Bruce Lee – A Child Prodigy of The Silver Screen

January 1 2016 at 8:01 AM
LJF  (Login LJF)

Response to Bruce Lee - A Shinning Child Star

Bruce Lee was a famous child actor in the 50s HK. According to HK Film Archive and HKMDB, Bruce had been involved in the making of 25 Cantonese movies between 1941-1958 before his departure to the U.S. in early 1959.

Bruce's father, Lee Hoi-Chuen was an infamous Cantonese opera star. Because of this, Bruce was introduced into the film industry at a very young age. By the time Bruce was 18, he had appeared in over twenty films.

1940-1941 – Dragon’s Beginning
Bruce was born in San Francisco on 27th Nov 1940. In February 1941, when Bruce was only three months old, he appeared in the "Golden Gate Girl” which was one of the first HK Cantonese movies to be shot in San Francisco. It was directed by Esther Eng and eminent filmmaker Kwan Man-Ching, a friend of Lee Hoi Chuen. Bruce played the infant character of Wong Lai-Lu. Lee Hoi-Chuen also appeared in this movie. The movie credited Bruce’s name as “Little Lee Hoi-Chuen.” This film was released in San Francisco but was not shown in Asia until 1946, after the Second World War. The film is notable as it marked the film debut of Bruce Lee, just an infant at the time. Shortly after appearing cameo for this movie, Bruce and his family returned to HK by ship in April 1941.

1942-1945 – The War Period
Unfortunately, Second World War broke up and HK was occupied by Japan between late 1941 until 1945. Liked other Hong Kong people, Bruce and his family lived an unpleasant life under the Japanese occupation. During the war period, there was none or very few movies being produced in HK. After the war ended in 1945, HK film industry began to revive. During the wartime and internal warfare, in fact, many mainland China’s directors and film stars had fled to HK from Shanghai due to the unstable political situation over there. The arrival of these professional directors and film stars brought about the prosperity and revival of the HK film industry later on.

1946-1949 – Dragon on screen
Besides playing in stage opera, Lee Hoi-Chuen also played in many HK movies in order to make a living. He sometimes would bring his children to the film studios to watch him worked. It was during this time, young Bruce came in touch with the movie and developed a strong passion for it. One day, while visiting his father, Lee Hoi-Chuen, on the set of his latest film, the director spotted Bruce and immediately sensed something unique about him. He was certain beyond a doubt that audiences would fall in love with Bruce and even went so far as to offer him a role in his father's film. So, in 1948, Bruce adopted "Lee Sin" as his stage name and guest starred in "Wealth Is Like a Dream” directed by Yue Leung and the film poster advertised Bruce as "New Lee Hoi-Chuen." The following year, he used "Little Lee Hoi-Chuen " and "New Lee Hoi-Chuen” to guest starred in " Sai See In The Dream"(1949) and "Story of Fan Lihua"(1949) respectively. One mysterious film that was not credited to Bruce’s childhood filmography was “Rich And Abundant” (1948). It was directed by Leung Sam and Lee Hang, and starring Sun-Ma Sze-Tsang, Pak Yin, Cheung Wood-Yau and Lee Hoi Chuen. Bruce had a cameo appearance in this film and he used the stage name “New Lee Hoi Chuen.” According to Robert Lee, among the siblings who used to appear in their childhood movies, Bruce had the most potential and passion in acting, which was why he once considered acting to be his career while he was growing up.

1950-1951 – A Star is born
In the opera-comedy "Blooms and Butterflies"(1950), Bruce adopted "Lee Min" as his stage name but “New Lee Hoi-Chuen” appeared on the poster advertisement. It also specifically labeled Bruce as "Child Wonder - Little Lee Hoi Chuan as guest star." This shows how outstanding his performance was. Bruce appeared as an orphan again in “Bird on the Wing”(1950), a production of Dalianhe movie company. Pak Yin and Cheung Wood-Yau were the main leads in this movie. It was seldom mentioned as Bruce only had a cameo appearance and his name was credited as “Lee Min” and “New Lee Hoi-Chuen” which was the reason why it did not capture the fans’ attention.

