Faces Of Asia: Visiting Dragon Garden
Today, CommanderBond.net has the honour of running a guest article from Martijn Mulder, who manages the On The Tracks Of 007 website–an online travel guide to the thrilling James Bond filming locations around the world. Enjoy.
Written by Martijn Mulder
Like in Sean Connery’s Dr. No, also in Roger Moore’s first entry as James Bond in Live and let Die, the main location is Jamaica. In 1974 it was decided that The Man with the Golden Gun (TMWTGG) was going to be Roger’s second 007-adventure. Most of the action in Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name yet again takes place in Jamaica. So it was obvious that for the film, the story had to be transferred to a completely different part of the world. The producers came up with some unparalleled locations in the Far East. The chase of the hitman Francisco Scaramanga (played by Christopher Lee) takes Bond from Macau and Hong Kong via Bangkok to the luxuriant holiday resort Phuket in the south of Thailand. To visit all these places it would be a good idea to combine sightseeing tours to the above mentioned cities with a relaxing beach holiday in the island of Phuket.
With one location the producers of TMWTGG tricked us. The estate of industrialist Hai Fat is supposed to be in Bangkok, Thailand. But you notice on first sight that the style of the buildings is not Thai but Chinese. In reality the estate is beautifully situated along Castle Peak Road, in the western part of Tsuen Wan, in the New Territories. This former barren hillside was turned into a classical Chinese garden by Hong Kong businessman Lee Iu Cheung, in the 60’s. He called his garden Lung-Po, the ‘Dragon Garden’.
Lee Iu Cheung was an incredible man of his times. Newspapers referred to him as a “tycoon” because of his wealth, but “philanthropist” would have been more appropriate. He never led a life of extravagance, unlike the tycoons in the news these days. He personally got involved in the community to not only plan, but to implement, charitable projects to help build the Hong Kong community, especially in the postwar years. He was involved in over 50 associations, including serving as a Director of the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals for 29 years, building free schools and medical facilities for the Chinese during British rule. He built low-cost housing for the poverty-stricken to give them a fresh start in life. He graduated from the University of Hong Kong; was the first Chinese to graduate from Harvard; did a special program in River Conservancy at Cornell University (so he could help flood victims in Guangzhou Province); helped establish the Chinese University; served in neighborhood committees as a community leader, etc. He purchased the land to build Dragon Garden from the HK Government to “beautify Hong Kong” in 1948. He had the vision, not only for the enjoyment of his own family, but for the Hong Kong public, to build an everlasting heritage site.
Designed by renowned Chinese architect Chu Pin, who was involved in the restoration of the Forbidden City in Beijing, the garden is covered with hundreds of species of trees and flowers, as well as ponds, footpaths, bridges and architecture of the Song, Ming and Qing dynasties. Mid 2006, the garden was saved at the eleventh hour from being sold to a developer, mainly thanks to the efforts of Cynthia Lee, Grand Daughter of Lee Iu Cheung, who managed to convince her family and the Hong Kong Government of the historical importance of this cultural heritage. Cynthia even established the Dragon Garden Charitable Trust in July 2006 for the purpose of saving cultural heritage in Hong Kong.
During our first visit to Hong Kong, in the 90’s, we had never managed to find this location, so for years it was simply described by us as ‘remote’, ‘private’ and ‘unaccessible’. In the summer of 2006, while doing research, I stumbled upon the Dragon Garden Charitable Trust website, recently set up by Cynthia. Thank God for the Internet..! When it became clear that a second visit to Hong Kong was possible, I immediately contacted her and we soon agreed on a time and date.
From Hong Kong Island, the best way to reach Dragon Garden is by Metro and taxi. The Tsuen Wan Metro Line (direction Tsuen Wan) takes you as close as the Metro can, to Tsuen Wan. When you leave the station using the southern exits, you will be at Castle Peak Road, the old road leading from Kowloon to Castle Peak at Tuen Mun. Outside the station it should not be very difficult to find a taxi, since Castle Peak Road is a busy street. The hard part is explaining where you want to go to, since first of all taxi drivers speak very poor English, and second of all, Dragon Garden is not a destination they are likely to know. Best thing to do is to name ‘Sea Crest Villa Phase 4’ as your destination. This huge luxury appartment block is located just next to the garden and there’s a good chance your taxi driver will know it.
