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Poor Bruce Lee, His Chinatown Statue Goes to Storage Until $150,000 is Found

The 7'6''-tall statue weighs 1,595 lbs.
The 7'6''-tall statue weighs 1,595 lbs.
Gracie Zheng

A 7.6-foot bronze statue of Bruce Lee, the first in the U.S., was unveiled in L.A.'s Chinatown over Father's Day weekend as part of Chinatown Summer Nights festival, creating a buzz among locals, tourists and fans who came to the historic Central Plaza to pay tribute to the martial arts icon and action film celebrity.

But the statue designed by an artist in China is set to be removed tomorrow, June 20, according to Larry Jung, president of Los Angeles Chinatown Corp., and the future of it depends on whether $150,000 can be raised to install it permanently. "Right now it's only a statue," he says of the 3/4 ton Bruce Lee figure. "Someone can easily steal it. We're trying to make it a permanent fixture in Chinatown."

Jung, whose Los Angeles Chinatown Corp. is a business group that manages the property in Chinatown's Central Plaza, is working with Bruce Lee Foundation, a non-profit that donated the statue, to pay for a concrete foundation that will make it impossible to haul off.

The plan is to add a seating area around Bruce, and to renovate broad walkways around the statue and an underlying drainage system. The money will also cover insurance for the statue and maintenance over the next few years.

Bruce Lee's statue will return for just a few days on July 20 for the next festival portion of Chinatown Summer Nights, according to Jung.

Poor Bruce Lee in storage near LAX in February 2013.
Poor Bruce Lee in storage near LAX in February 2013.
Larry Jung

"We're trying to keep it [the statue] exclusive," says Jung.

The absence of Bruce Lee in the next few weeks may upset many fans who make special trips to Chinatown for picture time with their idol.

Tommy Dukeman, 22, a Hollywood actor, played a survivor in the horror film Rise of the Zombies and a teenager "coming out" as straight at a family dinner in the short comedy A Coming Out Story. He says the wealthy Hollywood studios should chip in to create the permanent base for the statue. [Warner Bros. and filmmaker Fred Weintraub produced the movie Enter the Dragon, so maybe they'd like to write that check.]

"Bruce Lee is a great asset to the community. He is a huge contributor to martial arts film. Hollywood studios should pay back his work."

Dukeman recently watched the video of Bruce Lee fighting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, former NBA player. He finds it amazing that Bruce Lee, 5'7'', could subdue a guy as tall as 7'2''.

His friend, Jeremy Cook, 22, who just graduated from Stanford University as an international relations major, offered some advice on fundraising. "I believe the community can scrape up the money by using different resources available, such as Kickstarter," he says.

Bruce Lee statue in Hong Kong
Bruce Lee statue in Hong Kong
Gustavo Madico/Flickr

Mari Torres, 29, from L.A., took her mom, who came to visit from Utah, to Chinatown and took photos with Bruce Lee on Tuesday. Both are fans. Elena Torres, 55, used to take karate classes and go to Bruce Lee's movies with her elder brother in Fresno. Enter the Dragon and The Green Hornet are her favorites.

"Bruce Lee is sort of like Jackie Chan, who does his own stunts," she says. "He is a serious guy, handsome and cute."

"They made the statue. It's too bad they don't have the money," Mari chimes in. "They should figure out a way to keep it."

"Yeah, Bruce Lee is a celebrity, a really famous actor," says Elena. She agrees a permanent home for Bruce Lee is well-deserved.

Jason Brown, 40, who came all the way from Georgia to L.A. Film Fest, made a special trip to Chinatown to see Bruce Lee after he read about it in the news.

"He has always inspired me to find passion in life, and peace," says Brown. He added he liked his writing better than his movies.

"Bruce Lee had always been out of the Hollywood trend. I wouldn't be surprised if Hollywood isn't supporting the statue."

Dylan Simorangkir, 20, a sophomore from Santa Monica College, was at the unveiling ceremony last Saturday. He couldn't get enough of it and came back Tuesday to see the statue with girlfriend Samantha Bragdon, who hadn't seen it yet.

Simorangkir, a Bruce Lee fan since he was a kid, has tapes of all of Bruce Lee's movies, including Enter the Dragon and The Chinese Connection.

"Every day he was a huge role model to me," he says. "When everyone talks about Bruce Lee, it was never something bad about him."

Simorangkir and Bragdon both want the statue to stay in Chinatown.

"It belongs here," says Bragdon.

Bruce Lee's "odyssey" to L.A.'s Chinatown dates back to the end of 2009, when it was shipped from Guangzhou in southern China, and had been stored at a warehouse near LAX. In 2010, efforts to install the statue at the Alpine Recreation Center in Chinatown failed due to disagreement in funding.

The L.A. Chinatown Corp. has got approval from the L.A. Department of Building and Safety for its construction plan of creating a permanent base to hold the statue to the ground in a two-part approval process. It's expected to get a permit in a few weeks, said Jung. After the Chinatown Summer Nights festival is over in August, the Bruce Lee statue will go back in storage until enough funding is raised to start construction.

Bruce Lee died young, at 32. This year is the 40th anniversary of his death. Lee was born in San Francisco's Chinatown. He lived in Oakland and moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s. He then got a role playing sidekick Kato on TV's The Green Hornet. During that period, he opened a martial arts academy in Chinatown and worked out at the Alpine Recreation Center.

If you're interested in making a donation, please contact Susan Bollinger at sbollin24@gmail.com, (714) 470-2698; or Larry Jung at larryjung@yahoo.com, (626) 806-2248.