Friday, August 29, 2008

The modest two-floor house where the Enter the Dragon star spent the last few months of his life in 1973 is currently a "love hotel", where rooms can be rented by the hour to amorous couples.

Outside the Romance Hotel, in the northern district of Kowloon Tong, there is no sign to indicate that one of Hong Kong's most famous actors ever owned the 5,000 sq ft house.

Inside, a warren of thin corridors is decorated with aged posters of semi-naked women. The small rooms are decorated with a small sink and brown bedcovers.

The building is now the battleground between Bruce Lee fans, a billionaire Chinese property tycoon, and the Hong Kong government.

Yu Panglin, an 86-year-old hotelier based in Shenzen, said he bought the house 30 years ago for 850,000 HK dollars (£60,000). Today he claims it is worth 100 million HK dollars.

After the enormous earthquake in Sichuan in May, Mr Yu announced his intention to sell the building, together with three surrounding plots. He said he would donate some of the money he raised to the rebuilding of Sichuan.

The Hong Kong Bruce Lee Club quickly intervened to stop him. A page on Facebook, the social networking site, was set up to marshal opposition to the plan and to turn the house into a museum.

Lee's widow, Linda Lee Caldwell, and daughter Shannon, have reportedly agreed to donate personal items to a new museum. A Bruce Lee museum is also in construction at Shunde in mainland China, where Mr Lee was originally from, but never lived.

Wong Yiukeung, the chairman of the fan club, said that while the island is happy to profit from Mr Lee's boost to tourism, little effort had been made to commemorate him. "Lots of tourists want to visit the house. I have to tell them to get a partner of the opposite sex in order to get in," he said.

Even Robert Lee, the younger brother of the film star, stepped into the fray. "My family finds it regretful that the Hong Kong government has not done much for my brother. I urge them to buy the residence and convert it into a museum," he wrote in a letter to Donald Tsang, the chief administrator of Hong Kong. The government, however, quickly ruled out spending public money on the building.

However, the protests have had an effect on Mr Yu. After failing to sell it, or swap it for government property elsewhere, he magnanimously agreed to donate the building, saying that it was "priceless in the sense that this is the last property with links to Bruce Lee in Hong Kong".

He told the South China Morning Post that Mr Lee had been instrumental in changing attitudes to China in the West: "Our weak national image only changed after his movies were shown to western audiences."

However, he said he would only allow the house to be turned into a museum if the government allows him to hugely expand the site into a 30,000 sq ft retail outlet.

His idea has not met with enthusiasm. "The building is a residence of a simple style without unique architectural claims. Houses like this are very common," said the Antiquities and Monuments Office. It added that expanding the site would destroy the cultural value of the house.

The deadlock has exasperated the fans. "We just have to wait now for the government to make up its mind," said Mr Wong. As a result, the 35th anniversary of Mr Lee's death went unmarked in Hong Kong, except for a small display in Mr Wong's tiny shop.

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