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Ng See Yuen’s Memoir: “Remembering the legend – Bruce Lee”

June 12 2016 at 8:39 AM
LJF  (Login LJF)

Ng See-Yuen (22nd Apr 1944 - ) was 1970s-80s HK famous action film director, producer and screenwriter. He began working in the HK film industry since 1970. Ng is currently the chairman of the Federation of HK Filmmakers. His involvement in notable films include “The Chinese Boxer” (1970), “Call Me Dragon” (1974), “Little Godfather from HK” (1974), “Bruce Lee - True Story” (aka “Bruce Lee – The Man & The Myth”) (1976), “Snake in the Eagle's Shadow” (1977), “Drunken Master” (1978), “Ninja in the Dragon's Den” (1982), “No Retreat, No Surrender” (1985) etc.

Ng personally met and knew Bruce Lee. The following is a chapter titled “Remembering the legend – Bruce Lee” which was adapted from his Chinese biographiy, "Ng See Yuen's Memoir."

The Dispute over Big Boss’s Director
Initially, The Big Boss was not directed by Lo Wei. It was Wu Chia-Hsiang who began shooting some scenes in Pak Chong. At that time, the people in the entertainment circle including me, all felt that GH had made the wrong decision for hiring Wu as the director. Although Wu had made many movies but he was really not suitable for directing action movies, especially with Bruce Lee.

Wu was a traditional, old-fashioned actor/director who relied on his experience to make movies. He was very autocratic and whatever he said, nobody dare to go against his wills. He used to throw tantrums in the film studio frequently, and used a lot of vulgar languages on the crew. Sometimes, actresses would hide somewhere and cried after being reprimanded by him badly. He also resembled an old time school disciplinary master who liked to carry a cane around and went after people, particularly he liked to cane those child actors and male actors who disobeyed his orders and who did not pleased him.

From Leonard Ho to Lo Wei
It definitely would be difficult for Bruce to get along with Wu and bear his ridiculous weird temper. I felt GH was going to make a fool of itself. The movie had already started shooting in Thailand. In the beginning, there were news on the paper that reported Wu and Bruce could not get along and the film was paused. In fact, shooting was unable to continue. Subsequently, GH made an announcement in changing the directors. I guessed that Bruce might not want to shoot the movie and wanted to leave. GH was really panicked and announced that one of its company directors, Leonard Ho would fly over to Thailand to take over from Wu. Actually, this move was to comfort Bruce and tried to get him to stay. I was curious why the boss, Leonard Ho would personally go there to direct the movie. As expected, 2 days later, Lo Wei officially became the director for TBB instead of Leonard Ho.

According to Lo Wei, he volunteered to go to Thailand when he heard about the news and told Leonard Ho and Raymond Chow about his decision. This was why the sudden change in the new director’s choice from Ho to Lo. I think that Lo Wei was a lucky star as whoever got to direct TBB, it would do well in the box office because of Bruce’s outstanding martial arts skills plus, the action choreographer was Han Ying-Chieh. It was said that he was the first choreographer in HK to use the trampoline bed for his martial arts choreographing with fanciful stunts.

Lo Wei = No Way
Later, Bruce told me in the beginning he and Lo Wei also could not get along. Lo saw himself as a great director (note: he was called the “Million Dollars Director” after the film he directed first broke HK’s million box-office record) and Bruce was just a cipher then. Lo saw Bruce as a greenhorn who had just returned from the U.S. Therefore, their relationship was not cordial. During shooting, they were not on good terms. One point to prove what Bruce said was that once Bruce injured his leg yet Lo did not allowed him to rest, instead he instructed the cameraman to get Bruce’s close-up shot as it would not show his bandaged leg. Then, he continued to request Bruce to film the non-action scenes without giving him sufficient good rest. There was no way to get some basic staff’s benefits from Lo Wei. So, Lo Wei indeed was “No Way”. This made Bruce really pissed off. Nevertheless, they cooperated in making Bruce’s second movie - FOF later on because TBB’s broke all office records and was selling exceptionally well. GH wanted almost the same crew team to make FOF. Bruce abided and fulfilled his 2 movies contract with GH before setting up his own company with Raymond Chow to make WOTD and G.O.D.

