Before Bruce’s passing, the script “Sai Fung” (or “Little Phoenix) was completed but Bruce did not have a chance to make this movie and it was shelved together with other scripts, “Southern Fist & Northern Legs” and the “Green Bamboo Warrior.”
After some research, the writer for this script was found. It was written by a quite well-known 1960s-1980s HK movies cum TV series scriptwriter called Madam Tam Neng. Her career in the film industry started from 1952 and ended in 1990. In her early years, She worked along with famous director Doe Ching (aka Tao Qin) in Shaw Brothers, started from script supervisor and worked her up to become a scriptwriter. Madam Tam Neng is a very low profile person yet maintains very good relationships with the people in the HK’s and Taiwan’s entertainment industry.
She worked as a script supervisor at a very young age and was involved in 5 of Bruce Lee’s childhood movies, i.e. In the Face of Demolition (1953), Love (Part 1), Love (Part 2) (both 1955), Thunderstorm (1957), The Orphan (1959). She personally acted along with Bruce in the above 2 movies - In the Face of Demolition (1953) and The Orphan (1959). Thus, both Bruce and Madam Tam Neng knew each other quite well. They did not see each other after Bruce left for U.S. in 1959. Until Bruce returned to HK in 1971 to begin his Kung Fu movie career, they met again. Later, Bruce and GH hired her to write a script called “Sai Fung” (aka “Little Phoenix”). Below is an article (translated from Chinese) written by her on 19 Mar 2010, posted in Taiwanese actor, Chin Fung’s web blog.
In fact, after Bruce became a superstar, I seldom had a chance to see him. It was his assistant director Ricky Chik (they were relatives) who was communicating with me pertaining to the script of “Sai Fung.” Ricky Chik previously assisted Chun Kim, HK famous director who had directed popular melodrama movies like “Pink Tears”(1965),“Till The End of Time”(1966), “Four Sisters”(1967). I too, had helped Chun Kim to write movie scripts, thus, I got to know Ricky Chik then.
I remembered the first thing which Ricky Chik said to me was, “Bruce wanted you to help him write a script.” I laughed and replied, “But I don’t know anything about Kung Fu.” He said, “Yeah, he doesn’t want Kung Fu. He wants to change his film genre and wants to play melodrama with emotions. He still couldn’t forget about his last childhood movie – “The Orphan”(1959). Then, I asked, “What expectations does he have for the theme and story?” Chik said, “No, it’s all up to you to decide. But he has one condition, that is, he insists that the title of the film must be called “Sai Fung.” I wondered, he was an international Kung Fu star, yet he wanted a title called “Sai Fung” (note: it is a female name in Cantonese, meaning little phoenix.). Wasn’t it strange?
Then, Chik explained, “This is Bruce’s childhood nickname.” I immediately thought he never forgot his root, so, I agreed straight away. For this movie, Bruce had another request, i.e. to write a role for Unicorn Chan. Unicorn Chan (aka Little Unicorn) was a movie stuntman who came from an opera group. He was a good “brother” of Bruce, real good buddy. Then I asked Chik, “How are Bruce and I going to discuss the script if we don’t meet each other?” Chik explained, “He is too busy with his “Game of Death.” After completing that movie, he will talk to you.”
My job was pretty smooth and I handed the entire story over. Everyone had no opinions. Subsequently, I finished dividing the scenes. Leonard Ho (The co-founder of GH with Raymond Chow, whom had produced many popular movies as well as groomed many big stars) sent me a simple contract, mainly stating how the remuneration was going to be paid to me. I have designed a role of a young motor car mechanic for Bruce; how he was adopted by his master from the orphanage; then became a mechanic; what obstacles he encountered etc. It is a very inspiring story. Bruce loved it very much after reading the script. Of course, I also insisted to add in some action scenes otherwise the audience would be very disappointed. Eventually, I started preparing to write the dialogue parts.
At that time, the movie company kept this matter confidential, therefore, only a few of us were aware of this. After Bruce’s passing, I talked about this matter but I never reveal anything about the story or the script. This is the first time I touch on this subject.
Few years ago, Bruce’s sister – Phoebe Lee and brother – Robert Lee came to Hong Kong. They were living in the states and had heard about my younger sister talked about the script which I wrote for Bruce, thus, they specially came to meet me and wanted to know more info about their brother. I then asked them about the name of “Sai Fung.” When the words came out from my mouth, they both nodded their heads, and said with some sorrows, “Yes, it’s Sai Fung.”
It sounds a bit like fate or destiny. When Bruce passed away not long after, Unicorn too, died in a car accident while he was filming overseas, the location looks like Thailand. (note: Unicorn passed away in 1987 in Malaysia). After sometime, Ricky Chik also gone, it’s cancer, and he had just married not long. They all died so young……
Photos of Bruce and Tung Neng: http://postimg.org/image/v0b8f4xb3/
Here is another article of Madam Tam Neng she wrote to Chin Fung on 12 Feb 2010.
