Retracing the Dragon’s Duel: Bruce Lee vs Bob Wall and Wang In Sik

Actual date of trip: March 24, 2011

Bruce and Bob

The final destination of the day after going to Bruce’s house and Ip Man’s grave would be someplace Bruce Lee-related again – in fact I now call this day the ‘Bruce Lee Day’ of my trip even though the fanboyish title never came across my mind while I was in Hong Kong.

Those of you who have watched the Way of the Dragon (1972), spuriously called the Return of the Dragon in the US, would know the part where Bruce and friends take on two karate guys Bob Wall and Wang In Sik (he’s a Hapkido practitioner actually) in some rural area before going to the Colosseum in Rome to face off with Chuck Norris. Although the film’s plot is about Bruce in Italy, most of its scenes were actually shot in Hong Kong. My final mission for the day was to find the place where Bruce filmed his duel with the karate duo more than thirty years ago.



Phil, a perhaps much crazier fan than I am (nothing derogatory here, Bruce said that you have to crazy to be good) gave a good tip on his blog on the duel’s whereabouts – a place off Woodland Crest (a private housing estate) in the New Territories. I headed off immediately; he said that he didn’t enter the area to look for it so perhaps I’ll do the task for the benefit of all Bruce Lee fans out there.

Wang and his inferior opponents

The station that I alighted at wasn’t exactly in Woodland Crest. I had to take another 30-minute walk across town which was made pleasantly longer by its sights and sounds – it had a classic feel with old buildings and typical Chinese streets which were bustling with activity and noise, all these being the perfect recipe for an authentic Chinatown’s charm. VERY UNFORTUNATELY though, I took only one picture throughout the walk and it doesn’t really depict what I experienced. Now I smack myself in the head with a very important lesson – spam camera flashes everywhere, they’re needed to tell a complete story!

I eventually arrived and immediately my mind was back to Bruce Lee business. The vicinity of Woodland Crest is as below. There is an entrance on the left of Woodland Crest Apartments to the inside of the boondocks but unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures of it. I apologise that you’ll have to make do with the pathetic improvised red arrow…

I felt like I was actually in Singapore

And now the search begins! This time it was independent and unguided; with no clearly laid out directions on how to get to the spot and the fact that that spot was never precisely determined in the first place, I had to find it on my own. There was a good balance between the adrenaline rush of entering the unknown and the relaxation brought about by the surrounding area; my keen eyes were scanning the place for anything resembling the fight’s movie stills while my mind was enjoying the breeze and slow pace of village life. As the scouring became more intense, I found myself deeper and deeper inside the village. Again I admit my growing fear as I gradually went further in – my Malaysian kiasi (Hokkien for scared sick of death) upbringing led me to think that if anything were to happen, help would be far, far away from the city. That fear didn’t win me over though as evidenced by this very post.

I felt like I was travelling back in time; sans the modern tall flats in the background, this was what Hong Kong probably looked like decades ago before the government’s development plans transformed it completely. I envisioned this to be the perfect place for a weekend escape from all that noise and corporate stress; the trees, paths and river create an area perfect for a stroll or run. I realised though that running (and sports in general) isn’t as popular in Hong Kong as it is in Singapore; combining my observations in various countries with Chinese populations I came to the conclusion that only Singapore has a Chinese society which is fitness conscious. My friends and I agree that figure-wise (I’m referring to body outline and the number of people who possess such an outline), masculinity and feminity are at greater proportions among men and women in Singapore. Chinese men from other countries generally aren’t as well-built and the women not as slender or fit compared to their Singaporean counterparts. Bruce Lee’s intention to portray the Chinese as better fighters than the rest of the world was less than half a truth – his superior physique only meant that he was superior in build and not his countrymen in general.

I was surprised that the mountains now have cemeteries – there were none visible in the movie

After an hour of so of peering and scouring, I realised that I was faced with a huge problem. Three decades would’ve changed a bare spot of land completely with little or no signs of preservation especially if something is built on it. Unlike Bruce’s house and Ip Man’s grave which are man-made and have distinct aesthetic, polygonal features, making them easy to detect even after years of rotting away, the place that I was looking for was merely a patch of mud and grass with accompanying trees and houses at the time of filming. Of course the trees could’ve been cut down and strangely enough I saw no houses, so I had to continually analyse movie stills for anything more ‘permanent’ and compare them with what I was seeing at the moment. Unfortunately the only thing that remained unchanged was the layout of the mountains in the background and there are many possible locations which could share this layout if we view them from the same angle, so there really was no exact way to determine the exact location. This is the best approximation that I found and it’s juxtaposed with a movie frame for comparison:

Note the similar mountain layouts

The picture has a major error if you compare it with another frame – in fact you could say that it actually destroys my approximate spot completely unless mountains can somehow move. There isn’t any river visible in the movie scene as well:

comparison2 copy
Thing is, I couldn’t see any mountain layout which was completely identical to the one in that frame so unless Phil’s location is wrong or my eyes had some unfortunate malfunction on Bruce Lee Day, we’d have to assume that the circled portion of mountain in the movie still was dynamited or shifted to the right. Simple common sense would kill these assumptions anyway, and coupled with the fact that I saw no houses which match the ones in the movie, I’ll have to painfully admit that my search was unfruitful. I didn’t have the time to continue as I had to leave the place early to meet a friend for dinner and left with a heavy heart. I contacted Phil last year and he said that through satellite mapping he found that the place is now a tennis court enclosed in a group of apartments, however I’m not sure where he got the info from to input into his map search.

The quest did have its serendipitous side discovery though, i.e one of the last remaining untouched and undeveloped areas in the New Territories. I would never have seen this side of Hong Kong if it weren’t for this journey. It was quite an adventure, going into a place a foreigner or tourist wouldn’t normally go, and this remains as one of the best memories of my trip to Hong Kong.

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6 comments on “Retracing the Dragon’s Duel: Bruce Lee vs Bob Wall and Wang In Sik

  1. Hi Ruzhi – thanks for the links back to my blog. Sorry it’s taken so long for me to get here 😦
    Just to answer a couple of queries you raised: no, the mountains haven’t been blasted, but what did happen was that the old route of the river (which was very very wiggly) was straightened and then diverted – so the current path of the waterway is actually completely different to the original one. This happened sometime around 2003.
    Secondly, I have an aerial photo from the 1970s in my possession which very distinctly shows the sandy area where the filming was done, and you can just make out the circular well (that can be seen in the background of the fight scene) at the lower edge of the sandy area. I transposed this aerial photo very carefully onto Googleearth in order to arrive at the position of the tennis courts.
    This area has really changed a lot. Before Woodland Crest was built, there was a small hillock there which housed the “Twin Dragon Country Club” which had a popular restaurant. This hill was removed to make way for Woodland Crest and if you ever get the chance to see the pictures in Steve Kerridge’s books then you will see pictures with lots of local villagers standing on the hill watching the filming taking place.
    I have some spare morning times these days so I will go back there at some point and get some better shots for the blog.
    Cheers
    Phil

    • Hey Phil, no worries, I just set up this blog last month. Thanks for the great info 🙂
      No wonder the river that I saw didn’t tally with the movie stills, and I probably was looking at the wrong mountain layout. I didn’t know there was a Country Club there as well. Do post up whatever you find in your future trip there, it’ll be really great info for us. The village there is also an awesome place to relax 🙂

      Cheers,
      Ruzhi

  2. Pingback: Grandmaster Ip Man’s Grave | Ruzhi was Here

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