Inside Bruce Lee’s Hong Kong home: from Crane’s Nest to love hotel and why it never became a museum
Kung fu legend Bruce Lee’s former Hong Kong mansion is a shadow of what it once was – having transformed from his private sanctuary into a sex hotel despite repeated calls for it to be turned into a museum preserving his legacy.
The US-born Lee, a grandson of influential Hong Kong businessman Sir Robert Ho Tung, moved back and forth between America and Hong Kong for long stretches while growing up, even becoming a child actor in Hong Kong during the 1940s.
After gaining fame for his martial arts teachings and revolutionising kung fu film styles, he brought wife Linda and their two children to the city in 1971. He spent his last years at 41 Cumberland Road in Kowloon Tong.
Documentary clips from the 1970s of the Lees’ two-storey home showed white walls and modern furniture of glass, steel and dark wood.
Lee and his wife seemed to favour splashes of red and purple in their upholstery, including the couches and the fabric covers of dining table chairs.
Lee also kept a sizeable collection of books and posters, and very neatly kept his record players and headphones on a shelf in the family room, according to the footage. One whole wall near his office bureau was covered in artsy wallpaper featuring nude women.
WATCH: Archive clips from the 1977 documentary 'Bruce Lee, The Legend'
The house had a den and a private gym (including a punch bag in a small covered patio). Next to the tree-lined narrow driveway was a spacious garden with a small arched bridge over an artificial pond – a yard big enough for their two young children and various dogs to play in.
"I only have flashes of memories because I was so young, but certainly one thing I remember about my father was that, he was extremely playful ... It was always a lot of fun," daughter Shannon Lee recalled in a Post interview in 2008. Bruce Lee also loved to teach his children martial arts.
The Lee family’s idyll was shattered on July 20, 1973, when Bruce Lee died in the bed of a young actress he was to co-star with in an upcoming movie. He had visited Betty Ting Pei at her flat on Beacon Hill Road in Kowloon Tong reportedly to read scripts together for The Deadly Game.
When he experienced a headache and nausea, Ting gave Lee a prescription painkiller and he went to sleep in her bed. He never woke up. An inquest later found that the 32-year-old died of cerebral oedema, or swelling in the brain.
“He died next to me, I was only 26, a young woman,” Ting said in a 2003 interview with the Sunday Morning Post, describing the lasting trauma of the incident. “Do you think I wasn’t scared? No one would help me. I felt everyone wanted me to die.”
The widowed Linda Lee (later Caldwell) moved back to the US with Brandon, then 8, and Shannon, 4, after her husband’s death.
In 1974, mainland Chinese businessman Yu Pang-lin – a self-made man who rose from toilet cleaner to billionaire philanthropist – reportedly bought the property from Golden Harvest studio founder Raymond Chow (a close friend and business party of Lee) for about HK$1 million.
The Hunan province native, who moved to Hong Kong in 1958, was chairman of Foo Tak Development Company as well as Shenzhen Panglin Hotel, and was president of Yu’s Charitable Foundation.
Many of his properties were rented by love hotel operators, earning Yu a moniker he detested – “Love Hotel King”, according to a report in The Globe and Mail.
This was why, by the late 2000s, the kung fu legend’s home had become a hotel for a few hours' trysts. A visit by the Post to the Romance Hotel in 2008 showed a standard room with a small couch and a mirrored headboard on the large bed. A condom was placed on a table and pornography was screening on the TV set. Gone were the yellow front gates and lush garden of Bruce Lee's time, replaced by a carpark and wrought metal gates.
WATCH: Inside the Bruce Lee mansion turned love hotel
Yu planned to sell the house in 2008 to raise funds for Sichuan earthquake victims in mainland China, but scrapped the plan when fans urged him to restore and preserve it. He said he would donate it to the public for restoration.
Yu then negotiated with the government to turn 41 Cumberland Road into a Bruce Lee museum complex equipped with a cinema, library and martial arts centre. He asked that the building’s floor space be increased to 30,000 sq ft.
The concept created excitement among fans and an architecture design contest for the property’s restoration was even held in 2009 – with Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon as a judge. A Hong Kong architect’s design featuring a dragon structure won the contest, beating 140 entries from around the world.
However, the plans never came to fruition. After Yu and the government failed to come to an agreement on the scope and size of the development, the museum idea was quietly dropped in 2011.
In May this year, the property’s owner Yu Pang-lin died of an undisclosed illness in Shenzhen at the age of 92, leaving the fate of the property – valued at more than HK$100 million as of 2011 – uncertain.
Now, the property is caught in a legal limbo after Yu’s death. “We are still finalising the legal procedures [for the estate],” Peng Zhibin, a grandson of Yu, said recently. “This can take six months to one year. We do not have any final decisions yet.”
With additional reporting by Staff Reporters