Monday, 16 March 2015

The American Club and Enter the Dragon

A few of the more popular posts from my old blog covered the topic of the location used for filming the tournament scenes in Enter the Dragon. It seems that for a lot of people this topic never gets old, and people still contact me about it quite regularly - especially so since I took the old posts offline. In the interests of Lee fans around the world and to avoid several overlapping posts, I've merged them together into a single consolidated post below, which has also given me the chance to relook at some things and include some pictures I left out first time round.

So, just how much of the tournament grounds from Enter the Dragon still exist? The answer is, sadly, absolutely nothing since the whole area was redeveloped into two main sites: The American Club and Pacific View apartments. But thankfully some glimpses of the place's kung fu past can still be found if you look hard enough.

 Stanley Lodge, Tytam Villa and Palm Villa from above (Source: HK Govt)

The American Club is actually sitting on a several originally separate plots previously occupied by three very large and expansive mansions: Stanley Lodge, Tytam Villa, and Palm Villa. According to Eric Ho's book Tracing my Children's Lineage, the mansions had undergone various changes in ownership within the rather vast and varied offshoots/branches of the Ho Tung dynasty. By the 1980's it was the Lo's who owned Stanley Lodge and Palm Villa. Regardless, the land for all three buildings was sold to the American Club and their new country club premise was built and opened in 1984. I've marked out the approximate extent of each mansion and grounds on the picture below. As you can see, Palm Villa with its stepped courts occupied the largest plot of land.



If you read my film locations blog you should be aware that Tytam Villa popped up in the Chuck Norris film Forced Vegeance, and most savvy Lee fans should know that it was Palm Villa whose grounds were used for the filming of Enter the Dragon. I haven't found any films that used Stanley Lodge yet, but if you know of one please let me know :-)

Palm Villa's tennis courts became the outdoor location for the tournament scenes quite by luck. It seems that Lee and other members of the production crew were out scouting for possible places when they noticed the tennis courts. They stopped off and soon discovered the property was being looked after by M.W. Lo. It must have been serendipity that Lo was a distant relative of Bruce through marriage*. The property was actually owned by the elder brother, M.K, who had died in 1959, so I'm not sure what ownership the house was under at the time - perhaps under some sort of family trust?

Anyway,  M.W was the estate's custodian and was also a well-regarded local attorney with the family law firm Lo & Lo – set up by M.K in 1915. This firm, incidentally, was the one employed by Bruce to deal with his legal matters up to the time of his death, after which they were unceremoniously dumped in favour of Adrian Marshall. Hmmm

Well, when M.W. wasn’t practicing law he was practising his back swing and was quite the expert winning several local tennis tournaments and even competing with M.K. and their sister in doubles competitions. In fact, he is one of the enshrinees at the Hong Kong Tennis Association Hall of Fame. On the old blog post I had quite a few interesting comments from people who used to play tennis with M.W. and his family and have copied them below for posterity.
Jeff: This brings back some memories! I used to play tennis at these courts with M.W and his son Ken, and many other friends, every Sunday afternoon. I recall the courts being converted for the Bruce Lee movie, and we all had our photographs taken sitting on the large throne chair on one of the courts.
Kiska: M.W’s house was called Longview and was on the opposite side of the road to the American Club...I still have old cine film at M.W’s Sunday tennis parties. Only men were allowed to play tennis on his courts with the exception of Wimbledon lady winners, but we ordinary ladies were included in the social activities. I was invited to dinner and bridge at his house on several occasions...M.W was truly the grand old man of tennis and I remember him very fondly. He was also an intrepid bridge player and took me to the cleaners more than once!
Peter: I’m M.W Lo’s grandson, now living in New Zealand. I was fascinated to read that you have some movie footage of the tennis parties. My father and brothers used to play at those tennis matches...
Longview (#45 Tai Tam Road) is mentioned by Kiska above as being M.W's house, this is true and it was still there until a few years ago when it was sold and developed into several smaller (but still massive) properties. In fact, there is a brief glimpse of Longview in Enter the Dragon - blink and you'll miss it - see below. It pops into view just after Bruce breaks Bob's Wall neck. Crunch! When M.W died in 1986, it was sold on. More recently a company called National Electronics Holdings Limited got hold of the place and they are the ones who have just ripped it down. It's a big shame because it was a lovely looking house and reportedly had the very last grass tennis court in HK (for those who don't know, grass is a very rare thing in HK). It can also be seen on the aerial picture - it's the white property in the bottom right of that photograph.

