Biography of Lee Hoi-Chuen
Lee Hoi-Chuen – Hong Kong Cantonese opera singer and film actor.
Name: Lee Moon-shuen (李滿船)
Date of Birth: 4 February 1901
Place of Birth: Jun’an, Guangdong, China
Date of Death: 7 February 1965 (aged 64)
Place of Death: St. Teresa’s Hospital, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Spouse/Ex: Grace Ho (m. 1907–1965)
Children: Bruce Lee, Robert Lee, Peter Lee, Agnes Lee, Phoebe Lee
A famous Cantonese opera singer and film actor, Lee Hoi-Chuen was born in Jun’an, Guangdong on 4 February 1901, he moved to Hong Kong and became a Cantonese Opera actor. He was the father of Bruce Lee, the father-in-law of Linda Lee Caldwell, and also the paternal grandfather of Brandon Lee and Shannon Lee.
His life as a star and performer greatly influenced the lives 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, Family and Educational Life
Lee Hoi-Chuen, by name of Lee Moon-shuen (李滿船), 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.
(Lee Hoi-Chuen with his wife and baby Bruce Lee)
Lee Hoi-Chuen 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 traveled 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.
Career and Works
In his early twenties, Lee Hoi-Chuen took a 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.
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, Hoi-Chuen 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’.
Hoi-Chuen 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 a guest and supporting roles in ‘The Story of Tung Siu-Yen’ and ‘Life’s Blessing 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’. 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. Hoi-Chuen 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 blockbusters 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, Hoi-Chuen 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.
Death and Legacy
Lee Hoi-Chuen died of heart attack in Hong Kong on the 7th of February, 1965, three days after his 64th birthday and six days after the birth of his grandson Brandon Lee. He was buried at St. Raphael’s Catholic Cemetery at Cheung Sha Wan in Kowloon. 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’.
One of Ng Wui’s most successful films starring Lee 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. 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.
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.