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Robert Chan on Bruce Lee

February 20 2016 at 8:56 AM
LJF  (Login LJF)

Robert Chan Peng-Chi (1933 – 2012.07.07) was Bruce Lee’s childhood friend. During his younger days, Robert Chan was a bodybuilding instructor and often gave guidance to Bruce in bodybuilding. According to Robert Lee, he might be Bruce’s first bodybuilding teacher in HK. When Bruce returned to HK to film BOSS and FOF in 1971, he invited Robert Chan to be his assistant and also got him to play minor roles in WOTD and ETD. Both Robert Chan and Wu Ngan were two of the most reliable and trustworthy friends of Bruce. After Bruce’s passing, Robert Chan continued to be involved in the HK movies. He once assisted the filming of the famous Japanese TV series “G-Men’75” in HK and then got to know Yasuaki Kurata and from there, both became good friends. Those who knew Robert Chan commented that he was a straightforward and very nice person. Unfortunately he passed away on 7 July 2012 at the age of 79, leaving his 2 beloved daughters behind.

Below are excerpts from his Chinese interviews in the book “Bruce Lee – The Man That They Knew” (2013) by Chaplin Chang and the Chinese article “Bruce Lee…The Charm He Left Behind” by Ho Kong-Sai in Macau Daily on 07 Sep 2012.

Q1: How did you know Bruce?
RC: His eldest sister, Phoebe was my girlfriend. After knowing each other for several months, she brought me to her house and that’s where she introduced me to Bruce. Bruce was very young then, I remembered he was studying in La Salle College and later transferred to St. Francis School. As I liked practicing Kung Fu and bodybuilding and Bruce shared the common interests as me. So, we got along very well and became very good friends.

Q2: Did Bruce learn other forms of martial arts besides Wing Chun?
RC: Yes, in fact, he did learn many other forms of martial arts like Western Boxing, Hung Gar, Choy Li-Fat, Praying Mantis etc. One of the Kung Fu teachers he studied under was Master Siu Hon-San which he taught Bruce several sets of Jing Mo School’s Kung Fu. However, Bruce was more specialized in Wing Chun and liked to use it during his street-fighting.

Q3: How did you introduce Bruce to bodybuilding?
RC: Bruce was skinny as a teen and his body wasn’t in great shape. So, I suggested to Bruce to go with me to work-out in the gym. Bruce thought it was a good idea and thus, went to the gym to train daily and consequently, his body then became fitter and fitter. When he returned to HK in 1965, he worked-out at Hak Keung Gymnasium or Fitness Club and I still retain his gym work-out card till today.

Q4: Did you and Bruce take supplements and nutrition besides your work-out?
RC: I remember after each gym in the evening, we would go to have red bean paste soup to regain our energy. Both Bruce and I would always eat 3 big bowls. The soups were really cheap, tasty and healthy.

Q5: Did you know Master Ip Man?
RC: Of course. Master Ip Man shot a series of photos in his ‘Master Altar’ and some of them were taken together with me. Master Ip actually didn’t like taking photos but upon Bruce’s request, he made it an exception because Bruce was one of his favorite students. He liked Bruce’s frankness and diligence in Kung Fu. I remember at that time (circa 1965), Bruce returned from the U.S. and was planning to write a book on Chinese Kung Fu. He intended to take about 200 photos and then engaged ‘Tarzan Photo Studio’ to take the photos for him. Master Ip told Bruce he needed an assistant and Bruce recommended me to him. I was quite well-built (point to the photo). The one in white vest and dark pant was me. The cameraman took the side view of the sparring pose between me and Master Ip. Some of the photos were taken at the rooftop and some at the ‘Tarzan Photo Studio.’ The series of 200 photos were taken and completed within a week. Frankly, if Master Ip disliked Bruce, he would reject his request as he was very well-known in HK and had a lot of students. From here, we can see that their master-student’s relationship was exceptionally good.

Q6: How did you later become Bruce’s assistant in his filming career?
RC: When his parents sent him abroad for further study in the late 50s, I did not know much about his doings in overseas. Later, when he returned to HK after filming BOSS in Thailand, we met again. Bruce asked what I was doing. I told him nothing much, just teaching bowling at a bowling center. One day, Bruce came to watch me play and found that I performed quite well. Then, he suggested that I follow him to make movies. I said I didn’t know much about movies but he didn’t mind and I just stuck with him and assisted him wherever possible.

Q7: Did Bruce intend to go to Shaw to make movies after his success in his first 2 movies?
RC: Yes. I knew that because Bruce called me. He went to the Shaw studio to shoot a series of “Nien Kan-Yau” photos. GH surely didn’t like what Bruce did. As for Bruce, he actually didn’t plan to leave GH. While he was alive, he said that GH and Shaw were rivals but as an actor, he hoped to make movies for both sides as it was good in this way and his true intention was to improve the relationship of these 2 companies.

