It seems like Bruce Lee is everywhere you look these days.
The kung fu legend’s image has undergone a cultural revival in the past year with the release of Warrior, a television series that he conceived right before he died, and a fictionalized cameo (skillfully played by Mike Moh) in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
But in his hometown of Hong Kong, where the actor spent the final years of his life, his old house is counting down to its last days. The owner of the building expects to begin demolishing it as early as next week to make way for a Chinese school that will teach Mandarin and music.
For the past two weeks, a Bruce Lee fan club has been working to save the structure. They’ve petitioned the government to preserve the home and turn it into a museum.
But the building’s owner says it has not received any new proposals from the government, adding that structural issues have made it hard to maintain.
“We will begin tearing down the building as early as next week.”
“We had promised the Bruce Lee Club to postpone the demolition for two weeks and the deadline expires on Sunday,” says Joey Lee, vice chairman of the Yu Panglin Charitable Trust, which owns the house. “We will begin tearing down the building as early as next week.”
The king of Kowloon Tong
Bruce Lee’s career was short but prolific and spurred interest among Hollywood producers in Chinese martial arts.
Lee was born in the United States but spent most of his childhood in Hong Kong, where he studied under grandmaster Ip Man.
He left for the United States at age 18 to further his martial arts career. He landed some gigs in Hollywood, including a stint as the sidekick Kato in The Green Hornet, while teaching martial arts to the likes of Steve McQueen and Sharon Tate.
But unable to attain the star status of his celebrity pupils, he returned to Hong Kong to develop his reel. His first major film, The Big Boss (1971), made him a household name and catapulted him to stardom with multiple kung fu releases.
In Hong Kong, he settled down in a mansion in the posh neighborhood of Kowloon Tong, where he lived until his sudden death in 1973, at the age of 32.
The following year, Yu Panglin, a billionaire philanthropist, bought the house for $1 million in today’s dollars. For a time, it operated as a short-stay hotel.
In 2008, Yu planned to sell the property to raise money for victims of the Sichuan earthquake, which left 87,000 dead and 5 million homeless.
But he scrapped the idea when fans urged him to restore and preserve the property, which Bruce Lee affectionately called the “Crane’s Nest.”
Yu later offered to donate the house to the government to turn it into a Bruce Lee museum. He proposed adding floors to include a cinema, library, and martial arts center.
But Yu and government officials failed to reach an agreement, and the plan was scrapped in 2011. Yu died four years later.
The trust that owns the house says it will not use Bruce Lee’s name on publicity for the renovated site because they do not possess the kung fu legend’s image rights.
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.