Long after the dragon’s embers

August 1973 – Before the inquest in September (when Raymond Chow had outlined which lies to spew and spit from his mouth), William Cheung (who inducted Bruce Lee in Wing Chun classes) undertook an investigation. He found that there was a murder conspiracy but hasn’t offered a penny for his thoughts to the H.K. public. 40 years later,  Betty Ting Pei claimed that she didn’t like Bruce that much (disregarding the time that she threatened to commit suicide if he ended the liaison). 40 years earlier, police were called to investigate a brown paper parcel which has a controversial message concerning her:

“Betty knows the cause of Bruce’s death.”

1974 – Ray produces a movie called Stoner to prove that Lee was going to act in a movie with George Lazenby and Betty. Wu Ngan’s creepiness shows him up for being in his third and last H.K. movie as a gangster who injects Lazenby. Why would Lee’s butler return to H.K. after hightailing it to England?! Stoner contains two consecutive scenes alluding to Lee’s final hours (a gang beating before being dumped on Betty’s bed). Ray’s gallows humour makes it clear that the casting of an ex-Bond to play a man from Seattle was to retaliate against Lee’s interest in being 007’s next sidekick. Bruce’s son, Brandon, claimed that there wasn’t really that much left to film for Game of Death. Ray took advantage because Lee kept most of the filming under wraps in the same way that Jackie Chan would later do when Pirate Patrol became known as Project A.

Speak of the devil, Jackie’s workload was severely cut down in 1974. In I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action, he claims that the death of his acquaintance caused such a dry spell in Kung Fu moviedom that his parents wanted him to live with them in Australia. This ignorantly disregards the many movies which were made between the death and his lead role era. 1974 was the only time that he exclusively worked for Shaw Brothers. He worked on 2 movies for them. He was seeking protection. After all, he did say in said book that S.B. were so stingy with salaries that some actors and stuntmen ended up working as small time muscle for mob operations. Not even Betty was out of the woods yet.

The Triad film company that Bruce wanted to sue (Sing Hoi) had produced a movie (Chinese Godfather) starring herself opposite Michael Chan Wai-Man, who was at the The Unicorn Palm press release (in the summer of 1972) with Lee and Fan Mei-Sheng (the latter planned Chinese Godfather). After Bruce’s death, Ngan (who appeared in The Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon) alongside Bob Baker (who was the Russian mobster in Fist of Fury) absconded as they were paid with Golden Harvest’s money to leave Hong Kong. Ray knew how suspicious that it would look for them to be paid, so not only were they not paid straight away but they were only paid after they acted in further movies so as to make the potentially conspicuous transactions look like business instead of bribery.

For Ngan, the perfect cover was Stoner. For Bob, the perfect cover was filming in Taiwan for a H.K. film company. Valley of the Double Dragon (a.k.a. Kung Fu of Taekwondo) was the only Taiwanese movie that was produced by Hong Kong Kai Fa Film (one of Ray’s shell companies). For criminals, Taiwan is to H.K. what Mexico is to the U.S. When Bob was officially paid by G.H. for his services, it was on January 7, 1974. Coincidentally, the movie was released on January 23.  The contract gives the false impression that he was being paid on behalf of Linda being the representative of Bruce’s Concord company, whose majority of the shares were being held by Ngan. Andre Morgan was the person who Ray chose to have G.H. represent the payment.

Bruce’s house belonged to a company called Lo Yuen Enterprise Ltd. One of the two directors of that company was Ngan. The house was leased to Bruce by Golden Harvest because he didn’t see the point in purchasing a house since H.K. was to be a pit stop prior to Hollywood. Concord being an extension of G.H. meant that it was easy for Ray to give the illusion that Ngan was being paid more money than Bob on the basis that Ray wanted the house for a documentary and a film….which he did. In 1974, Ray proved that he was being legit by greenlighting an Angela Mao movie titled The Tournament. After Stoner, this was the second time that she was a pawn in Ray’s chess game. As for Lazenby, he would be duped further (two years down the line) by acting in A Queen’s Ransom. As you will later find out, the movie is a different kind of Bruceploitation.