Q8: Was it true that Andre Morgan said Bruce was making use of both sides, i.e. Shaw was waving hand to Bruce and Bruce would negotiate with GH to get a higher price for himself?
RC: The fact is that Bruce was already a super star in HK then and he had really no need to do so. Bruce just wanted to make the film industry a peaceful place to work in. At that time, there were numerous people (i.e. agents) who pleaded Bruce to make movie for the companies they represented so that they could earn great commissions. Like Andrew Vygna, Bruce would often go to his office for script discussions and producer, Carlo Ponti (husband of Sophia Loren then) would be in Andrew Vygna’s office to persuade Bruce to make movie for his Italian company.

Q9: Was there any interesting thing about Bruce you could share with us?
RC: I remembered once during the filming of ETD, a ‘VIP’ invited Bruce to the 2nd floor of Hotel Peninsula (HK) for dinner. However, the restaurant required its guests to be in formal and tidy suits but Bruce was wearing casual clothes. Bruce told him, “What should I do? If you want me to change my clothing, I’ve no time because I still need to film (ETD). If after the filming and return home to change, I’ll miss the dinner.” So, the inviter made a special arrangement. When Bruce arrived in his jean, all the staff stood by the sides and welcome, “Mr. Lee, here you are. No problem, we’ve made the exception just for you!”

Q10: Was Wu Ngan very close to Bruce?
RC: Wu Ngan or Ngan Chai is living a quiet and peaceful life in UK now. He was Bruce’s holly follower. Bruce trusted him and Ngan Chai would duly carry out Bruce’s instruction to complete his task without disclosing to others. Sometime, they would do something without telling the rest of us. Ngan Chai in fact, is the son of Bruce’s house maid. He grew up with Bruce and his mother worked in Bruce’s house until she was quite old. Due to the poor financial condition, Ngan Chai had to work at a very young age and did not attend school. He once worked as an odd-job labor that helped to darn customers’ garments in Kowloon. Later, when Bruce went to the U.S. to study, Ngan Chai also went to work in the U.K. It was when Bruce returned to HK, he summoned Ngan Chai to come back to HK to assist him.

Q11: Did you see Bruce spar with Hwang In-Shik?
RC: Oh yes. Hwang was boasting about how good Hapkido was. Then, during the shooting of WOTD at the New Territories, Bruce decided to teach him a lesson. Since everyone was saying Hwang could kick super fast, Lee thought it was a good idea to compete with him in kicking. Hwang, without any hesitation agreed with full confidence. Both agreed to go all out for real in front of the camera. There was a scene where both tried to kick each other as fast as they could. When “Action!” was called, Bruce was so swift and much faster than Hwang and his leg had already reached Hwang’s head while Hwang’s leg was still at the raising position. After a few takes, the result was still the same. Hwang then conceded defeat to Bruce and became more humble later.

Q12: How about Ji Han-Jae?
RC: It was even "worst". Ji initially refused to lose to Bruce in GAME as he was a 10 Degree Gold Belt Grandmaster of Hapkido, the president of a Hapkido Association in South Korea and also, a Hapkido instructor for president's bodyguards in the South Korean Blue House. With those statues he was holding, he thought he should not lose the fight to an “ordinary HK actor”. Again, Bruce had some “workouts” with him. Soon, I and other crew in the studio saw them ‘sparring’ against each other. Bruce, who was only 130 pounds, carried Ji upward effortlessly before landing him on his lap. Bruce used only one leg to support Ji’s 180 pounds body. Ji, who was new to playing movie, did clumsily for his part. There were many NGs for this scene but Bruce was able to go through the same motions repeatedly at ease. This showed Bruce’s immense physical strength and power. Bruce then tested Ji’s fighting skill but was disappointed. After several attempts, Ji, the Grandmaster of Hapkido not only failed to win over Bruce but was subdued by him completely. Both Hwang and Ji became good friends of Bruce after these 2 incidents. That’s how Bruce defeated his opponents and build friendships through his martial arts prowess.

Photos of Robert Chan:

 Respond to this message   

  • Great read LJF thanks!!! nt - Leon on Feb 20, 2016, 10:42 AM
  • Re: Robert Chan on Bruce Lee - Fred on Feb 20, 2016, 1:17 PM
  • Re: Robert Chan on Bruce Lee - Billy on Feb 21, 2016, 9:53 AM
  • Thanks LJF - Nick Clarke on Feb 24, 2016, 10:16 PM
  • The 1965 Photos... - TopCrusader on Feb 25, 2016, 9:26 PM
  • Andrew Vygna & Carlo Ponti - blackorwhite on Feb 27, 2016, 2:08 AM
  • Excellent BL forum - Stanley on Feb 28, 2016, 11:51 AM
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