By Joyce Teo
MARTIAL arts movie star Jet Li and his wife, former actress Nina Li Chi, have bought a sprawling bungalow in Bukit Timah for $19.8 million.
The freehold property is a 22,723 sq ft good class bungalow (GCB) in Binjai Rise - a house with past links to another global celebrity, football star David Beckham.
GCBs are a prestigious class of bungalows in limited supply here, found only in gazetted prime residential areas such as Nassim Road and Ridley Park. They have a minimum land area of 15,000 sq ft.
Li, 46, who is taking a break from acting to focus on charity work, launched the Jet Li One Foundation Project in April last year jointly with the Red Cross Society of China to raise funds for victims of natural disasters worldwide.
The Beijing-born actor, whose Chinese name is Lianjie, then set up a branch of One Foundation in Singapore last year.
In 2007, he had moved his wife and two younger daughters to Singapore. He is now understood to be a Singapore citizen, according to the Business Times, which broke news of the sale yesterday.
The two younger daughters - he has two other teenage daughters from an earlier marriage - attend the Singapore American School.
Li, who previously lived in Los Angeles, has starred in numerous Hollywood and Chinese movies. Recent releases include The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor (2008) and Fearless (2006).
His first Hollywood leading role was in the hip hop, gongfu film Romeo Must Die.
A check yesterday showed that Li's GCB deal was sealed in the middle of last month. The seller had suffered a loss of $1.2 million on the deal.
The seller, who has a pre-school childcare business, had bought the property in the fast-rising market of early 2007 for $21 million, or $924 per sq ft (psf). The sale price to Li works out to $871 psf.
Market sources said the previous owner had bought it from the founder of luxury goods retailer FJ Benjamin, Mr Frank Benjamin, who had lived there for many years. He now lives in the high-rise condominium Ardmore Park.
In 2001, Mr Benjamin hosted a party at this Binjai Rise house, where two models claimed in media reports to have met football star David Beckham and later had separate trysts with him. The football star did not comment on the allegations.
Market observers said the price that Li paid for the GCB is fair. With prices rising amid improved property market sentiment, the value of the Binjai Rise GCB could even be a bit higher now, said one.
Li's purchase and the 2007 deal are the only occasions the bungalow has changed hands since 1995 - the period when records are available.
Foreigners cannot easily buy a GCB or any other landed home here as the Government restricts foreign ownership of residential property.
Permanent residents are permitted to buy landed property, but only with permission from the Government. Foreigners who take out Singapore citizenship may also buy landed property.
The exception to the restrictions is the gated residential enclave of Sentosa Cove, where ownership rules were eased to allow foreigners who are not PRs to buy landed homes or land plots, though permission is still needed.
Other Asian movie stars living in Singapore include Chinese actress Gong Li, who is married to a Singaporean. She became a Singapore citizen late last year.
Another famous gongfu star, Jackie Chan, also owns properties here, though he is not based here.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.