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HONG KONG – For years, Bruce Lee aficionados visiting Hong Kong could only pay tribute to their idol by taking pictures of his statue at the city’s harbor-side Avenue of Stars. Rejoice now, kung fu fans: a full-fledged, officially endorsed exhibition about Lee will soon open its doors in the master’s hometown, 40 years after his death.
Unveiled at a press conference on Wednesday, the government-run Hong Kong Heritage Museum’s “Bruce Lee: Kung Fu * Art * Life” exhibition is slated to feature 600 Lee-related artifacts, including loans from the Bruce Lee Foundation and the Hong Kong Film Archive. Among them will be 100 items related to The Green Hornet TV series, in which Lee played Kato.
The exhibition will also include the showing of a 75-minute documentary, The Brilliant Life of Bruce Lee, produced by the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers, and a 3D hologram animation from local artist Shannon Ma showcasing the star’s trademark nunchaku moves and flying kicks. A new 11.5-foot statue statue will be unveiled as well — the work of local sculptor Chu Tat-shing
Meanwhile, the exhibition – which is slated to run for five years at the museum – will be supplemented by a series of extracurricular activities, with the first program being a talk by the actor’s daughter Shannon Lee in July.
The exhibition will open on July 20, the 40th anniversary of Lee’s death — a rather belated celebration, which should help conclude years of local debate over how the action star should be honored in the city where he grew up and shot to stardom with films such as The Kid, Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon.
While the U.S.-born star has been revered by the Chinese diaspora as their hero and also by filmgoers worldwide as a pioneering martial arts expert — with tangible commemorations ranging from statues in the Bosnian city of Mostar, to a museum in the southern Chinese city of Shunde — efforts to establish a permanent memorial to Lee in Hong Kong have been repeatedly thwarted by red tape, entangled finances, and moral posturing by politicians over Lee’s personal life.
In 1999, the city’s Urban Council approved plans to establish a memorial gallery dedicated to Lee in the then-under-construction Hong Kong Film Archive building, but it was never brought to fruition after an official report deemed the addition of such a gallery as running against official safety concerns. (There was no room for the councilors to revamp the plan: the Urban Council was abolished at the end of that year.)
It was understood that the decision was partly down to high-ranking officials’ doubts about the circumstances of Lee’s death: the fact that he passed away at the home of actress Betty Ting Pei — the official line was that the pair were working on a script together — has fuelled much speculation over the decades about the martial arts actor’s personal life, as well as endless speculation over what actually brought about the cerebral edema that killed him in 1973.
More recently, plans were afoot in 2008 to transform Lee’s former two-story home in Kowloon Tong — a building which has since become a love motel, and stands just blocks away from where he died — into a museum. The conversion never materialized, as the current landlord and the Hong Kong government failed to agree on the terms on which the project could be greenlighted.
Lee’s legacy has since been sanctioned wholeheartedly by the authorities: The exhibition is set to be part of “Hong Kong: Our Home,” a large-scale official campaign designed to call for social harmony just as the city bubbles with widespread anger against what has been perceived as flawed governance since a new chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, was installed on July 1 of last year.
In the exhibition launch on Wednesday, Leisure and Cultural Services Department director Betty Fung described the actor as “the pride of Hong Kong” and said that his influence “continues to cross the boundaries of region, race and even age.” It remains to be seen whether Lee, 40 years after his death, can become that sort of political and cultural unifier for the city – but at least Lee’s global fans will finally have an appropriate destination for a kung fu pilgrimage.
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