Below are excerpts translated and complied from Mr. Tony To Wai-Tung’s Chinese interviews and personal columns in recent Eastweek magazine, Chinanet and wenweibo.
1. Ah To, the Fai Bo (Fast Press) reporter
Tony To Wai-Tung, nicknamed "Ah To", now in his 70s, is a very knowledgeable, eloquent and professional HK media man. Ah To graduated from Guangdong Normal University in 1959. He worked in the HK textile industry in the 1960s and then became a sailor for many years. He had worked in Japan and the U.S. before. In 1971, he was sentenced to 2 months imprisonment for working in New York for 3 years without a legal visa. The U.S. immigration department exiled him upon his release. Ah To then returned to HK and became a reporter. Few years later, he was promoted to editor before joining GH in 1976. He later became the promotion manager of GH and worked there for more than 30 years until his retirement.
In 1971, Ah To worked as a reporter for Sing Do Daily Paper (Star Island Paper) before joining Fai Bo (Fast Press) in 1972 as an entertainment reporter. As the Chief Editor of Fai Bo, Mr. Seng Dai-Chi was a small shareholder of GH, thus, he ordered Ah To to emphasise on reporting GH news. With this mission in mind, Ah To carried the camera with him and frequent GH studios located at No.8, Hammer Hill Road. Ah To said it was there that he met Bruce Lee and both became good friends later. Till today, he said Linda Lee and Shannon Lee could still remember him. Ah To was also well-acquainted with Raymond Chow, Betty Ting, Nora Miao, Maria Yi and other GH stars etc.
2. Praying Mantis & Chinatown, New York
1972 was the year where Bruce attained the height of his superstardom in HK. His first 3 movies broke HK box office record and he became the center of attention of all HK media. Ah To had many chances in interviewing and talking to Bruce Lee personally. He said his first impression of Bruce Lee was that this new star was not very tall but very charismatic, his eyes sparkle while talking at a very fast pace. Bruce seemed like a person with quick temper. As both were Cantonese, it was easier to communicate with each other directly in the same dialect.
Ah To remembered while chit-chatting with Bruce, he found out that Bruce had been studying, living and filming TV series in the U.S. for many years. As Ah To had just returned from New York and spoke with a mixture of English and Cantonese, thus, both shared some similar background and got along very well. Bruce told Ah To that he had been to New York (NY) too and was quite familiar with the Kung Fu masters in the Chinatown of New York. One of them was Master Jin Foon Mark (note: Master Gin Foon Mark is the 5th generation master of the Kong Sai Jook Lum Praying Mantis system. His teaching career began in 1947 with the trade associations of Chinatown, New York. Bruce’s student, Jesse Glover claimed that Bruce had learnt the Praying Mantis Kung Fu from Master Mark and Red Boat Wing Chun from Fok Young).
Ah To was surprised that Bruce knew the NY Kung Fu Masters and told Bruce that he himself was working as the Assistant Kung Fu Instructor for Chinese Youth Club in NY Chinatown from 1968 till 1971. Alike Master Mark, Ah To was the direct descendent of the Kong Sai Jook Lum Chu Kar’s (Chu Family) Praying Mantis. He was teaching Praying Mantis Kung Fu in NY Chinese Youth Club. When Bruce learnt about this, he looked upon Ah To as his martial arts ‘comrade.' Bruce then told Ah To that he knew the Jook Lum Praying Mantis'‘spring elbow’and‘pierce heart palm’techniques and said they resembled Wing Chun Biu Jee and Siu Nim Tao (note: this is the evidence of Bruce’s learning of Jook Lum Praying Mantis Kung Fu). However, Ah To said Bruce’s personality was very westernalised and if they were to engage in any dispute, he believed Bruce would never give face to his own martial arts ‘comrade.’
3. The Northern Style Stunt Team
According to Ah To, Bruce did not like outsiders to visit him while he was filming. As there were always challengers who made use of these chances to challenge him. It did not matter whether the challenger win or lose as it was an honor to challenge and fight Bruce Lee. Bruce was in favor of using the stuntmen whom he had cooperated before since they knew his expectations and requirements. For those unfamiliar stuntmen, Bruce usually would leave them aside. In fact, Bruce first worked with the Northern style stuntmen led by Han Ying-Chieh.