Reasons Behind The Movie’s Success
There was an ice factory in the outdoor location shooting of TBB. Several years later, I used the same location to film “Bruce Lee True Story” (Bruce Lee, The Man & The Myth) starring Bruce Li. We also interviewed some of the people there who were involved in TBB and consequently, had a better understanding of the ways they made movies. During that time, many people did not expect that TBB would do well, but it proved that it was a box-office success. This was mainly because in that era, most HK people were crazy over Kung Fu films. Another reason I think was because of Bruce’s unique charisma.

Actually, Bruce knew how to promote his film. For instance, he appeared on HK-TVB “Enjoy Yourself Tonight” show with his U.S. student (note: Bob Baker on 22nd Oct 1971) and told the audience that he taught JKD to Hollywood celebrities - James Coburn and Steven McQueen. The HK audience really admired him and thought Bruce must be something otherwise Hollywood stars would not learn Kung Fu from him. So, his movie did exceptionally well in the box-office”. Another reason was that he was a man of substance. When he performed the breaking boards in TVB’s EYT show, the entire audience and TV viewers were in awe because nobody had seen such a performance before. He also had his own theories and really knew how to articulate himself. Back then in HK, no stuntmen, action choreographer or even martial arts star could know how to express themselves with any theories as most of these people were not well-educated even though some of them possessed quite good Kung Fu skills. Unlike these people, Bruce studied philosophy in the University and thus, was able to relay his martial arts concepts and theories vociferously and convincingly.

Therefore, there must be reasons behind the success of TBB. Many audience had already seen a lot of martial arts films with the same stuff repeatedly, and thus, wanting to see a breakthrough and change in the dynamism of actions. Bruce appeared at the right time and gave the audience what they wanted. However, I personally think that GH had never expected that this movie could sell so well and even break the HK box-office record. Why do I say so? At that time, the advertisement (referring to the paper ad) which GH initially did for TBB on the midnight shows was really, really small. I still kept a piece of that paper cut out for a long time until recently, I threw it away. If they had expected the movie would sell like hot cakes, they would surely go for a bigger advertisement. Hence, from here, we can tell that GH still had some reservation about this movie in the beginning. Nobody knows for sure whether the movie which starred Bruce Lee would sell or not and whether audience would accept his new ideas in the movie was also doubtful.

The Signature Battle Cries
Take for an example, when he engaged in a fight in the movie, he would display the sharp cat yell. This was totally new to the audience. During that era, most of the movies were made in Mandarin whereas Cantonese movies were gradually fading out. Mandarin movies were considered high-class productions and Cantonese movies, low-class pictures. Thus, most of the movies were dubbed in Mandarin. Likewise, Bruce’s voice was dubbed over by a well-known dubbing artist called Cheung Pui-Shan. However, the battle cries or cat yell were dubbed by Bruce’s own voice. When he first did that dubbing, everyone in the dubbing room cried out their laughter and thought that no way the audience would accept this kind of weird yelling.

Every time when the dubbing artist was about to dub his fight scenes, Bruce would say, “Arh...You don’t need to dub this, leave it to me!” So, those strange battle cries or cat yells were all dubbed by Bruce. Everyone was expecting the mocking by the fans. Moreover, it turned out to be a positive response from the audience. We did not expect the audience to be so excited when they heard those weird battle cries, and their thunderous applause really took us by surprise. This proves that to have a breakthrough, you ought to be different from the rest. The battle cries increased the intensity of the fighting atmosphere and brought out the uniqueness in his fighting style. Never before had the HK audience see such kind of stuff in over hundreds of action movies in the past. That dynamism and realistic display of fighting on screen truly was amazing!

History In The Making
I could still remembered vividly about the midnight show where I was present with Raymond Chow and Bruce Lee. I sat in the middle row while Bruce sat together with Chow, just few rows behind me. They were all there to see the response of the audience. When the show was over, every audience stood up and clapped their hands very hard and loud for a long, long time. This had never happened in the history of HK cinema before since everyone knows movies are not real and unlike the live performances of the stage dramas. When the audience turned their heads and suddenly saw Bruce and Chow, my goodness, that moment turned into a frenzied scene. Almost every audience screamed and tried to brush their ways towards Bruce. Bruce was over the moon but the scene was too chaotic. That night onwards, Bruce had become the number one idol and superstar in HK. Of course, Raymond Chow was very delighted too. Audience could catch a glimpse of this scene in the movie “Bruce Lee True Story” (aka “Bruce Lee, The Man & The Myth”) directed by me. It was an important milestone in Bruce and HK’s cinema history. Both Chow and Bruce personally witnessed and experienced the audience’s craziness over their favorite movie and star.

