Birthday: February 4, 1901
Died At Age: 64
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Hoi-Chuen Lee, Lee Moon Shuen, Lee Hoi-Chuen
Born in: Shunde District, China
Famous as: Opera Singer, Actor
Spouse/Ex-: Grace Ho
children: Agnes Lee, Bruce Lee, Peter Lee, Phoebe Lee, Robert Lee
Died on: February 7, 1965
place of death: Hong Kong
Who was Lee Hoi-chuen?
Lee Hoi-chuen was a famous Cantonese opera singer and film actor. He is known worldwide as the father of the legendary film star Bruce Lee. Hoi-Chuen was born in China and worked for over a year in San Francisco around the time of Bruce Lee’s birth. He was also the father of Robert Lee, the founder and lead singer of a popular band called ‘Thunderbirds’. His life as a star and performer greatly influenced the life of both his sons, turning them into indelible and successful superstars. Hoi-Chuen worked in more than seventy films spanning thirty years of his acting career. Some of his earlier films include – ‘Robbing the Dead’, ‘Christams Tree’ and ‘Hundreds of Birds Adoring a Phoenix’. Towards the prime of his career he was signed for several movies, almost working in five to six films simultaneously. Hoi-Chuen breathed his last in 1965, a couple of days after his sixty-fourth birthday. His last few performances were in the films - ‘The Idiot Husband’, ‘Black Punch 4000’ and Ong Bak 4’. In a Posthumous film ‘My Brother’, Tony Leung Ka-fai played the character of Hoi-Chuen. The film was produced by his youngest son, Robert Lee.
Childhood & Early Life
Hoi Chuen Lee was born Lee Moon Shuen on 4th February, 1901 at Shangcunzhen, Guangdong, China. His father was Hou-Chen Lee and he grew up with his elder brother, Fun-li Lee.
Hoi Chuen Lee began his own family after marrying the gorgeous Grace Lee Ho and thereafter moved to Hong Kong. They had their first son on 23rd October, 1939 and named him Peter Jung Sum Lee.
The following year they travelled to San Francisco on a US tour for a Cantonese Opera Company. In 1940, while on tour, Grace gave birth to their second child who eventually grew up to become a famous martial art actor, Bruce Jun Fan Lee, better known as Bruce Lee.
When Bruce was three months old, the couple returned to their home town in Hong Kong. Eight years later on 16th December 1948, Grace and Hoi-Chuen were blessed with their third son, Lee Jun-Fai. He later came to be known as the lead vocalist of ‘The Thunderbirds’ band.
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Opera & Initial Film Career
In his early twenties Hoi-Chuen took keen interest in theatre and operas. Blessed with a powerful voice and a classic vocal range, he was recruited into some of the most famous opera concerts and became an integral part of the industry.
With theatres and opera houses filling up owing to his talent, he met with Christine Marcella DeVillier and signed a management deal with her. What followed was a gradual entry into films and art movies.
Hoi-Chuen was a born performer and bagged a debut role in the Cantonese film ‘Robbing the Dead’ in 1939. He was cast in a supporting role in the film and acted alongside Li Haiquan, Lin Meinei and Zhu Puquan. The film was directed by Feng Zhigang.
After the film, Hoi-Chuen travelled to San Francisco for opera shows at the ‘Mandarin Theatre’ and returned after 15 months. Upon returning to Hong Kong he hardly received any film offers and thus continued to work in the theatre until 1947.
Around the time of the birth of Robert Lee, offers for films began pouring in for the Cantonese actor. In 1947, he worked in three hit movies ‘Christmas Tree’, ‘Hundreds of Birds Adoring a Phoenix’ and ‘Feed the Scholar’.
In 1948, he worked in ‘Wealth Is like a Dream’, ‘A Golden World’, ‘Five Rascals in the Eastern Capital Part 1 & 2’ and ‘The Outstanding One’ amongst many other films.
