Activist Who Pushed to Get Chinatown in Big-Screen Spotlight Dies at 63
CHINATOWN — A charismatic Chinatown business owner-turned-activist who used his connections as a part-time actor to encourage filming in the neighborhood has died.
Paul J.Q. Lee, 63, died on Friday after having two heart attacks on Jan. 14, according to those who knew him.
Friends said they would remember Lee for his volunteerism in Chinatown, including his work mentoring local teens, and for landing minor roles in films such as "Big Trouble in Little China" and "Big."
"I worked with Paul for many, many years and he was basically a father to me," said Keith Leung, a 30-year-old Chinatown resident.
Leung said he was one of dozens of neighborhood kids Lee hired to work at Quong Yuen Shing & Co., his Chinese porcelain wares store at 32 Mott St. Lee had inherited the shop from his grandfather, who opened it in 1891, but he closed it in 2003 because of the economic downturn.
“He really gave us a foundation to stay out of trouble, to learn responsibilities — how we handle our money, speaking to customers,” Leung said.
While Lee ran his Mott Street store, he dabbled in the movie business and became a go-to location scout for both Hollywood and Chinese film companies that wanted to shoot in the neighborhood, said Eddie Chiu from the Lin Sing Association, a community organization based on Mott Street.
"He had a lot of friends," Chiu said. "He was very active in Chinatown."
Leung added that the filming was a boon to local businesses.
"When film companies come they spend money here to eat, to buy, and they expand the presence of Chinatown on the big screen," said Leung. "He [Lee] always thought about the community,"
Along with scouting locations, Lee racked up about 20 appearances in both Chinese and American films and television series, according to his IMDb page.
Lee also had a hand in politics and made an unsuccessful run for Democratic district leader in 2011.
On Jan. 14, Lee was on the 6 train heading to his job as a borough coordinator for the New York City Housing Authority when the first heart attack occurred, according to Leung. As the train pulled into the Union Square station, a doctor managed to revive him only for Lee to have a second heart attack moments later, Leung said.
“It was just too late. There was a lack of oxygen to his brain,” said Leung, who has posted information about Lee's death and memorial service on a private Facebook page.
Lee died at 6:15 a.m. on Friday at Bellevue Hospital and is survived by a sister and brother, according to Leung.
Lee's wake will be held on Thursday at the True Light Lutheran Church at 195 Worth St. from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. His funeral is on Friday at the church from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m. before he is buried at a cemetery on Staten Island.