Who is Yuen Biao?
Yuen Biao is a seasoned Hong-Kong actor, stunt director, action choreographer and a martial artist. He is one of the leading artists whose expertise lies in martial arts and acrobatics which landed him several jobs in the industry as an actor, stuntman and a stunt choreographer. He was born in Castle Peak Road in British Hong Kong in a middle class family of eight children. He trained in martial arts during his younger days and one of his several famous classmates was popular actor Jackie Chan. At the age of 16, he left the school and followed several of his classmates and started trying in the Hong Kong film industry. He embarked into the industry in the early 70s when he started venturing into films as an extra and a stunt double. He worked as an extra on some early Bruce Lee films such as ‘Fist of Fury’, ‘Way of the Dragon’ and later became his stunt double in films such as ‘Game of Death’ and ‘Enter the Dragon’. In the 1978 action film ‘Knockout’, he made his leading role debut in Hong Kong films and throughout the course of his career, he ended up playing supporting and leading roles in more than 130 films.
Childhood & Early Life
Yuen Biao was born Ha Lingchun on July 26, 1957 in British Hong Kong at his parents’ residence in Castle Peak Road to parents Ha Kwong-Tai and Ha Sau-Ying. He was the fifth child in the massive middle class Chinese family of eight children. Like most of his elder brothers and sisters, he was not sent to a regular school and was enrolled into the China Drama Academy in the Peking Opera School at the age of 5.
His parents were heavily influenced by China’s heritage of Kung Fu and Bruce Lee was a renowned name back when he was growing up. Growing up in Hong Kong, Yuen became a major fan of martial artists and became determined to follow the same path as his ideals. During his time at the academy, he was the youngest student there and hence he was named Yuen Biao, which meant Little Tiger in English.
Since his very early days at the academy, he showed immense interest in learning Kung Fu and by the time he was a teenager, he was better at it than many older students. Jackie Chan later stated in his biography that Yuen was fastest learner among them all and had the natural skills for Kung Fu. He gave example of an instance when Yuen was asked to perform a back flip on his first day at the academy and he did it.
There at the academy, he studied alongside Jackie Chan, Corey Yuen, Yuen Wah and several other people who later went on forge successful careers as martial artists in the Hong Kong film industry. Yuen finished his basic education from the school till the age of 16. After that, he went on looking for work in the Hong Kong film industry, following the footsteps of several of his seniors from the academy.
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During the early stages of his career, Yuen found it very difficult to find acting roles in films and he resorted to doing extra roles and became assistant to stunt directors. He made his debut with the 1972 film ‘Fist of Fury’ starring Bruce Lee in the leading role. In the film, Yuen worked as a stuntman. In his second film of the year titled ‘Hapkido’, he repeated his role as a stuntman and also played a small role.
In his last film of the year titled ‘The Fourteen Amazons’, he shrugged off his image as a mere stuntman and played a supporting role for the first time in his career. He followed it up with small roles in low budget films such as ‘Death Blow’ and ‘The Master of Kung Fu’. In 1973, for the film ‘Enter the Dragon’, he became the stunt double for Bruce Lee.
For the next few years, Yuen carried on doing more than half a dozen films each year where he either did a supporting role or worked as a stuntmen and in some instances, he did both. Some of the most notable of his titles from the mid 70s are ‘The Shrine of Ultimate Bliss’, ‘The Man From Hong Kong’, ‘Secret Rivals’, ‘Challenge for the Master’ and ‘Broken Oath’.
Keeping up with the traditions of Chinese actors using English names as their maiden names for the international prints of their films, Yuen decided to change his first name to Bill. He also used the name Jimmie on some films. This was mostly pushed by the producers who wanted to encash the success of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. But it did not sit down well with Yuen and he later decided to keep his Chinese name as his first name on screen.
Towards the late 70s and early 80s, his former classmates Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, who were enjoying a significant success in the national and international film industry, supported him. As a result of several recommendations, Yuen started getting bigger roles in films. Sammo Hung also ended up directing an action comedy film ‘Knockabout’, where he casted Yuen in the first leading role of his career.
His career turned around with the arrival of the 80s when he started giving back to back hits. Some of the most successful of his films during that era were ‘The Prodigal Son’, ‘The Champions’, ‘Wheels on Meals’ and ‘Mr. Vampire’. Although his primary part remained as a supporting actor in all these films, he did not shy away from stunt coordinating and action direction. He maintained strong friendships with his former classmates Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung and did several films with them.
The lack of critical acclaim for his performances never had him rising as high as Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee did. In the 90s, he started appearing less and less on the big screen. The arrival of a new action star Jet Li on the horizon further threatened his position in the industry. He played a supporting role in Jet Li starrer film ‘Once Upon a Time in China’.
Some of his most notable films towards the late 90s were ‘Hero’ and ‘A Man called Hero’. Most of his attention was focused on television and he was seen playing leading roles in the series’ such as ‘Righteous Guards’ and ‘The Legend of a Chinese Hero’.
Even when his stars were fading in Hong Kong, Jackie Chan remained by his side throughout and invited him to choreograph stunts for his Hollywood film ‘Shanghai Noon’ in 2000. In 2006, he appeared with Jackie Chan playing one of the leading roles in the action comedy film ‘Rob-B-Hood’. The film premiered at Venice Film Festival and received heavy critical acclaim from the national and international critics. The film was also a major box office hit in China.
In the late 2000s, Yuen furthered his career appearing in films such as ‘Turning Point’ and ‘Just Another Pandora’s Box’. In the more recent years, he has appeared on big screen with films such as ‘Tai Chi Hero’ and ‘The Bodyguard’. In 2013, he appeared playing one of the major roles in the first Chinese 3D TV series ’12 Deadly Coins’.
Yuen Biao dated actress Didi Pang for sometime in the early 80s before getting married to her in 1984. The couple has two sons together.
Yuen lives in Hong Kong with his family but he also happens to have a house in Canada, where he visits during his holidays. He is an avid golfer.