A Meteor
After the huge success of TBB, Bruce’s second movie was directed by Lo Wei expectedly. I feel that during the filming of FOF, both Lo and Bruce did not have very big disputes or contradictions. They still could be seen communicating with each other. Since the first movie had just generated big profits, GH needed to cash in the next movie quickly. FOF allowed Bruce to have more room to roam, execute his skills as well as display his great potential. In FOF, many of the fighting scenes were actually choreographed by Bruce. That was why when you watched this movie, there were so many thrilling fight scenes and mostly were against the Japanese Karatekas. If you pause the video, you will be able to see many familiar faces like Yuen Biu, Lam Ching-Ying, Corey Yuen, Jackie Chan, etc.

For quite sometime, the action movie performers learnt a lot of experience from Bruce. Bruce’s biggest weakness was his acrobatic flips (note: Bruce emphasized on real fighting techniques and he considered flipping as fanciful stuff merely for display in the movie or on stage). Hence, all the flipping scenes in his movies were stand-ins using trampoline beds and other equipments. Yuen Wah and others (note: Bee Chan etc.) did the stand-in for him. So, when the movie claims it never use stand-ins, I think it is not necessary because if you do not use stand-ins and the actor who is not good in action sequences will tend to get hurt easily. Then, the whole movie production would have to stop. Therefore, to use or not to use stand-ins, I feel that it should not be over emphasized and in fact, should not be an issue. I dare to say, no one, including Jackie Chan had never use stand-ins in Chinese action films before, it is just a matter of more or less, good or bad.

FOF was even a greater success than TBB. It once again, broke the box-office record and the rest is history. After WOTD and ETD, Bruce died suddenly during the making of G.O.D. which shocked the entire HK. He was liked a meteor, whose success was short-lived but his flame was eternal.

Post-Bruce Lee’s Era
After Bruce’s death, I directed several Bruce Lee’s style action films, mainly starring Bruce Liang. I went on to direct “The Secret Rivals”(1976) also known as “Southern Fist, Northern Legs” starring John Liu, before directing “Bruce Lee – True Story (1976)” played by Bruce Li, which is considered by most Bruce’s fans as the best biopic ever made on Bruce Lee so far. I also produced and co-wrote “Snake in the Eagle's Shadow” (1977) and “Drunken Master”(1978), directed by Yuen Woo-ping, and it was Jackie Chan's first real successes at the domestic box office.

I then directed “Tower of Death” (1981) starring Tang Lung (Kim Tai Jung) as Bruce and his brother. The action scenes choreographed by Sammo Hung and Yuen Biu, were liked by many fans. In 1985, I produced “No Retreat, No Surrender,” directed by Corey Yuen and starring Tang Lung as Bruce’s ghost together with the then unknowns Kurt McKinney and Jean-Claude Van Damme. The movie was made in the U.S. that successfully displayed the HK style of actions. It received quite a well response from the Western audience. Recently, I had worked together to co-produce a 75 minutes Bruce Lee documentary, titled “The Brilliant Life of Bruce Lee” for the HK Heritage Museum in commemorating BL’s anniversary. This is an appreciation of Bruce’s effort in his contribution to the HK and the world action movie industry.

Photos of Ng See-Yuen & his related BL’s projects:

 Respond to this message   

  • Ng See Yuen’s Interview on Bruce Lee - LJF on Jun 12, 2016, 8:51 AM
  • Re: Ng See Yuen’s Memoir: “Remembering the legend – Bruce Lee” - Jon on Jun 13, 2016, 3:17 AM
  • Re: Ng See Yuen’s Memoir: “Remembering the legend – Bruce Lee” - Anonymous on Jun 13, 2016, 6:28 AM
  • “Southern Fist, Northern Legs” starring John Liu & "Tower of Death" starring Tang Lung - Shaolinguy on Jun 13, 2016, 5:29 PM
  • Where is Kurt McKinney? - Fred on Jun 14, 2016, 10:10 AM
  • Lee's unfinished G.O.D footage - S.Wira on Jun 16, 2016, 2:55 AM
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