Bruce Lee

New book recalls memories of Bruce Lee by those who worked with him

New book reveals another aspect of kung fu icon as told by those who loved, and feared him

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 9:01am

In the 40 years since Bruce Lee's death, the kung fu star has achieved almost god-like status among fans the world over.

Like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, Lee left a legacy and an idealised image of who he was. Yet he was all too human - he swore at his boss, boasted about his prowess and threatened to kill those who challenged him.

He was also a charismatic character well-respected by old school friends and fellow cast members, said Chaplin Chang Ching-peng, assistant director on Enter the Dragon and production manager for Way of The Dragon.

"He would utter all those mother-related swear words in the face of [producer] Raymond Chow," Chang said.

It was anecdotes like this that prompted Chang to publish a book, The Bruce Lee They Knew, this month. Together with Lee biographer Roger Lo Chun-kwong, Chang has put together 11 interviews from people who worked with or befriended he star.

The interviews were done together with Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse in 1987. Clouse used parts of the interviews to write his own book in English about Lee, while Chang had the copyright to publish a Chinese-language book - which he had not exercised until now.

Now 87, Chang has decided to publish the interviews in full. "As time passes, memories fade or become distorted. People gave more accurate accounts about Lee 20 years ago. Now fans glorify him," he said.

Some people quoted in the book have already died.

Actor Roy Chiao Hung said Lee once threatened to kill his Enter the Dragon co-star Robert Wall after Wall failed to drop a broken bottle as planned during filming and injured Lee with it.

Lee pointed a knife at Big Boss director Lo Wei after he dropped the star from casting, the director recalls in the book. About 10 days later, Lee died.

Others give accounts of how the young Lee would often fight with foreign students in his neighbourhood, how he was severely short-sighted and feared large dogs.

Recalling his time with Lee, Chang describes him as energetic, full of ideas and boastful: "He would ask people he'd just met to hit his muscular chest."

The kung fu master was kind to stunt doubles, showing them a great deal of respect and sometimes paying them higher salaries than agreed. But in the face of his superiors on the job, especially producer Chow, he was another man.

Their hostile relationship may have had something to do with how profits from movies were allocated: Lee told Chang that Chow gave him only 5 per cent of the profits from the blockbusters The Big Boss and Fists of Fury.

Nevertheless, Chang said that the movie mogul and Lee had a father-and-son relationship - they didn't quite get along, but Lee was dependent on him.

The star continues to be a worldwide icon - fans still write to Chang, and filmmakers who worked with Lee are held in awe. Chang said it was a pity that the government failed to help build a Bruce Lee museum at his former home in Kowloon Tong.

"Hong Kong is where Bruce grew up and was educated. It was his base for his films," said Chang.