M.W.Lo's other house, Longview, in the background.

Anyway, getting back to Palm Villa and the tennis courts. Fans would probably like to know which actual bits of it were used on film. So to help, I've put some legends on the picture of the estate.


As you can see the grounds had three grass tennis courts, marked upper, middle and lower. Most of the fighting action, and where Han's throne was sited, was in the middle court. Here's a reminder from the film itself to give you a bit of context.

The lower tennis court
The middle court (where the main action was)

Upper court at the back. The middle and upper courts
were separated by the fountain (on the right)

I just mentioned the fountain, and I also marked it on the aerial picture because this smaller enclosure also featured on film when Lee's character leaps up into a tree to avoid detection in a dodgy bit of reverse film editing. The fountain area has a circular pond in its centre and during filming this contained the tree he leapt from. Anyway, it looked like it also used to hold a fountain - hence the name I have given it to distinguish it from the private garden adjacent to the mansion. This is the small lawn that was immediately adjacent to the mansion. Sadly, I don't think any of this area was used for filming, although it's possible some of the night scenes, when Lee goes exploring, could have been filmed in there. Regardless, we'll come back to the garden later because it is the only remaining part of the estate that is now part of the American Club.

When the Palm Villa site was sold, it was actually broken up into three separate plots. The main plot, bought by the American Club, consisted of the Villa and its adjacent garden. This plot and the neighbouring plots with Tytam Villa and Stanley Lodge now contain the entirety of the club's grounds. The second plot consisted of the enclosure with the fountain and two of the three tennis courts. The upper court was seemingly split down the middle for the sake of redevelopment. This second plot was later sold on to Sun Hung Kai Properties - a developer that was just recently the centre of a bribery scandal and court case - and was redeveloped into the present day Pacific View apartment complex.

The third plot of land consisted of a sliver of land between the other two sites and included part of the upper tennis court. It's essentially the strip of land that separates the two redeveloped areas and it was retained by the Govt. The American Club actually leases this land back from the Govt on a rolling 3-month basis. The reason for this short lease is that the Govt has been planning to reroute the Tai Tam Road between Pacific View and The American Club in order to remove the nasty bend in the road. Personally, I think the idea is a bit dumb, but that's HK Govt planning for you. The fact that nothing has been done about it in all these years is perhaps an indication that it won't happen. I'm sure I will regret saying that some day.

It's down this small sliver of land that a public pathway has been constructed so that you can access the pebbly beach at the bottom. You remember the beach, don't you? It's where the characters in the film disembark their junk to a stone jetty and walk the path up to Han's fortress. It was also used in the beginning of the film when you see the frogman pulling the girl's body out of the water. This is about the only part of the area that has remained undeveloped (that is, until they slap that road right through the middle). On an aside, Pillbox 029 is also situated right here too, next to the stone jetty. So war buffs also have something to wander down to and have a look. Here are a few pictures of the area from 2011, starting with the gate on Tai Tam Road that leads you down to the beach.


The beach as seen from The American Club terrace

Pillbox #29 also has a brief cameo in the film

Pillbox, small cutting and stone jetty seen from the beach

This place looks familiar...
oh yes, that's right!


This latter shot shows you just how much Pacific View encroaches upon the old tennis court area. The pink base you can see sits on the site where the lower court was. I suspect that the site formation for this development involved excavating down to a flat base before the building work could start - unless anyone living at Pacific View is able to confirm that the building is on a stepped/sloped base?

