The death of Bruce Lee at the young age of 32 years old has always given room for doubt surrounding the events leading up to his demise. Many theories concerning the official version persist to this day. The most widespread among them comes after the death of Brandon Lee, the stars' son, and involves the Chinese Triad. As Grand Master Nam Anh says: 'The past justifies the present, and so everything has a reason'. To properly appreciate this new interpretation of the tragic events, we must go back to the origin of the Triads and the life of Bruce Lee.
The Origin of the Triad
A far removed descendant of the secret societies of ancient China, the origin of the Triads dates back to the end of the 17th century. Its' founders are thought to have been monks of the Shaolin temple and steadfast opponents of the Qing dynasty (who were then in power). After the destruction of the famous temple, its' survivors became fugitives, condemned to live as vagabonds under false identities lest they face capital punishment.
As with every secret society, they developed mechanisms allowing one to prove their membership. They also created a coded language, and adopted ceremonial rites and signs of recognition. One of these symbols can still be observed today in many Kung Fu schools; the students salute themselves with one hand open and the other closed in a fist. This represents the four lakes and five oceans in the Chinese myth of creation, which was considered a symbol of allegiance to the deposed Ming dynasty. However, despite all these security measures, the science of combat remained a closely guarded secret.
Around the 19th century, these societies developped in parallel to many lesser warlords. Seizing a perfect opportunity, they expanded their operations under the context of a crumbling central authority. They would eventually play a key role in the fall of the Qing dynasty. Central power was then disputed between Sun Yat-sen and Yuan Shikai. We must underline that Sun Yat-Sen himself was part of the triad of the Three-Harmonies and was one of the members tasked with its' security.
Structure of the Triad
The nationalist army, faced with the communist army, finally disbanded and secret societies were outlawed by the newly founded communist government. Some found refuge in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and later organized into triads in 1949. These societies became but a pale reflection of their noble past. The Opium wars (1856-1860) had already considerably influenced their activities and many of them centralized around organized crime, discarding their more noble ideals along the way. However, these new triads kept the structural hierarchy of their ancestors, and the techniques they had inherited. The following were positions traditionally occupied within this structure:
- 'The White Fan' - Head of Finances.
- 'The Red Staff' - Specialist of Martial Arts, tasked with internal discipline. Head of the department of Justice.
- 'The Straw Sandal' - Head of External Affairs. The motto of the Straw Sandal: 'Dress humbly or simply to communicate'.
- 'The Master of Incense' - Head of Recruitment.
Triads and the cinematographic industry of Hong Kong
Over many decades, the movie industry in Hong Kong was one of the three most important in the world and the Triads were deeply involved. Their influence could be felt throughout the industry, including the choice of scripts, actors and contracts. The majority of the movies at the time ('70s-'80s) were concerned with the history of Kung Fu, rebellion, vengeance and treason. Every movie had a strong political, nationalistic and conservative tone. Action movies where the great temple live once more and its' heroic monks came to the defense of the people against invaders. Before modern cinema, we traditionally used theater troupes as a means of communicating propaganda. Chinese opera was often used by political movements, as illustrated by the Red Boat and Grand Master Leung Yee Thay of the Wing Chun school. The movie 'Prodigal Son', realized in 1981 by Sammo Hung retells the story of this ensemble of performers who saw a tragic end.
Banned from China by the communist government, the Triads make a grand return in the '80s when the government opted for economic liberalism. Many producers and talent leave Shanghai and disperse, namely in Hong Kong, where the industry of cinema was building around the young Bruce Lee; the enigmatic and controversial rising star.
The 'Diabolical Cat' and the touch of death
Bruce Lee became pivotal to the great machine of Hong Kong cinematography when he managed to conquer the Occidental market (who knew nothing of Kung Fu at the time). The industry in Hong Kong knew a period of great expansion and profitability!
However, Bruce Lees' approach was unorthodox and irritated the traditionnal students of martial arts who desired to keep their science secret. His attitude in particularl struck a nerve amongst the more traditionnal members of the Triads. Many threats were made against him. When Hollywood finally signed him for his first movie ('Enter the Dragon'), they saw a treason worthy of the penalty of death!
Leaving the set of the movie 'The Game of Death', Bruce Lee made his way to the appartment of his friend, and actress, Betty Ting Pei. The rest is now part of history; Bruce complains he has a migraine and takes a capsule of Equagesic, a painkiller. A few hours later, the actor falls asleep to never wake up.
Amongst the declarations the actress made concerning the death of Bruce Lee, she mentions Bruce had been in a fight shortly before entering the appartment. He apparently had received a blow to the head, which explained his migraine.
Meanwhile, an anonymous call had been placed to the media, informing them that the star was dying and a person named 'The Diabolical Cat' was responsible. Rumours within the martial arts community speak of a combat between Bruce Lee and a Grand Master of Kung Fu. During the exchange, the actor would have received a blow to the head, after which the master said 'My work is done and your fate is sealed, you have but a short time left.'
In the field of Martial Arts, it is thought that the Grand Master, 'The Diabolical Cat', was in fact The Red Staff of the Triads. He had resolved to settle the matter of Bruce Lee through the martial path.
The touch of death is an ancestral technique that, when executed, provokes the death (immediate or delayed) of its' target by applying pressure on a vital point of the body. It might be an explanation of the brain swelling that was discovered during the autopsy instead of the capsule of Equagesic.
20 years later, Brandon Lee is mortally wounded when a real bullet was mistakenly loaded into a gun during the filming of 'The Crow'. Brandon had announced shortly before that he would investigate the death of his father, and that he knew who was responsible. Many believe the Triads were then also responsible for the death of Brandon.
After reviewing the facts, the deaths of these two actors become even more enigmatic!
Pierre François Flores
Red Belt 4th Dan
Collaboration: Malcolm St-Pierre
Montreal, april 29th 2017