Han Ying-Chieh, the action choreographer for “The Big Boss” and “Fist of Fury,” was a Northerner who learnt Peking opera since young. He entered the movie industry in the late 1960s and became the leader of the Northern style stunt team. Previously, the fighting scenes in the 1950s-1960s HK action movies were mostly Southern style. These earlier HK films included the “Wong Fei-Hung series,” “Seven heroes of Kung Nam” etc. The fighting scenes were all choreographed by Southern style stuntmen like Master Lar Kar-Leung and Tung Ka who belonged to the Southern Shaolin Kung Fu style. The distance was too close, thus, the effect of the fist-to-fist fighting on-screen did not look appealing instead it looked like a messy brawl.
Han Ying-Chieh was the son-in-law of Master Yu Yim-Yuen whom was the Peking Opera master of Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan. The movie company started to use Han and his stunt team (so-called “Yu’s Group”). Another Northern style stunt group was Master Yuen Siu-Tien (father of Yuen Woo-Ping and the master of Jackie Chan’s character in “Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow” and “Drunken Master”) whose stunt team was called the “Yuen’s Group.” Besides the “Yu’s Group” and “Yuen’s Group,” there was another “Fan’s Group” led by Fan Guk-Fa. Ah To recalled Bruce liked to use the eldest and second disciples of “Fan’s Group,” i.e. Lam Ching Ying and Bee Chan (aka Billy Chan Wui-Ngai). Lam and Bee Chan were Bruce’s right and left hand men. All the other stuntmen like Yuen Wah, Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and Stephen Tung Wai etc. were all introduced to Bruce by both of them. These stuntmen later became the core members of Bruce’s stunt team. Since Bruce had worked with both of them for quite sometime, therefore, they all knew Bruce’s expectation in choreography. It was said that Bruce would not start work if he did not see both Lam and Bee Chan. Bruce always wanted the fight scenes to be as realistic as possible, so, if the opponent stood in the wrong position, he would be injured or might not get hit if he stood too far. Only Lam and Bee Chan knew how and where to get the actors to stand in which position and looked good from which camera angles. Ah To said they were experts in this area. Unfortunately, Lam had passed away in 1997 while Bee Chan is working as a director in China Star Co. in mainland China.
4. HK boxing champ v.s. Bruce Lee
According to Ah To, he said the fight between HK boxing champion cum Cha Kune expert, Lau Tat-Chuan and Bruce Lee did happen. There were less than 20 people who witnessed the match. During the earlier British Crown Colony era, the HK police had great authority and rights. There was a famous Chief Detective called Tang Sang who possessed another title – “President of HK Chinese Martial Arts.” He was also the disciple of Grandmaster Ip Man who taught Wing Chun to him in the 1960s. In other words, Tang and Bruce were Wing Chun schoolmates. Tang was really curious to know the outcome of Lau’s boxing and Cha Kune against Bruce’s JKD. As he was also Bruce’s friend, so, one day, he went to Bruce and initiated a private match between the two. Tang told Bruce since Lau had challenged and insulted him many times so why back out to allow him to continue his nasty behavior? Bruce initially did not agree to the match but after much persuasion from Tang, he finally agreed to spar for fun but wanted Tang to assure him that it should not be opened to the public. Eventually, the venue was fixed at Tang’s villa in New Territory, a very remote place.
Ah To said Lau was in fact, the HK bantam-weight boxing champion for several years. Although his size was not big but his punch was powerful. Also, Lau’s father was the leader of the HK Cha Kune Kung Fu School. Lau learnt Cha Kune at a young age. Cha Kune emphasise on rolling, tossing and tumbling. Lau thought he could use boxing plus Cha Kune’s rolling and tumbling to get near Bruce and then lunge the attack when Bruce raised his legs. It seemed like a great strategy. However, there is a gap between idea and reality. The match began under the eyes of less than 20 people, mostly from the HK martial arts community. When Lau just started to make his move, the spectators were in awe to see Bruce’s superfast kick already sent Lau flying and then lying flat on the ground. Just 1 round and it was all over. After this match, there were no news about Lau’s challenge and insults on Bruce anymore and all the witnesses abided the rule to refrain from talking about the match until decades later.