Bob was paid 10,000 H.K. dollars; whereas Ngan was paid 55,000 U.S. dollars. Sure, Ngan had mouths to feed but not that many. He was managing just fine living in England before Bruce invited him to have both families live with each other in 1971. If the men were just paid for their pre-mortem services then it would’ve been nothing more than severance payment. However, what makes them look guilty is that they didn’t even stay to help Linda move back to Seattle (this implies an avoidance of DNA analysis and questioning). Bruce philosophized that you should either learn to endure or hire a bodyguard.

According to Linda, Bob was not only Bruce’s bodyguard but his drug courier. He also smuggled guns for Bruce’s safety (even Jim Kelly knew that Bruce was packing heat). It’s rather strange for a bodyguard to be paid less than a butler whose figure isn’t a tidy sum like 50 or 60 grand. After these shifty out-of-bank transactions, Linda begged Ray to give her some money. This suggests that they were allies instead of archenemies. Linda making herself out to be a courtroom antagonist was the perfect cover. There is a Chinese proverb that philosophizes:

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

1975 – The first day of the year is when Lo Wei’s last movie for G.H. is released (a horror movie titled The Bedevilled). He started his own production company after he learned that Ray was having an affair with his wife (their shaky marriage only ended when Lo died in 1996). The fact that Ray didn’t get killed can be explained by one of three things: Ray’s background as an evasive spy paid off, his backers are more intimidating than Lo’s army of Triads, or it was a partner swap arrangement (thus there would be no Triad arraignment). Maybe Lo was more intimidating than Ray after all. After all of Lo’s personal belongings went with him when he left the company, Jackie returned to G.H. to act in All in the Family. It was released in February.

Considering that Lo (a crime figure) has long been held responsible for the death of Bruce, the timing of Jackie’s return is more than a tad suspicious. There are two kinds of liars – villains and victims. Sammo Hung acted in All in the Family but was serving as moral support if not an outright protector. In 1975, Jackie worked exclusively for G.H. The third-made (yet fourth-released) film was Countdown to Kung Fu (the copyrighted Roman numerals in the title card indicate 1975). Sammo worked on this as an actor and choreographer. From 1964 to 1971, Sammo had small roles in ten of Lo’s films. He would only work for him again in 1993 when he was asked to direct Blade of Fury.

1976 – Jackie is signed to Lo’s company because G.H. wasn’t a haven. If you can’t beat them, join them. He acts in New Fist of Fury, The Killer Meteors and Shaolin Wooden Men (which was made before The Killer Meteors but released afterwards because Jackie didn’t have enough star power). Prior to his signing, he went from working on a G.H. Angela Mao movie to a Taiwanese Mao movie. The Himalayan was made under Sammo’s watchful eye whereas Dance of Death (shelved until 1979) was where Jackie was free from the G.H. studio head and his cronies.

It seems that Sammo fulfilled a similar buffer role to Jimmy Wang Yu (a popular actor who helped sort out Jackie’s Triad problem while he was a refugee in early eighties Hollywood). Before the making of New Fist of Fury, Lo boasts to Jackie that he thinks that it will be a contender for the Cannes film festival. Little did Jackie know that he would end up going to France in a few years time. Even with all of this happening in 1976, the most interesting fact about this year was the release of a biopic that Betty agreed to co-star in. It’s titled Bruce Lee and I (released in America as Bruce Lee: His Last Days, His Last Nights).

It was released in the same month, January, as when Ray and Linda finally settle their legal dispute despite the fact that the biopic was produced by the S.B. studio. What makes it so enthralling is that it was also released in the same year that Betty got married to Charles Heung. The battle lines are really established here. She marries the son of the Sun Yee On leader in spite of the fact that, in theory, she should’ve married Chan Wai-Man (who wasn’t a member of the Sun Yee On but was on good terms with Bruce). Making the grim situation more surreal is that Charles stars in a G.H. film, A Queen’s Ransom, where he gets to act in her dead lover’s house.

