For the love of cinema

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WHEN 81-year-old cinephile Lee See Voon goes about his daily routine at home, he does so with stars in his eyes.

The walls of his humble home in Taman Cempaka, Ipoh are adorned with a galaxy of stars — thousands of framed and autographed photographs of iconic actors from the Hong Kong film industry.

Collected over six decades, the walls are filled with mostly black and white images of such iconic actors as Wang Yu, Lin Dai, Lui Kei, Patrick Tse, Bruce Lee, and contemporary artistes Jackie Chan and Aaron Kwok.

Lee, a retired hairdresser, maintains a unique personal style to this day with dyed-red hair. His mind sharp as a steel trap, Lee could easily rattle off the names of the celebrities.

His love of the Hong Kong film industry began when he was a 13-year-old boy living in Simpang Pulai, when he would cycle 10km to Ipoh just to watch his film idols on the silver screen.

In those days, the best and brightest from the Hong Kong film industry would visit their fans in Ipoh, which only fuelled Lee’s passion.

“It was thrilling to meet them. I would go there and get them to personally autograph their pictures, which added to their significance,” he told Malay Mail at his home recently.

The signed photograph he cherishes most is the one of iconic actress Lin Dai. There is a gleam in his eye whenever he remembers the star of the Shaw Brothers studio, who shocked the industry when she committed suicide in 1967, at the age of 29.

“I took a bus all the way to KL to meet her in 1951. To this day, she is still my favourite film star. The fact I managed to get her picture still means so much to me.”

Lee’s passion for film inevitably led him to harbour dreams of appearing on the silver screen himself.

“At the age of 18, he went to Kuala Lumpur to audition for a role in a Hong Kong movie.

“I had to wait for a week, but in the end, they told me I had the looks but didn’t meet their height requirements.

“They wanted someone who was 180cm tall. I wasn’t sad though; I knew I wasn’t tall enough. At least it wasn’t because I wasn’t handsome enough!” he said with a laugh.

While his fascination with cinema remained strong, Lee soon found another passion — hair cutting.

Evidently he had a flair for fashionable hairstyles and it wasn’t long before he set up a barbershop in Bercham, Ipoh.

“It was only last year, after being in the business for 62 years, that he stopped.

He moved to his current residence in 1993, running the barbershop from home until he finally called it a day last year.

“I am too old to carry on. But the business was doing well as I had many customers from the nearby Ungku Omar Polytechnic.

“They would ask me to give them vintage hairstyles like those of the old Hong Kong film stars and I knew how to give them exactly what they wanted.”

Besides photographs, Lee has also amassed a collection of around 10,000 handbills — paper brochures that were given out to cinema-goers after a movie.

These bills were like a preview of upcoming films, a paper version of the trailers we sit through nowadays before enjoying the film we paid for.

“I think I may be the only person here who collects these handbills. I remember them being given out at cinemas, but people would just throw them away.

“I used to run after the people handing them out.

“Even today, I still like reading the handbills before I go to bed. I also turn on my turntable to play vinyl records of the old Hong Kong music before turning in for the day.”

Lee said modern cinema tickets are too pricey for him so he gets his fix by watching modern stars on television.

Even though he may have spent thousands of ringgit on his collection, Lee said he would never sell them.

Instead, he plans to pass on the collection to his two godsons, aged 33 and 27.

“People come to see the collection, and I always tell them they can look but not buy.

“I love it when I get visitors and I’m happy to show them around, but selling is not an option.

“It took my own effort to gather these items over the years, and I will never sell it off to anyone,” he said proudly.