Unable to attend herself, Cynthia had kindly arranged for Henry Lo to receive us. Henry, Research Development Officer at the Chinese University’s Chinese Architectural History Unit is currently working on the conservation of the estate and would prove to be an adept tour guide as well. We arrived at 10am at the front gate where Henry let us in.
James Bond visits Dragon Garden twice in The Man With The Golden Gun. The first visit comes as a surprise to Lieutenant Hip who supports Bond while the latter is looking over the garden’s surrounding wall. Hip suddenly feels the weight is leaving his shoulders and notices Bond climbing over the wall. As soon as Bond lands inside the heavily guarded area, director Guy Hamilton takes us to the other side of the estate where we see the first glimpse of the Mausoleum, built by Lee Iu Cheung for himself and his wife. This elevated part on the north side of the garden still looks exactly like it did in the film. All scenes with Hai Fat and the real Scaramanga were filmed in this area. Later in the film, Hai Fat is shot by Scaramanga in the Memorial Hall, or Hall of Longevity, a beautifully mosaic-decorated room just left of the dome shaped tomb.
When standing in the Mausoleum area with your back towards the tomb, you will be facing a massive four-columned portal covered in multi-coloured mosaics in traditional patterns. The view of Tsing Yi Island, Ma Wan Island, Lantau Island and the Tsing Ma Bridge, all seen through this portal, is just breathtaking and almost makes you forget the surrounding building devolpments. Just try to imagine how this looked before Hong Kong grew out of proportion..: the athmosphere here is simply amazing.
The garden’s main feature (also visible in the film) is a 50 foot dragon who’s body coils through a terraced pond, crossed by arching bridges. The impressive dragon’s head is once again covered in colourful mosaics, its scales are made from the sides of thousands of bottles. While its body is curving in and out of the various ponds, the water is gushing from its gaping jaws. In the following shot we see 007 walking across the grass towards the pool where he meets Chew Me. This very large pool, also completely decorated with mosaic tiles, was in fact the first and largest private pool in Hong Kong and is still present on the estate, although currently empty, awaiting renovation.
Posing as Scaramanga, Bond is received by Hai Fat himself, who plays his game along and even invites him for dinner. Saying goodbye to Chew Me, Bond simply leaves the garden through the front gate, returning to Hip who is waiting near the car parked at Castle Peak Road, opposite of the garden. This area has totally changed from a small, local, dusty road to a modern two-lane road which was widened years ago to better suit the needs of modern traffic. This unfortunately has also caused the demolition of the original stone wall between the estate and the road. There’s a new wall now and a new entrance gate. The original red doors are in storage and will hopefully be placed back some day.
007’s second visit to Hai Fat’s estate is later that day. Around dinner time, Bond arrives, through the entrance gate this time. We see him walking through the garden, past various odd features which in reality were never present. In the end he is attacked by two sumo wrestlers and Nick Nack, all posing as garden statues at first. These scenes were filmed on the grass between the entrance gate and the swimming pool. After Nick Nack knocks Bond to the ground, Hai Fat himself is just in time to convince Scaramanga’s tiny aid to ‘take Bond to the school’, referring to the karate school, scenes filmed in Bangkok. This scene looks strangely similar to the one in Roger Moore’s first Bond adventure, filmed just a year earlier, in which Mr. Big orders Tee Hee to ‘take him to the farm’.
For some reason the largest and most prominent features in the garden were used very little in the film. The Pavillion of Leisure (an eight sided pavillion or house) can be seen in the scene where Hai Fat invites Bond for dinner. The main residence, the Golden Jubilee Building, built to commemorate Lee Iu Cheung’s golden wedding anniversary in 1967, can only be seen in the very first overview shot, introducing Hai Fat’s estate to the viewer and setting up the scene.
Since the early days of civilisation the Chinese have created works of art from the face of the earth, building a harmony of rock, water and plant in keeping with a highly formalised pattern based on cosmological principles. Comissioned by Lee Iu Cheung, architect Chu Pin designed a garden which conforms strictly to the most ancient traditions of Chinese gardens. And it makes a fantastic Bond location. Although I can say in all fairness that The Man With The Golden Gun is not the best Bond film, the film’s exotic locations are definitely among the best of the series. Hopefully around 2008, Dragon Garden’s extensive renovations will have finished and the property will be ‘returned’ to the people of Hong Kong. It will be opened for public visits, just like one of Hong Kong’s most influential men, Dragon Garden’s founder Lee Iu Cheung, would have wanted it.