1977 – Jackie only works on The 36 Crazy Fists (not a Lo Wei movie nor a movie which he stars in) and To Kill with Intrigue. Like The Killer Meteors, the latter was made in South Korea because it was safer there. Since Jackie was on the run, you have to wonder how much help that Jimmy was during the making of The Killer Meteors, where Jackie played the villain to Jimmy’s hero. Coincidentally, 1977 was the year when G.H. finally completed Game of Death. One of the characters has a forename which was Bruce’s nickname for James Coburn.

Adding to the seediness is that one of the actors from the original Game of Death, Chieh Yuan, died of the same cause (cerebral edema) as Bruce. Even the age is the same – 32 years and 8 months. I suspect that Ray had him killed off so that he was justified in not properly completing the movie. Had the press not found out that Bruce’s corpse was located at Betty’s apartment, the official story would have been that he relied too much on electric muscle stimulation – foreshadowing the publicized fate of his co-star.

Sammo wanted Jackie to play the role of Chan Wing in The Victim, which began filming in 1977 but it took 3 years to get filmed because it was a side project due to obligations that he had with the G.H. and Gar Bo companies. Jackie didn’t star in it because Lo refused to lend him out to Sammo, regardless of the fact that G.H. was not the film company (Graffon’s only production was The Victim). Lo clearly had a grudge against Sammo. Graffon felt more comfortable with Sammo as the star because he was more established as a star and had no record for starring in movies which tanked at the box office.

Jackie was smart enough not to sue the film company who produced The 36 Crazy Fists for doing the same thing to him that Star Sea did to Bruce. Suspiciously, there was a banner at Bruce’s H.K. funeral service which spookily translated to: A star sinks in a sea of art. Jackie was also smart enough to not behave like a powder keg. For those who are having a hard time swallowing the bitter pill of Jackie fleeing to South Korea, you should remember that his autobiography contained a 1979 anecdote of himself wanting to escape from Lo being the would-be director of Fearless Hyena.

1979 – Like how the 1978 version of Game of Death is a mirror to what was going with Bruce during the filming of Enter the Dragon, Jackie recounted how the filming of The Young Master was hampered with similar things like an arson attempt at the front of the G.H. studio along with a G.H. executive finding the severed head of a dog in his car. Another comparison that can be drawn is the change of personalities. Charles Lowe observed that Bruce had a bad temper during the filming of the mirror scene in Enter the Dragon. Before that scene, he was usually a happy guy. Jackie admitted in his 1998 autobiography that the pressure from the Triads resulted in his angry attitude during the making of The Young Master.

If Jackie died, Yuen Biao’s character would become the new hero of The Young Master. Michael Chan would later act in Dragon Lord (the first H.K. film that Jackie did after being in Hollywood) and Project A Part II, so Jackie should have sought the help of the 14K. Even when being put in the hot seat by having a forced meeting with Lo, Jackie did not behave like a loose cannon. Unlike with Bruce, Ray had an interest in allowing Jackie to escape to Hollywood. The U.S. press believed that his journey was to do with wanting the next cross-pollination hit à la Enter the Dragon. If Bruce wasn’t so threatening towards Ray, the latter could’ve helped him flee to the U.S. so that things would cool down.

The question is whether Jimmy would’ve been willing to use his Triad connections, Taiwan’s United Bamboo Gang, to help someone who was a rival star. The last year of the seventies was notable for the release of a Taiwanese movie titled The True Game of Death. It’s about a Bruce Lee imitator whose white girlfriend has been forced by Triads to poison him. He succumbs to its effects during sex. While the movie is a rip-off, it foreshadows a novel that was written by a Bruce Lee historian. The movie also contains some insider perspective in that it wasn’t publically revealed that a pagoda guardian explains to Bruce’s character about the red light.

