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. Stoner was directed by Huang Feng, who was Angela Mao’s godfather. She was the co-star.

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 filmdom 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. There are two kinds of liars – villains and victims. If the release dates are anything to go by, 1974 was the only time that Jackie exclusively worked for Shaw Brothers. He worked on two movies for them, one of which was The Golden Lotus (as seen below). The other movie was Supermen Against the Orient. They were both filmed in 1973. He was seeking protection.

After all, Jackie 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. When Star Sea’s The Chivalrous Knight was released on July 12 in 1974, it began with a short featurette called The Last Days of Bruce Lee. Narrated by Betty in her character’s costume, it contained shots of her apartment including a shot of the Star Sea staff featuring Michael Chan Wai-Man and Bruce’s Game of Death co-star Chieh Yuan. One particular shot is disturbing in how it takes a Fist of Unicorn promo shot of Unicorn Chan and Bruce but with Michael’s face superimposed over Unicorn’s face so that it looks like Michael is punching Bruce’s face. Adding insult to injury, stills of bare-chested Bruce from The Way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon were quickly displayed in a fight scene where bare-chested Charlie Chan Yiu-Lam fights a gang of crooks who hold Betty’s character in captivity.

After Bruce’s death, Ngan (who appeared in both of Bruce’s Dragon movies) alongside Robert 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…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 represent G.H. making the payment.

Bruce’s house at 41 Cumberland Road belonged to a company called Lo Yuen Enterprises Ltd. One of the two directors of that company was Ngan. The house was leased to Bruce by G.H. because he didn’t see the point in purchasing a house, since H.K. was to be a pit stop prior to Hollywood. During Bruce’s final H.K. years, G.H. gave a monthly allotment of 4,000 U.S. dollars for his family to live on. 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 a Mao movie titled The Tournament. This was released in late September whereas Stoner came out in early August – the same month when Bruce’s house was sold. The entire proceeds, 40 grand U.S. dollars, went unchallenged to Linda. After Stoner, The Tournament was the second time that Angela 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 came along and invited him to have both families live with each other in 1971. If Bob and Ngan 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).

Ngan would have motive to kill Bruce since he was probably tired of being his guinea pig to try choreography. The most humiliating example is Bruce using him as a stand to see how high that he could raise his leg during his bedroom scene with Bob Wall in Enter the Dragon. Bruce should’ve just stuck to using the chair as can be seen in one of the stills. Bruce philosophized that you should either learn to endure or hire a bodyguard. According to Linda, Bob Baker 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 along with the house sale suggests that they were allies instead of archenemies. 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 (who became Ray’s confidante after the divorce). The fact that Ray didn’t get killed off 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 there was a face-saving partner swap arrangement (thus there would be no Triad arraignment). After all of Lo’s personal belongings went with him when he left the company in 1974, Jackie returned to G.H. to act in All in the Family. It was released in February. Maybe Lo was more intimidating than Ray after all.

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. 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. After Fist of Fury, 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 worked on a G.H. Angela Mao movie. The Himalayan was made under Sammo’s watchful eye. 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 1981. 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, 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 supposed to be on good terms with Bruce).

Making the grim situation more surreal is that September marked the release of a G.H. film, A Queen’s Ransom, where Charles acts in her dead lover’s house. When Linda’s Concord stock was sold to Ray for U.S.$ 2.7 million, the balance sheet of the house’s estate (Lo Yuen) on 3/31/75 had shown H.K.$ 652,131 owed to Concord. Curiously, Ray forgave this indebtedness. Moreover, around that same time, it was determined that Lo Yuen owed an additional H.K.$ 20,000 to Ray, which he also mysteriously forgave.

1977 – Jackie starred in 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. For those of you who are having a hard time swallowing the bitter pill of Jackie fleeing to South Korea, you should remember that his 1998 autobiography contained a 1979 anecdote of himself escaping from Lo being the would-be director of Fearless Hyena.

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 (therefore 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 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). Graffon felt more comfortable with Sammo as the star because he had no record for starring in movies which tanked at the box office. Lo clearly had a grudge against Sammo since Jackie was also forbidden to star in Knockabout.

1978Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin, Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, Spiritual Kung Fu and Dragon Fist are released. They are Korean co-productions. For two days, Jackie reunited with Angela Mao for Dance of Death. Jackie is only allowed to work as a choreographer. Unlike what would later happen with The 36 Crazy Fists, his presence on the set was only photographed instead of privately filmed. The main choreographers were Wang Yao-Heng, Suen San-Cheung, Peng Kang and Chiu Chung-Hing.

1979 – Jackie works on the intro for The 36 Crazy Fists (not a Lo Wei movie nor a movie which he stars in). He 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 the sea of art. Jackie was also smart enough to not behave like a powder keg.

Like how the 1978 version of Game of Death is a mirror to what was going on 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 in moods. 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.

Even when being put in the hot seat by having a forced meeting with Lo, Jackie did not behave like a loose cannon. If Jackie died, Yuen Biao’s character would’ve more likely 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 working on two Hollywood films) and Project A Part II, so Jackie should have sought the help of Michael’s 14K Triad. Unlike with Bruce, Ray had an interest in allowing Jackie to escape to Hollywood. The U.S. press believed that Jackie’s 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 publicly 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 within 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. as mentioned in Chang Cheh’s memoir. Ray likely helped Jimmy get away with murder in 1981 – the same year when Jackie began working in Taiwan for Dragon Lord (after trying to film it in Korea).

1986 – Michael Chan protected and acted alongside Brandon (李國豪) in the latter’s only 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 against 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 Unicorn’s involvement was always going to be second fiddle in terms of the movie’s publicity anyway. Mike probably wanted to help Bruce, 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 not to do 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. Unicorn’s death meant that Robert Clouse could not interview him for Bruce Lee: The Biography (1988).

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 an Inside Kung Fu issue commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Bruce’s death, Robert Lee admitted that the Chinese side of Bruce’s family believe that he was bumped off.

July, 2011Tea Money (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, 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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