The film debut where Bruce played an important lead role was "Kid Cheung"(1950). Bruce played the character of an orphan who went astray and then turned over a new leaf in the end of the story. "Kid Cheung" is based on a comic book character written by Yuen Po-Wan, who also has a role in the film. Co-starring Bruce's father, Lee Hoi-Chuen. This is the third film in which the father and son worked together, the other being “Wealth Is Like A Dream”(1948) aka “The Birth of Mankind”. Bruce received good critics for his performance, and soon established his child star status in HK. He was credited as "Lee Loong" in this movie. One interesting to note was, Yuen Po-Wan, the author of the comic book – “Kid Cheung,” gave the stage name - “Lee Siu-Loong” to Bruce as one day, he overheard someone shouting a commercial slang, “Dai Loong Sang Siu Loong” (literally means “Big dragon bears little dragon!”). This gave him an inspiration and he thought if Lee Hoi-Chuen was Dai Loong (big dragon) then Bruce Lee would be “Siu Loong” (little dragon). Therefore, he told Lee Hoi-chuen about his idea which quite pleased him. Since Bruce was born in the year of the dragon and in the hour of the dragon, dragon is also an auspicious symbol of the Chinese, thus, the Lee family was delighted that Bruce adopted this great stage name. But his family members still called Bruce his nickname, “Sai Fung” (“little phoenix”) at home.

However, Bruce only started to use “Lee Siu Loong” after “Kid Cheung.” The following year, Bruce starred in the "Infancy"(1951) and was again received overwhelming response. In this movie, he played a bad boy who gone astray but turned good at the end, quite similar to Kid Cheung’s main theme. HK famous film critic - Heung Chen from the HK "Wenweipo" newspaper, said Bruce was worthy to be called “A Child Genius in Cantonese films” and the Cantonese movies filmmakers should pay more attention to him because of his superb acting.

1952-1955 – A Star is born
According to the HK Film Archive Record, Bruce did not make any movie in 1952, most likely his parents wanted him to spend more time in his study. Bruce mother, Grace, once recalled it was difficult to wake Bruce up every morning when it was time for him to go to school but during his school vacation when he heard someone calling him to go for shooting in the early morning, Bruce would jump down from his bed and got ready to go to the studio anxiously. Robert Lee said his parents were quite open-minded and as long as their children managed their time well, they would not oppose them from filming during their vacation. So, between 1953 to 1955, Bruce who had turned from a little boy to a handsome teenager, appeared in various films, such as "The Guiding Light"(1953), "A Mother Tears"(1953), "Blame it on Father"(1953 ), "A Myriad Homes"(1953), "In the Face of Demolition"(1953), "Love (Part 1)”, “Love (Part 2)"(both 1954), "An Orphan's Tragedy"(1955), "The Faithful Wife"(1955), "Orphan's Song" (aka" Poor Fated Girl ", 1955). Most of the characters belonged to a "well-behaved Aberdeen." Then, Bruce appeared as a rebellious teenager in "We Owe It to Our Children"(1955), and a comical character in "The Wise Guys Who Fool Around "(1955).

1956-1959 – Shinning Star
In 1956, Bruce only had one movie in his credit, i.e. "Too Late For Divorce"(1956). He again played a rebellious teenager who taught his tuition teacher, Yam Kin-Fai to dance cha-cha. Then in 1957, Bruce Lee starred in his only" melodrama film" - "The Thunderstorm"(1957). This was adapted from Chao Yu’s famous novel of the same title. Bruce played the second son of a rich man who had an extra-marital affair with his female servant. Bruce and his elder brother later fell in love with the daughter of the servant (whom was his father’s illegitimate child). It was an incest story and the bad karma strikes the family with unpleasant ending. It was also the first time Bruce wore Chinese tunic suit and had romance scenes in the film. In the same year, Bruce appeared in the comedy "Darling Girl”(1957). His short yet amazing cameo cha-cha dancing scene with the female lead actress - Man Lan, had attracted the attention and interests of the audiences.

In late 1958, Bruce started shooting "The Orphan" which was completed in early 1959. It was the last childhood film of Bruce before he went abroad to the United States to study. Bruce played an orphan "Ah Sum" who survived in the war. The orphanage dean was played by Ng Chor-Fan whom was also the film producer and screenwriter. The film was released on 3rd March 1960 but Bruce had already gone abroad to the U.S. There were many scenes between the experienced‘Emperor of Hwa Nan Silver Screen' - Ng Chor-Fan and young Bruce. Their performances were extremely terrific and exciting, even famous movie critics - Shih Chi had dubbed this film as "undoubtedly Bruce Lee's masterpiece and his character in this film was indeed vivid and powerful.”

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  • Early critics on BL’s acting in childhood films - LJF on Jan 1, 2016, 8:11 AM
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