Bruce Lee's daughter sues Chinese Kungfu restaurant

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, December 26, 2019
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A logistics center of the Kungfu restaurant chain in Dongguan, Guangdong province in China. [Photo courtesy of Guangzhou Real Kungfu Catering Management]

Kung fu icon Bruce Lee's daughter Shannon Lee has filed a lawsuit in Shanghai, seeking 210 million yuan ($30 million) in compensation from a restaurant chain allegedly using her father as its logo.

According to the filing, Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC took the issue to the Shanghai No.2 Intermediate People's Court. Besides demanding monetary compensation, it is also asking the Kungfu restaurant chain to cease using Bruce Lee's image, publish a statement on media outlets over 90 consecutive days to clarify that they have nothing to do with Bruce Lee and pay the reasonable legal fees of 88,000 yuan ($12,590). Shannon Lee is the legal representative of Bruce Lee Enterprises.

Guangzhou Real Kungfu Catering Management Co., Ltd., which trades as Kungfu and known as "Real Kung Fu" among Chinese, is a restaurant chain founded as early as 1990 and headquartered in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. It sells steamed bowls of rice with various meats, and has more than 600 restaurant locations nationwide. Interestingly, its logo and trademarks look quite like the iconic pose of Bruce Lee, and Chinese customers have long been thinking it is somehow a licensed restaurant chain by the estate of Bruce Lee.

Now the lawsuit shows it is apparently not licensed by Bruce Lee Enterprises at all, which stunned many Chinese people. According to records, the restaurant chain was initially named "168 Steamed Fast Food Restaurant" and "Seed Double Food." It was later renamed "Real Kung Fu" after its founder hired a veteran marketing company to rebuild its brand in 2004.

A comparison between the trademarks of the Kungfu restaurant chain and iconic scenes from Bruce Lee's movies in the legal filings. [Image courtesy of Entertainment Theory Studio]

Nevertheless, Cai Dabiao, one of the founders of the Kungfu restaurant, refused the advice by the marketing company to contact the heirs of Bruce Lee for a license deal. "They knew they had used Bruce Lee's likeness and written it in their logo registry documents, but by doing so without contacting the Bruce Lee estate, it is a exploitation of bad faith, and infringes on Lee's interests and rights," Ye Fang, an attorney for Bruce Lee Enterprises, told the blogger Entertainment Theory on Wednesday.

"Their success is an inspiring story; however, their success is also based on a 15-year-long infringement," she added. After consulting with Jackie Chan's company about Chan's endorsement fees as a reference, Bruce Lee Enterprises calculated the damage to be 210 million yuan, which is 14 million yuan per year for 15 years.

But the Kungfu restaurant chain said they are confused. According to a statement released on Thursday morning to respond to this new legal dispute, the company said it didn't want to comment on this pending case and would wait until the court verdict. But it pointed out the series of trademarks were registered with and were strictly examined and approved by the Trademark Office under the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.

File photo: Actor and martial artist Bruce Lee poses for a Warner Bros publicity still for the film "Enter the Dragon" in 1973 in Hong Kong. [Photo/VCG]

"We have used the trademarks for 15 years and had encountered legal disputes years ago. But there were no administrative or legal conclusion and verdict to pin us as a violator," the statement said, "The fact that we are sued after so many years is confusing to us. We are actively studying the case and preparing for court."

According to previous reports, Shannon Lee had tried to sue the Kungfu restaurant chain back in 2010, but after the Trademark Office responded in a letter recognizing that Bruce Lee and his English name are rights entitled by his heirs to develop and exploit, there was no follow-up. Shannon Lee had gradually regained all rights and trademarks of her father and films in the United States and many other countries since 2010, and she has been wanting to build a global Bruce Lee brand by integrating all the Bruce Lee-related resources. It remains to be seen if she can nail the Kungfu restaurant chain this time. 

This year marks Bruce Lee's 79th birth anniversary if he had survived. He was featured in many projects, such as the current blockbuster film "Ip Man 4," where Lee, played by Hong Kong actor Danny Chan, joins forces with his master Ip Man, played by Donnie Yen, in America. This portrayal was approved by Shannon Lee. 

However, a mocking depiction of the late kung fu master in Quentin Tarantino's new film "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood" has enraged Lee's daughter, who blasted it as a "caricature" and prompted an angry outcry from Chinese fans. Shannon Lee then reportedly complained to China's film authorities, which prevented the film from being released in China, despite heavy Chinese investment by the Bona Film Group.

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