Tycoon to turn Bruce Lee's last home into museum

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The billionaire owner of Bruce Lee’s final home hopes to build a museum to the martial arts legend, giving in to public calls to prevent the sale of the luxury house in a northern Hong Kong suburb for millions of dollars.

An exterior view of a motel at Hong Kong's Kowloon Tong district which is the old home of the late Hong Kong martial arts star Bruce Lee, July 3, 2008. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Philanthropist hotel and real estate tycoon Yu Panglin, 86, had put Lee’s two-storey, 5,699 square-foot town house in an upscale, leafy Kowloon suburb up for sale but changed his mind, giving in to fans’ desire for the site to be preserved.

Yu told reporters on Monday he would donate the property to Hong Kong’s government for use as a museum, unveiling a plan to expand the site into a memorial to a global icon. He would also raise capital for the site and all future profits would go to charity.

The tycoon wished to retain the house as it was, while expanding the property to 30,000 square feet to include a library, a martial arts centre and a movie house to showcase Lee’s martial arts philosophy, according to Yu’s appointed property consultant.

“If you just do it small scale, you cannot attract tourism and attract people,” said Michael Choi, the consultant.

Lee, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1973 aged 32, starred in such kung fu classics as “Fist of Fury”, “Game of Death” and “Enter the Dragon”.

Revered both by martial arts adherents and movie buffs the world over for popularising the kung fu cinematic genre, Lee also helped usher in a golden age of Hong Kong film in the 1960s.

His fans were delighted by the news, having lobbied the Hong Kong government for years for a museum on hopes the site could prove as big a draw as memorial sites to other stars such as the Beatles Story in Liverpool and Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion in Tennessee.

Hong Kong newspapers had reported Yu had received an offer of as much as HK$105 million (6.8 million pounds) for the house, which he turned down.

“The greatest difficulty has been overcome now that Mr. Yu has donated such a generous gift to the people of Hong Kong,” said Wong Yiu-keung, the Chairman of Hong Kong’s Bruce Lee Club.

“From a tourism point of view, if you have this Bruce Lee museum it will attract a lot of visitors to Hong Kong.”

But Yu’s plan will require government cooperation. He intends to send a proposal to Hong Kong’s Commerce and Economic Development Bureau next week, seeking permission to re-classify the site from residential to commercial usage.

Yu will go ahead and sell the house if the government objected to his plan, his consultants said.

“Bruce Lee has brought so much glory to Hong Kong, so I can’t see any reason for the government opposing this,” Wong said.

In response, the Hong Kong tourism board said it “welcomes all initiatives that support the promotion of Hong Kong as a tourist destination.”

Reporting by Amrita Sheokand and James Pomfret; Editing by Edwin Chan and Valerie Lee