(Hong Kong) Hong Kong-based businessman W. Wong still remembers that day in 1972, when he heard the kids in his neighborhood get fired up for a character who would become their hero, and a legend. . His name was Bruce Lee.

This martial arts master whose films launched the vogue of kung fu throughout the world, was one of the first Asians to know the celebrity in Hollywood where his career was stopped by his untimely death just fifty years ago. years. At only 32 years old.

In Hong Kong, where Bruce Lee spent his childhood and the last years of his life, his still numerous fans organize a week of tribute with exhibitions and workshops dedicated to the martial arts.

“Every child needs a role model, and I chose Bruce Lee,” Wong, 54, who has run the city’s biggest fan club dedicated to the star for 30 years, told AFP.

“I hoped my life would be like the Bruce Lee I saw: handsome, strong, with great martial arts skills, a heroic image.”

In a room of Wing Chun, a derivative of kung-fu that Bruce Lee had practiced before inventing his own fighting style, Jeet Kune Do, the legend is venerated like a saint.

Master of the premises, Cheng Chi-ping, 69, told AFP that he and his members had started training under the influence of Bruce Lee. “We have never been able to match his speed, his strength or his physicality,” he points out.

The icon’s aura continued to shine for the next generation, says 45-year-old Mic Leung, who trained there and collected the master’s videotapes as a teenager.

“When we say ‘god of martial arts’, we’re only talking about Bruce Lee. It can’t be anyone else,” he said.

Born in San Francisco in 1940, Bruce Lee grew up in Hong Kong and rose to fame as a child actor at an early age, thanks to his father, a famous Cantonese opera singer.

At 18, he continued his studies in the United States before teaching martial arts for the next decade, then obtaining his first roles in Hollywood, notably that of Kato in the television series The Green Hornet.

It was not until his return to Hong Kong that he landed his first starring role in the martial arts film The Big Boss (1971), which made him famous in Asia.

The following year, The fury of conquering and The fury of the dragon, will establish his notoriety as an implacable fighter.

On July 20, 1973, the actor, who had just completed filming his fourth film, Operation Dragon, and was finishing a fifth, was struck down by cerebral edema, attributed to a reaction to painkillers.

Filmmaker Aaron Han Joon Magnan-Park, who lectured on Bruce Lee films at the University of Hong Kong, said the actor conveyed a Chinese identity that transcended borders.

“I would call Bruce Lee a paragon of Chinese-speaking ‘soft power’ achievement with Hong Kong characteristics,” he told AFP.

In Hollywood, his image went against racist stereotypes, which cast Asian men as either servants or villains.

The scenes where he appears bare-chested, all in muscles, are described as “kung-fu striptease” by Mr. Magnan-Park.

“He made Asian men sexy, and that’s something I don’t think we talk about enough,” he says.

Maintaining the star’s legacy in Hong Kong is not easy, however, regrets Mr. Wong, who points out that government support remains occasional.

In 2004, his fans managed to erect a bronze statue of him on the Hong Kong waterfront. But a campaign to rehabilitate his former home failed to save it from demolition in 2019.

While visiting an exhibition dedicated to Bruce Lee in a public museum with her two children, Ms Yip told AFP that she wanted to pass on to them “a symbol of old Hong Kong”.

Mr Wong, who has held a smaller exhibition in the Sham Shui Po district, agrees that interest in Bruce Lee is tending to wane among younger people, but notes that his philosophy could come back into vogue.

During the pro-democracy movement of 2019, he recalls, the demonstrators called to follow the mantra of the one who remains to this day the most famous of Hong Kongers: “Be like water”, a call to blend into the crowd… to better disappear.