1984 – This is when the worldwide media first took notice of the United Bamboo Gang, when it was exposed as having helped Taiwan’s National Security Bureau assassinate a dissident Sino-American journalist named Henry Liu in his garage in suburban San Francisco. The incident strained Taiwan’s ties with the U.S. Don’t forget that Ray used to work for the Taiwanese equivalent to the C.I.A. He likely helped Jimmy get away with murder in 1981.

1986 – Wai-Man succeeds in getting Brandon (李國豪) to star in his first (and final) H.K. movie – Legacy of Rage. It’s too telling that Brandon accepts D&B (which Sammo had co-founded) but not Ray (who Sammo still worked for). This is really saying a lot since Brandon was a big fan of the `80s G.H. movies. He wanted resolution regarding his father’s death, hence spending some time abroad. He may have wanted to request a copy of the inquest along with copies of the corpse photos. The fact that Mike was okay with doing business with Brandon is an indication that he wouldn’t want him dead.

One of the actors in the movie was from Fist of Unicorn. His name is Meng Hoi. Reading between the lines, it would appear that Star Sea was a front for the 14K. They could have helped Bruce with Lo Wei’s Sun Yee On connections if it wasn’t for him wanting to sue the studio for filming behind his back and implying that he had an acting role. Although Bruce didn’t want to steal Unicorn Chan’s spotlight, he should have done a cameo because the star’s involvement was always going to be second fiddle in terms of the movie’s publicity. Mike probably wanted to help Bruce anyway, but it was out of his hands.

March, 1993 – Brandon announced that he was going to have the case reopened and his dad’s body exhumed after filming The Crow. Certain people had warned him if he did so. Around this time, Davis Miller (the author of The Tao of Bruce Lee) was working as a writer on The Curse of the Dragon. His research assistant was on the phone with someone from Carolco Studios (who were producing The Crow) so that time could be set for Miller to drive down to Wilmington, North Carolina for the purpose of interviewing Brandon.

During the conversation on the last day of the month, the Carolco woman came on and said there had just been an accident on the set. She would call back as soon as she could. Brandon was shot during the shooting of a death scene. Bruce’s fans are reminded of a scene in Game of Death (the protagonist dies while filming a scene cribbed from Fist of Fury as seen above). Bruce’s death has drawn comparisons to the death of a teacher in Fist of Fury. Brandon died on March 31 like how Unicorn died on March 31 in 1987.

April – Bob Baker dies after liver failure caused by excessive alcohol consumption. Astute observers have taken this as a sign that guilt leads to a glut in the gut.

July – In an interview for Inside Kung Fu (in an issue commemorating the twentieth anniversary of his death), Robert Lee admitted that the Chinese side of Bruce’s family believe that Bruce was bumped off.

July, 2011Tea Money (meaning hush money) is released. It is a novel inspired by Lee’s death, except it’s about a singer whose name is inspired by Andy Lau (劉德華). The novelist is Tom Bleecker, who married Lee’s widow. The novel had been his project for over a decade. In 2001, it went through three edits before being sent to an editor for a fourth time. He even streamlined it for a screenplay. Linda told Tom in confidence that she never believed the autopsy and inquest. For good reason. The autopsy was done 3 days after his death instead of within the usual 24 hour period.

Friday, May 13, 2016 – Ngan dies (7 days before my first article about Bruce’s murder was posted). Bleecker described the circumstances of Bruce’s demise as a Gothic horror story. As such, Friday the 13th is a timely ending of the timeline.

The moral of this morbid murder mystery is that Tai Chi should’ve informed Lee about the importance of passive-aggression. You can understand Jackie’s repetitive mantra (ad nauseum) about being the exact opposite to Lee. For those who would like to have as much knowledge as possible about the Triads (especially within the film world), you can purchase a Chu Yiu-Kong book titled The Triads as Business. He received his PhD in Police Studies from the University of Exeter in 1997. He is a Sociology professor at the H.K. University. He is also one of the founding members of the Hong Kong Juvenile Delinquency Research Society.

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