Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bruce Lee, alive and kicking

In the southern Chinese city of Shunde, government officials are finalising plans to build a Bruce Lee theme park, complete with a memorial hall and large statue of the man they call the town’s favourite “son”. Never mind that the legendary Chinese American kung fu star was born in San Francisco and visited Shunde only briefly, when he was a boy of 5. Shunde is the hometown of Lee’s father & grandfather, and that was enough for local resident Wang Dechao to prod the government to plough $125,000 into opening a Bruce Lee museum in an old tea shop in Shunde in 2002.

Since then, more than 300,000 people, some paying $1 for admission, have come to see its collection of Bruce Lee’s rare letters, film posters and other memorabilia. Wang, who now works for Shunde’s culture and sports authority, hopes to move the museum to new theme park, which he says is projected to cost $19 million and open before 2008 summer Olyimpics in Beijing.

China’s National Network, has plans to produce a 40-part documentary about Bruce Lee. Meanwhile, Bruce Lee’s brother, Robert, is planning a movie about him, as is one of Lee’s former students.

Although he has been dead for 33 years, Bruce Lee remains an enduring powerful cultural figure. What if, people often ask, he hadn’t died at age 32, barely a month before the release of his blockbuster film, Enter The Dragon? Most believe that film would have catapulted him into the ranks of Hollywood’s superstars. But what then?

It’s a question that his widow, Linda Cadwell often asks herself. “ I think about it a lot – what he missed,” Cadwell said. “Professionally, I’m sure he probably would have stayed in performing industry, but maybe not always as an actor, because he loved to write, he would be 66 this year.” Lee died in Hong Kong on July 20, 1973 from a cerebral edema.

He is an icon that is known throughout the world, his legend and myth seems to grow over the years. Indeed, although he achieved stardom three decades ago, Lee’s fame has hardly dimmed. He is still regarded as one of the most influential martial artists of the 20th century, a precursor to today’s kung fu stars. In his teens, he had formal martial arts training in Wing Chun kung fu under a master teacher in Hong Kong. Lee’s style was known as Jeet Kune Do (Way of the Interception Fist). He was famous for a combat technique called the “one-inch punch”

But it was not only his skill at martial arts that won fans, Cadwell said, it was his philosophy and way of life. Around the world, his likeness has taken on symbolic life of its own, even in places as far as Mostar, Bosnia, where life-size statue of Lee poses in a defensive fighting-posture stands. The bronze statue erected last year, serves as a symbol of healing ethnic tensions in land that 1990s was racked by civil war.

That kind of enduring resonance is why Cadwell his widow’s and his daughter Sanon Lee are taking steps to ensure his reputation stays intact.

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