent years.)

Q10: Could you tell us more about Bruce involvement in the 72’s Winston’s Cigarette commercial?
PL: As WOTD did not complete shooting within the scheduled date and the production costs exceeded 4 times the given budget. In order to reduce and save the promotion expenses, Bruce, who was always against smoking, accepted Winston’s proposal in sponsoring WOTD’s promotion and publicity.
Bolo Yeung Tze was invited to GH studio in early December 1972 to film 3 parts of Winston’s Cigarette ads that ran a total of 70 seconds. GH publicist said that Bruce was supposed to be involved in one of the 3 parts ads. He was supposed to shoot a short on a martial arts demo. Then, the 3 shorts would be combined into 1 WOTD movie cum TV commercial, which was to be shown in the cinemas and TV.

However, the Bruce’s JKD short did not appear in the said commercial. What we saw in the cinemas and on TV was the already edited WOTD fighting sequence plus the popular dialogue, “Talking about fighting, it’s Bruce Lee; talking about cigarette, of course, it’s Winston’s!” (Note: Quite similar to Bolo’s interview on this subject posted here before). To search for Bolo and Bruce’s footage, I made many inquiries to the Winston’s Cigarette Company and GH. Winston said it did not retain any promotion shorts while GH tenaciously declined to verify whether the shorts were filmed.

Q11: Was there a demo footage shot between Bruce and Jhoon Ree?
PL: In fact, while Bruce was on his way to US to discuss the filming of ETD details with Warner Bros in late 1972, he met Jhoon Ree and invited him to HK to make movie so as to promote Tae Kwon Do. Both Bruce and Jhoon Ree thus, filmed 2 reels of super 8mm martial arts demo that lasted about 6 minutes. Bruce appeared in front of the camera, spar with Jhoon Ree under Bruce’s choreography. Later, the producer in HK saw that demo footage and Jhoon Ree was invited to be in a lead role of the movie, “When Tae Kwon Do Strikes” (1973). I had tried to search for these 2 reels of valuable footage before but to no avail. (Note: Rhee has not mentioned about this footage before except the Dominican Republic TV footage which he had searched for years but also, to no avail.)

Q12: Did Bruce Lee and Elvis Presley ever met in 1972?
PL: Actually, in late 1972, during his U.S. trip to discuss with Warner Bros about making ETD, Bruce was suddenly invited to attend a meeting with Elvis’s bodyguard, Dave Hebler (Keno Karate expert). Bruce cancelled his return trip to HK with Raymond Chow and went to meet Hebler instead. In actual fact, it was Mike Stone (Bruce’s private student and Priscilla’s Karate coach employed by his husband, Elvis) and Dave Hebler who told Elvis about Bruce, the new rising oriental superstar with super martial arts ability. That might be the reason Elvis was interested in Bruce and sent Hebler to meet Bruce first. As to whether Elvis met Bruce later, no evidence proved their meet-up. (Note: HK newspaper once reported that Elvis might make a movie with Bruce. But that was only speculation. No further details about Hebler’s meeting with Bruce was revealed.)

Q13: Do you think that Bruce would still continue his passion for martial arts after his success in his movie career?
PL: That is for sure. Shih Kien said he always saw Bruce training or doing workouts during the shooting of ETD. Shih Kien told Bruce not to overwork himself and should mellow down his martial arts trainings since he was already very successful in his movie career. Bruce replied, “Uncle Kien, you know something, I only treated movie as my ‘SIDELINE’…” After hearing this, Shih Kien had nothing more to say.

In other words, martial arts to Bruce, was still his no.1 passion. Like he once said, “I always consider myself as a martial artist first and actor, second.” Just one day before Bruce passed away, he was still revising his JKD’s theory on the “5 ways of attacks.” From the neatly written notes, we could tell that martial arts was still his beloved interest, he would definitely continue his martial arts journey should he had lived on.

 Respond to this message   

  • Thanks LJF - Suresh on Jul 20, 2015, 9:13 AM
    • Re: Thanks LJF - MIKBOS on Jul 20, 2015, 12:11 PM
    • Why? - Leon on Jul 21, 2015, 4:07 PM
    • Re: Why? - Milo on Jul 21, 2015, 9:31 PM
    • Yes... - Leon on Jul 21, 2015, 10:50 PM
    • Re:Yes... - rockfish on Jul 22, 2015, 12:22 AM
  • Re: HK Bruce Lee’s Historian – Paul Lee - Chris Richards on Jul 20, 2015, 8:45 PM
  • Great interview - Nick Clarke on Jul 21, 2015, 1:46 PM
  • Re:HK Bruce Lee’s Historian – Paul Lee - rockfish on Jul 21, 2015, 5:02 PM
  • Bruce Lee and Elvis photo - JKD54 on Jul 24, 2015, 4:31 AM
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