Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum exhibit tells Bruce Lee’s story

A new show at Seattle’s Wing Luke museum aims to show international martial arts icon and actor Bruce Lee’s connection to the city and answer the question on why he’s buried there.

“We wanted to tell Bruce’s intimate personal story. Especially his story here in Seattle and explore his roots,” said Cassie Chinn, the project lead for the show which will be up through 2017.

“It circles around the question: Why is Bruce Lee buried here in Seattle? Why is it still a place of pilgrimage?”

Lee died at the age of 32 in Hong Kong during the production of a movie. Like James Dean, his early death immortalized Lee as a youthful rebel who broke barriers. Lee’s popularity only grew after his death and made him an international icon who transcended race and culture on screen and off, and led the way on the mixture of martial arts and entertainment.

The space devoted to the show isn’t large, about 1,000 square feet. But it packs a lot in.

“It tells a nice story in a concise way but has some nice impactful moments and quieter moments,” said Lee’s daughter Shannon, who along with her mother Linda Lee Cadwell, was present for the show’s opening. The family loaned many of the items on display, which also includes items from several collectors.

Rarely seen photos place Lee in spots around the city, some just around the corner from the museum in the parking lot of Ruby Chow’s restaurant where the actor once worked as a waiter. Others show him working out in a Beacon Hill park with best friend Taky Kimura.

One section displays a variety of objects left by mourners at his gravesite.

A passageway is covered with dozens of magazine covers bearing Lee’s image.

Naturally, a large portion of the show is devoted to Lee’s martial arts philosophy: He founded Jeet Kune Do. One page in a notebook handwritten by Lee explains his “Four Ways of Attack.” By the time he had gotten to the bottom of the page, there was a fifth way.

Some of Lee’s 2,500 books from his personal library are on display. “You get that sense of all the different things he was absorbing and learning and incorporating into his own philosophy.”

Lee attended the University of Washington while in Seattle, studying philosophy.

“People love to see his quarterly grade report,” Chinn said. “It shows him as a college guy.” It shows he got a C in gymnastics.

Part of the show deals with Cadwell’s and Lee’s interracial romance. She was still a student at Garfield High School when they met. They had their first date in October 1963 at the Space Needle.

Some items in the show — airline tickets and receipts — seem superfluous. But perhaps for the Lee devotee no detail is too small.

Material from his acting career can be seen, including officially licensed material from his time as Kato, the sidekick on “The Green Hornet” TV show.

The exhibit features text panels written by “Angry Asian Man” blogger Phil Yu.