Bruce Lee's last stand: statues honour the kung fu star around the world

The kung fu and jeet kune do master has been made larger than life around the planet, but he hasn’t always been popular

Daniel Moss

Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong

The northern side of Victoria Harbour has a statue of Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui, erected in 2005, a fitting tribute for the actor who lived in Kowloon Tong before he died, and in Nathan Road when he first moved to the city. The city was under fire for not honouring its pioneering film star in a meaningful way and the statue is still considered to be only partly meeting expectations.

Tourist pose like Bruce Lee in front of hit statue at the Avenue of Stars. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Los Angeles Chinatown, California

His birthplace was in San Francisco and he lived in Seattle as a teenager, so Bruce Lee’s second home was in California and the US west coast. His acting career began in Hollywood and he had his first major break there with the Green Hornet in 1966. He also taught kung fu at a school in Los Angeles to stars like Steve McQueen and James Coburn, among others.

WATCH: Shannon Lee unveils her father’s statue in Chinatown, LA

Mostar, Bosnia

A “new symbol of unity” was erected in the ethnically divided Bosnian city of Mostar on November 26, 2005 — a not-quite-lifesized golden statue of Bruce Lee. The town chose the Hong Kong star as he was worshipped equally by Muslims, Serbs and Croats and was seen as a symbol that could mend ties after the town was ripped apart in the Balkans war in 1993-94. The Mostar Urban Movement youth group in Mostar agreed they needed a symbol of justice, mastery and honesty — virtues upheld by the late Chinese-American actor, they said. It was vandalised shortly after it’s unveiling and after a display in the Croatian capital, Zagreb it reappeared in 2013 in a different Mostar park. The German government funded the statue.

Bosnian Kung Fu practitioners applauded a newly unveiled bronze statue of Bruce Lee, martial arts master, in a typical fighting pose during a ceremony in Mostar November 26, 2005. Photo: Reuters

Shunde and Foshan, Guangdong Province

By far the largest statue to Bruce Lee’s memory is in Shunde, the ancestral homeland of his family. The statue is about 20-metres high at the Bruce Lee Paradise theme park. The tile manufacturing region seems the perfect fit for making a grand ceramic statement to remember one of its distant sons. In nearby Foshan, artists created a clutch of high-kicking, glossy-red Bruce Lees for a 2010 Shanghai expo. Interestingly, due to restrictions on cultural imports to China in the 1970s Bruce Lee was not well known there while he was making films. The connection is tenuous, as the San Francisco-born, Hong Kong-raised actor’s distant relatives lived in Foshan, but the mega-star did not.
The big Bruce. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Kogarah, NSW

Revealed in 2011 in the town square, this 2-metre bronze statue was like a lightning rod for complaints from its unveiling. Kogarah, in the shadow of Sydney Airport in Australia, is a sister city with Shunde, China which boasts long-lost connections with Lee’s family. Shunde donated the statue to Kogarah and the Sydney suburb offered a boomerang and a rugby jersey in return. In the face of loud complaints, the local council was stuck between honouring its sister-city relationship with Shunde and appeasing the angry local residents who wanted someone more relevant to the area to be memorialised. The council found a solution by renaming a local park “Shunde Gardens”, putting Bruce Lee’s statue there and hoping for no more protests.

WATCH: Kogarah’s local council unveils the statue of Bruce Lee