So as you can see, it has all gone. Just the beach and jetty remain. But what about inside the club? Well, as mentioned earlier, none of the film seems to have been shot within the perimeter of the American Club. I did postulate (in the previous incarnation of this post) that the night time scenes may have utilised some of the estates other parts but I'm not so convinced anymore. Even if it did, I have no real reference for comparison because everything has gone. Anyway, on my trip to the club in 2011, I did take a few pictures, so I'll leave it to you to judge if anything can be recognised.

So here we are at the former garden area. Well, as mentioned this is the only part of the old estate that is still in-situ. It even still has the very distinctive coral-topped walls that were used in the construction of all the estates walls - apparently the coral was taken from the sea below and brought up during construction. Here is what is inside the garden - it has now been converted into a small sports ground for basketball and the like.

This is at the end closest to Tai Tam Road.

The wall constructed of stones and topped with coral.

Wall furthest from the road (closer to the coast)

Okay, so this wall is the original one and if you look closely on my aerial picture below you will see the curve of it around the garden.


The garden itself has been resurfaced into an all weather pitch and the wall has had the green mesh fence put on top - no doubt to prevent over-zealous Lee fans (I know a few) from jumping the wall in the mistaken belief they are treading on hallowed ground. There are a couple of interesting things nearby. On the other side of the curved wall - essentially outside of the clubs grounds but still on their leased-back sliver - is a small round out house (i.e. toilet block). You can just make it out on the picture above below the red line, but here is a close-up taken whilst precariously perched on some tableware - hence the green mesh that crept into view.


Here is where the fans should get excited because this building can be seen in several shots as the cameras positioned in the middle tennis court looking back in the direction of the house. I have since learned that this building was in fact taken as a dressing room by Ahna Capri herself. Now, the rumours are that Bruce got a bit pee'd off by this news - after all he was the star of the film - and demanded a dressing room for himself. The compromise was that he shared this room with Ahna and...well, you know Bruce and his reputation with women. Let's just say...hmmm...nothing ;o)

If you are mad enough you can reach this out house from the beach and/or pathway down to the beach. It takes a bit of bushwhacking but it has been accomplished by several people I know. You can see the out house's nice clean white top on the screen grab below, poking just over the wall of the middle tennis court. Compare that to 40 years of neglect in the picture above.

The out-house - aka Ahna and Bruce's shared dressing room

Moving on and I took a couple of pictures from the top of the strange pavilion at the other end of the old garden. The steps in the picture below lead up the back of the structure onto the small roof terrace. I'm still not sure if this place was seen on camera, maybe just brief snippets, I don't know, but the view from the top gives a better impression of the extent of the old garden (lower picture). Note the new section of wall on the left.



Just to the left of the new section of wall (of camera, far left) is the single remaining curved arch doorway that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the film. The estate's grounds had them wherever a doorway was needed. Sadly I neglected to take a picture, mainly because it had been bricked up, but if you are down this way you can see the other side of from the pavement outside. What is curious is that on the club side of the doorway is the following brass plaque.


Now, when John Little was filming here for his In Pursuit of the Dragon documentary in August 2009, he told me there was no plaque, but when I visited in March 2011 it was on the wall. I wonder if it was John's recent interest that had spurred the club to put up this commemorative plate? Well, it doesn't matter because the fact is that the plaque isn't really that accurate given that all the 'most famous Kung Fu fights in movie history' were actually filmed on the other side of the wall on a site that has long since been redeveloped.

Hmm, funny that they didn't mention Men of the Dragon though...I wonder why :-)

* M.W. Lo's older brother, M.K. Lo, had married one of Sir Robert Ho Tung's daughters. Bruce's mother, Grace, was the daughter - natural or adopted, it's open for debate - of Sir Robert's half-brother, Ho Kom Tong. It gets very confusing because there are literally hundreds of members in this particular family tree.

1 comment:

  1. job well done.i like the pictures and the close ups,the detail is amazing.

    ReplyDelete