5. Forced to challenge Bruce Lee
In one afternoon of June 1972, Ah To and a group of reporters met Bruce Lee and Ivan Ho Bee in TVB canteen which was situated on the fifth floor of the TVB building. Among the TVB hosts, Bruce’s was in very good term with Ivan Ho Bee. Actually, both Bruce and Ivan were discussing on the upcoming Operation Relief TV show that was scheduled 2 days later, i.e. 24 June 1972. When the reporters saw Bruce, they immediately held their camera up and snapped pictures of him without his permission. Ivan waved his hands and told them to stop taking photos, instead suggested to have a conversation with them. But the reporters ignored his request and continued snapping photos. This agitated Bruce and he snatched the camera of reporter, Lee Kai-Hang from New Star Daily Newspaper, who was standing in front of him. Bruce was about to smash the camera onto the floor but Ah To stopped him immediately.
Ah To said he was young and impetuous then and felt the need to save his fellow media colleague. He told Bruce if he were to crush the camera on the floor, then his relationship with the press would be jeopardised because camera represents the reporter’s esteem and it is as important as the reporter’s life. Ah To then told Bruce if he really wanted to fight, he would take him on. Although Ah To knew he would not stand a chance to win Bruce but for the sake of the reporter’s esteem, he was ready to challenge him even he was going to lose. Bruce was bewildered to see Ah To’s face turned red and was getting ready to fight him.
Ah To thought with his martial arts background, Bruce might not knock him to death with a single blow easily. However, Bruce suddenly changed his mind and put Lee Kai-Hang’s camera down on the table, and refused Ah To’s challenge. Bruce said if he were to accept the fight, Ah To would get famous regardless of winning or losing to him. He would never allow this to happen. Ivan Ho who was standing aside, quickly responded and said there was no point fighting and hurting their relationship over minor dispute. However, the news of HK reporter - Ah To challenged Bruce Lee spread in the media industry the next day.
Two days after this incident, Bruce appeared on the TVB show with his son, Brandon and Wu Ngan. In this live telecast show, Ah To personally saw Bruce’s amazing kick that sent Ngai Chai thrown back 5-6 feet away and out of the camera sight. Ah To was astonished of Bruce’s martial arts prowess and felt lucky that Bruce did not take him on otherwise he would be a casualty within seconds. Moreover, after that incident, whenever Bruce and Ah To met each other, they would often laugh and put arms around each other’s shoulder. Their relationship became closer and better than before.
6. Jing Mo Jee (aka Iron Finger)
Ah To said he personally witnessed Bruce performed his Iron finger Kung Fu in an unofficial foreign press’ gathering at a HK club. Bruce told Ah To he was developing “Jing Mo Jee,” a term he coined or simply known as the “Iron finger Kung Fu.” He said his 1-3 inch punch would generate force within a very short distance but if he mastered this Jing Mo Jee Kung Fu, his finger would be like a bullet firing out from the gun and could poke through a person’s chest. He continued saying that he had learnt to poke through an aluminum beer can (the can was made of thicker aluminum in the early days). Bruce told him it was not easy to do so as if the can is empty, it would not be able to absorb the force and would be thrown back once it was poked. If the can was not open, the force inside would be great. Another consideration was if the finger poked through the can, the flesh on both sides of the finger would roll up. Hence, Bruce told Ah To that he was still developing and revising on how to poke the opponent without hurting his own fingers.
Ah To said Bruce then demonstrated his new skill. He put a can of beer on the table and clenched his fist for nearly half a minute to generate the internal force (Chi). Suddenly, he held his finger out and poked vehemently. The can was thrown backwards and hit the opposite wall. Luckily, it was a wall not mirror otherwise the can would have exploded when it hit the mirror. Ah To picked up the can and found it was not poked through but there was an at least half an inch hollow on the can. Ah To thought in actual fighting, even if the finger did not poke through the chest but it would surely hit the vital pressure point and stop the opponent from breathing. This force is really incredible. Bruce said give him some more time he would be able to master this deadly technique.