I have known Bruce Lee from a very young age. We all grew up in the movie studio. In the early 1950s, he had already starred in a Cantonese movie, “Sai Lou Cheung” (Sai Lou, Cantonese meaning kid, full title – Kid Cheung). The theme of the movie was about the life of the street kids in Hong Kong and it was based on the newspaper comic story of the same title. Bruce’s father, Lee Hoi Chuen was a Cantonese opera singer who usually played the comical role of a clown. My paternal uncle, Tam Yao-Lok was working as the director and producer in Shanghai Lien Hwa Movie Company (note: circa 1930s- early 1940s). After Second World War, HK’s movie industry started to bloom, all the big and small studios were situated around Kowloon city. Most of the people who made movies lived there. It then gradually became a habit for movie companies to look for child actor/actress over there. Therefore, Bruce Lee, Michael Lai Siu-Tin, Paul Chun Pae, David Chiang, Bill Shek-Sau, Petrina Fung Bo-Bo (note: popular HK actors/actresses) etc. all came from the entertainment families.
I had been arranged by my elders to learn to become script supervisor since young. Reason being script supervisor was the elementary stage in the filming industry. It was around 1953, Bruce Lee made a serious Cantonese movie called “In The Face of A Demolition.” The director was Lee Tit, one of my teachers. Bruce Lee played the role of a child newspaper vendor. There were a few emotional scenes that would make the audience cry. This was also the first movie I made with Bruce. Few years later, Bruce grew taller, director Chun Kim looked for him to play the role of Chow Chung in “Thunderstorm”(1957). He wore the Chinese tunic suit to look like a 15 or 16 years old teenager. This was the most handsome Chow Chung’s character I have ever seen. Another movie which I was not working as the script supervisor, but an actress that played along with him was “The Orphan”(1959). The director was Lee Sun-Fung who was another teacher of mine. This was an Eastman Color production.
Bruce loved “The Orphan” very much and viewed it as his “masterpiece.” Almost all the HK people who belong to that same generation would mention about this movie whenever they talked about Bruce Lee. “The Orphan” tells about the tragic encounters of an orphan during the wartime, who wanted to become a good person but faced setbacks repeatedly and ultimately, walked in the right path of his life. Some of the scenes resembled to the famous novels of Charles Dickens. Furthermore, the James Dean style of rebellious teenager’s theme was very popular then. Thus, when “The Orphan” was released, it caused a huge sensation and the audience truly acknowledged Bruce’s exciting acting skills.
There was an orphanage scene in the movie where the male lead actor cum the boss, Ng Cho-Fan borrowed a Maritime school off an island to shoot this scene. As the transportation was inconvenient at that time, hence, the film crew stayed in a small hotel located in Stanley and filmed during the daytime. Today, Stanley has become a place of interest which tourist would shop there too. But it was an under-developed fishing village then. At night, when there was no filming, we were free and got nothing to do. Bruce, Lee Siu-Hung (son of director Lee Sun-Fung) and I, the 3 of us would get out of the hotel and played at the beach nearby. Sometimes, Sister Ah Sup, the assistant of Uncle Cho-Fan would act like a guardian and followed behind us. If we did not hang out, Bruce would teach me how to dance Cha-Cha (In that movie, director specially added 1 cha-cha scene for Bruce).
Bruce was a hyperactive big kid who just could not stop moving around. My deepest impression was that in the entire filming, he only got 2 costumes, one was the orphanage clothing, another was the traditional Chinese clothing (“Tungsam”) which he wore it when playing the role of a little vagabond. There were four big pockets in the baggy shirt and everyday he would change all his pocket money into coins and put them in one of his big pockets so that he could feed the jukebox in the hotel. Another big pocket would be filled up with tip-bits, like plum candy, chewing gums etc. When the music began, he would eat and dance at the same time. When he danced, the coins in his pocket would make a lot of clink sounds. He did not care about the people staring at him. He just enjoyed himself. He told me his family members gave him five dollar as pocket money daily but none came to the studio to see him. He loved to laugh, and his laughter was filled with childish innocence. He was able to get along with all the film crew members. The lighting crew liked to tease him when they grazed the lights. They would get Bruce to imitate his father’s weird opera singing and he did so. No matter how mischievous he was, when Uncle Cho-Fan shouted “Siu Loong (Bruce’s Chinese name), show time!” He would immediately enter the acting mode, very professional.
The outdoor filming took about a week or so. This was how I became familiarized with him. After the completion of this movie, not long later, he went to U.S. to further his study. After some years, I saw him playing the sidekick in the American TV show – “The Green Hornet.” Years later, I was walking opposite the Shamrock Hotel at Nathan Road. Suddenly, there was a taxi stopping right besides me. A man alighted, I saw it was Bruce. At that time, he was carrying a kid and holding another kid. Besides him was his wife. Old friends meeting each other were full of surprises and delightfulness. He told me he had just got down from the plane and was rushing home to see his family members. His old house was right up that building. This was the first and last time I saw him after he returned from U.S. I felt that he had grew much taller and stronger, and was more matured, yet he still had the same old smile and laughter.
Of course, later, he hired me to write a movie script for him. However, he did not live long enough to make this movie. This became the biggest regret in my life as a scriptwriter.