Legends of Action: Chow Yun-Fat

BirthDate: May 18, 1955 – Hong Kong

You will be hard pushed to find anyone in the entire world cooler than Chow Yun-Fat; the man oozes charisma and his work with John Woo alone has long since earned him the title of “Legend”.

He’s most famous for his roles in Woo’s heroic bloodshed films A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hard Boiled; he also starred as Li Mu-bai in Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

It hasn’t always been mega-blockbusters for Chow as he originally started out as a TV actor in Hong Kong.

He became a household name following his role in the series The Bund in TVB in 1980. The Bund was about the rise and fall of a gangster in 1930s Shanghai and made him a star. It would also foreshadow the kind of roles he would later be remembered for: Tough guys with a heart.

He always wanted to be a movie star but found the transition from small to big screen challenging until he met John Woo in 1986. They would make a gangster movie called A Better Tomorrow which would make both of them megastars. Thus began one of the best partnerships in movie history.

Hard Boiled still stands up today as one of the all time greats; the action is mind blowing, the violence shocking and the direction flawless. It’s incredibly stylish and proved what a great director John Woo is.

The Killer also had a great story and didn’t have a “Hollywood-style” ending; people didn’t all live happily ever after and all of the characters had flaws. Chow has always been great at playing vulnerable tough guys and Ah Jong is one of his very best.

Chow would go on to make the “Heroic Bloodshed” name an action fan’s dream in A Better Tomorrow 2, Prison on Fire, Prison on Fire II, The Killer, A Better Tomorrow 3, Hard Boiled and City on Fire to name a few.

Hard Boiled was the movie that really brought Chow and John Woo to the attention of Hollywood.

Chow moved to Hollywood in the late 90’s and was primed to be the next action star, however his first two films, The Replacement Killers (1998) and The Corruptor (1999), both underperformed at the box office. A shame as both films were thoroughly entertaining, but didn’t scale the heights of his Hong Kong works.

In his next film Anna and the King, Chow teamed up with Jodie Foster, but once again the film proved a disappointment at the box office. In 2000 Chow accepted the role of Li Mu-Bai in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It was critically and commercially successful and even won Oscars (I still say Gladiator deserved to win Best Picture though).

After the success of Crouching Tiger, Chow came back to Hollywood and starred in the poorly received Bulletproof Monk which was beginning to show that he was getting typecast.

Chow was cast as the pirate captain Sao Feng in 2007’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End; apparently his character was criticized as demeaning as it “vilifies and humiliates the Chinese.”

After Pirates, Chow went back to Hong Kong and has made some classic historical epics including Confucius, Shanghai and Let the Bullets Fly.

For some reason he would also star in Dragonball Evolution, where he played Master Roshi… the movie was seen as a failure.

So, despite a less than stellar period in Hollywood, Chow Yun-Fat has starred in some of the best action movies of all time and the stand-outs include Hard Boiled, The Killer and A Better Tomorrow. If you haven’t seen them then I can’t recommend them highly enough.