7. Change in Bruce's behavior
Ah To said he did notice the change in Bruce’s behavior in 1973. He remembered seeing Bruce at the studio just few days before the completion of ETD. Bruce did not look good and there were 3 bloody scars (make-up) on his face and stomach. That year Bruce was 33 years old (Chinese lunar year), so, Ah To told Bruce it was inauspicious with these 3 cuts each on his face and stomach. Bruce jokingly replied with some vulgar words and seemed not to care about this superstitious belief. Few months later, he passed away. Ah Toh said in the last few months of his life, his temper was particular irascible and he looked quite thin then. He might have been affected by the drugs he took. Everyday he ate over 100 pills, all kinds of vitamins and other health tablets.
Furthermore, Bruce had an electric shock machine which operated on high current voltage. The wires of the machine were connected to his body with metal clips. Once the machine was turned on, his muscle would vibrate at a very fast speed. Bruce said 10 minutes of vibration equaled to 10 hours of practice. That was the reason why Bruce’s muscles looked very toned and shapely, and his strength was very great. However, over exertion would lead to disharmony of the nervous system and caused great harm to the body. Ah To said few years after Bruce’s passing, Chieh Yuan, another actor in G.O.D., also died of similar cause and he had used the same kind of machine before his death.
Ah To said this electric shock machine was manufactured in Japan and some Karatekas who used this machine had contracted side effect too. Thus, it was banned after the Japanese authority found that it would cause over exertion of the body and destroy the harmony between the nervous system and the biological system. To put it simple, if one uses dumb bell to practice 100 to 200 times, his body will gradually get exhausted and signal him to stop practicing. However, this machine which was operated with high voltage electricity current would not stop one from practicing. If it was used for a long time, it would cancel all the signals of exhaustion and damage the balance of the entire body. Ah To concluded that Bruce took huge quantity of drugs daily plus over-utilising this crazy machine, hence, his death become not so unexpected to those who really knew him.
8. Bruce’s restroom and personal items
Ah To’s recalled after Bruce’s passing for over 30 years, there were still many fans from Japan and the U.S. who came to HK and visited GH. Unfortunately, the HK government took back the land leased to GH so as to build houses. Thus, GH was forced to move to Tsim Sha Tsui’s office buildings. As the new place was limited and not able to accommodate many old stuff, many of Bruce Lee’s publicity posters, photos, mugs, stationery and other personal stuff were thus, all thrown into the garbage incinerator and destroyed. Ah To used to have plenty of Bruce Lee’s photos and DVDs but he had given them all away to those who came to visit him especially the young reporters. He once gave away 10 very rare Bruce’s photos to a reporter.
Ah To’s then talked about the rumor of Bruce’s ghost as seen by some GH staff. GH used to have 4 studios, A, B, C, D. There was one at the top of a hill for costume film-making because of the forest there. At the bottom of the hill were the film developing and printing room, screening room and the dubbing room. The office building was near the main road. From 1971-1973, Bruce’s films were mainly shot in GH studio excluding those shot in foreign countries and HK outdoor. Bruce used to work in the clip editing room until the middle of the night and for convenience purpose, he built a room in-between studio A and B. He would rest there if he worked too late or was tired after shooting films. Bruce would also put many of his items like fans’ gifts, souvenirs, prizes, trophies etc. in that room. GH staff called it “Bruce’s restroom.” After his passing, no one dare to touch his personal belongings. It was rumored that the night shift staff often heard Bruce’s signature yelling from that room in the middle of the night. As the rumor got bigger, no staff dared to enter Bruce’s restroom. Some GH staff even rumored to have seen Bruce practiced his JKD at the open space in front of the dubbing room in the middle of the night. That was why few people dare to go near there especially at night.
Few years later, when Jackie Chan signed with GH in 1978, he took over and occupied the haunted restroom of Bruce, and converted it into his personal restroom. Jackie said nobody except him had the courage to go in there. Soon after that, Jackie Chan became an international superstar. GH staff would later speculate that Bruce’s restroom’s “feng shui” was good as another guy had become an international star again after using that room. Ah To said that merely was meant as a joke. After the HK government took over GH’s land, all the buildings there were demolished including Bruce’s restroom. But before that, Jackie Chan had already taken away many of Bruce’s precious souvenir items and belongings from that room with a big grin on his face.
To Wai-Tung photos: http://postimg.org/image/xht09esnn/
Great read! Many unheard and interesting accounts from the veteran media man.
Jackie Chan might have got hold of some Bruce's rare personal items. Any footage or script? LOL.