Kathy Chin Leong
Updated: Oct 31, 2021
On November 27th, 1940, Bruce Lee was born at the Chinese Hospital of San Francisco. Little did the attending doctor know this infant would become an internationally renowned movie star. The late kung fu master and celebrity starred in Fists of Fury and Enter the Dragon in the early 1970s. In 2020, fans will be honoring the icon’s 80th birthday.
One of the most avid of his followers is Jeff Chinn, a San Franciscan who reigns among the world’s top three collectors of Bruce Lee memorabilia and artifacts. He is shown below, posing in a kung fu stance with his wife. Up until Bruce Lee arrived on the scene, Chinese men were hardly cast in American movies and TV shows. When they did appear on screen, they played meek houseboys in bit roles. Bruce Lee’s films were a box office sensation, and his meteoric rise launched him into American and worldwide stardom. More than that, he became a role model for Chinese men everywhere. For the first time, Chinese males were viewed as tough, masculine, and brave.
Says Jeff, “It seemed that overnight all of us Chinese boys got instant respect. In teams for kickball, the scrawny Chinese guys got picked last. Now everyone saw how Bruce Lee kicked, and so we got picked first in kickball. Before that, it was years of hanging your head down and not feeling good about being Chinese.”
School kids taunted Jeff when the family moved to a new neighborhood with few Chinese. He hid in the library at lunch time to avoid getting bullied, but he was still picked on. “One night I was in my room crying and stared at the poster of Bruce Lee on my wall. And it was like he was talking to me clearly saying, ‘It is okay, Jeff, I am Chinese too, and I am proud of it.’ And I told him, ‘Bruce, if I get out of this, I will pay you back one day.’ “
Jeff became an avid collector of all things Bruce Lee and now owns over 10,000 items including figurines, books, comic books, magazines, movies, and original possessions. Also a kung fu practitioner, Jeff owns the suit Bruce Lee wore in Enter the Dragon. He has loaned this famous ensemble to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and the Warner Brothers Studio museum in Southern Calif. The media has profiled Jeff in television and magazine interviews for his distinguished collection, and he has met members of Bruce Lee’s family and relatives. The years of paying back Bruce Lee has resulted in great payoffs for Jeff in return.