IF Australia had just one favourite son to hold up to the world, who would it be?
The great Donald Bradman springs to mind – a man whose achievements extended far beyond the boundaries of a cricket pitch, and whose very existence buoyed the national psyche for decades. A man worthy of his own museum, in the NSW town of Bowral, where devotees can gather to worship amid memorabilia, facts and photographs.
Just as we have The Don, Hong Kong has its own national hero. His name is Bruce Lee.
To mark the 40th anniversary in July of the untimely death of the martial artist and movie star, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum opened the Bruce Lee: Kung Fu, Art, Life multimedia exhibition.
This homage to the highly disciplined and single-minded artist, which is scheduled to run for five years, has brought together more than 600 items of his short but colourful life. Supported by the Bruce Lee Foundation and the actor’s family, it offers a comprehensive look at the man, the kung fu master and the legend.
On display are everything from photos of Lee performing cha-cha moves as a teenager, to the famous mask he wore as Kato in the American TV series The Green Hornet, to his written pledge to become the “highest paid Oriental super star in the United States”, to his kung fu costume for the 1973 martial arts classic Enter the Dragon.
The exhibition also features the documentary The Brilliant Life of Bruce Lee, a 75-minute tribute to his legacy.
Born the son of a celebrated Cantonese opera singer and his wife in San Francisco in 1940, Lee returned with his family to Hong Kong as a baby before heading back to the US in 1959 to complete his education.
There he married Linda Emery and had a son, Brandon (who followed his father into acting and also died tragically young), and a daughter, Shannon.
In 1971, Lee returned to Hong Kong a TV star and very quickly became an action-movie cult figure. But while shooting the fight scenes for The Game of Death in July 1973, which he had written and planned to direct himself, he suffered a fatal cerebral oedema. He was just 32.
When Bruce Lee: Kung Fu, Art, Life was launched, the director of Hong Kong’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Betty Fung, called Lee “the pride of Hong Kong” and described his influence as crossing “the boundaries of region, race and even age”.
As with Bradman, revered in Australia and on the subcontinent, Lee’s enduring appeal transcended ethnicity.