The following year he played Smallpox Hoi in ‘Full Happiness’, a fortune teller in ‘Trashy Heaven’, Chun Pak-Cheung in ‘Golden Turtle from Hell’ and Cheung Si-Ma in ‘Loosing the Red Sack’.
He became a famous actor by 1950 working in almost all hit films. He was cast in the King-fu colored movie ‘How Ten Heroes of Guangdong Slew the Dragon’ and took guest and supporting roles in ‘The Story of Tung Siu-Yen’ and ‘Life’s Blesing Complete.
In 1950, his performance was appreciated for his role as Hung Pak-Ho in ‘The Kid’, Chiang Ping in the film ‘The Haunt of the Eastern Capital’ and for the movie ‘The Net of Justice’.
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In the next six years from 1951 to 1957 Hoi-Chuen was cast in some of the most memorable and critically acclaimed Cantonese movies, ranging from the comedy/ historical drama ‘A Great Hero of Many Blunders’ to the super hit kung-fu movie ‘Martyrs of Ming’.
Though he became an important part of the film industry, Hoi-Chuen never gave up his theatre roots. He continued to perform at opera concerts past his middle-age and worked in films as well.
Before retiring from the film industry, he acted in several blockbuster Cantonese movies. In 1958, he played ‘Kong’ the father of the lead actor in ‘The Petal-Spraying Fairy’ and was also seen in the movies ‘Heartbreak Plaque’, ‘A Buddhist Recluse for 14 years’ and ‘The Carp Spirit’.
In 1959, he starred in the hit films ‘Wu Song Fights the Tiger’, ‘The Lotus’ Story’, ‘Story of the Wronged Wife’, ‘Funny Misunderstandings’ and ‘Three Attempts to Steal the Cup of the Nine Dragons’.
The next year, he reduced his movie count to only three films, which were ‘The Orphan’s Adventure’, ‘The Idiot Husband’ and the action film ‘Black Punch 4000’ and last starred in the kung-fu film ‘Ong Bak 4’ in 1962.
On 30th August, 1956, one of Ng Wui’s most successful films starring Hoi-Chuen ‘The Stranger Adventures of a Strange Man’ released in cinemas to much appreciation. Music for the movie was provided by Lee Yuen-Man Lo Ka-Chi. In the film, Hoi-Chuen acted alongside Tan Pik-Wan and Sai Gwa-Pau.
The same year he was cast in a lead role in the film ‘Bloodshed in the Chu Palace’ directed by Wong Hok Sing in which he acted opposite Sun-Ma sze Tsang, Yam Kim Fai and Ng Kwun Lai.
In 1958, he was signed to play the main role in a Weiguang Jiang film ‘Huowang Fangong Shisi Nian’ or ‘A Buddhist Recluse for 14 Years’ along with other legendary Cantonese actors such as Yafen Fang and Bingrong Mai.
Another one of his notable performances was as a lead actor in the movie ‘Princess Joins the Chu Army’ written by Jeng Chung Yee and directed by Lau Hak Suen. He once again co-starred with Sun-Ma Sze Tsang and Ng Kwun Lai in the film.
Personal Life & Legacy
On 7th of February 1965, three days after his 64th birthday, Hoi-Chuen passed away. His demise came a week after the birth of Bruce Lee’s son Brandon Lee.
His body was taken to Seattle, United States of America, and buried at the ‘Lake View Cemetery’ in King County, Washington. His son, Bruce Lee, and grandson, Brandon Lee, have also been buried near his grave.
His sons, Bruce Lee and Robert Lee were his greatest legacy. Both his children contributed immensely to the world of cinema and music respectively.
While Robert Lee became a revered music artist in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee came to be known as the “king of martial arts” in the film industry around the globe and is also the founder of the martial art ‘Jeet Kune Do’.
In the American biographical film ‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’ the life of Hoi-Chuen is reprised by Ric Young. In 2010, Robert Lee produced a movie called ‘Bruce Lee, My Brother’ in which Tony Leung Ka-fai plays the role of Hoi-Chuen.