The many faces of Chow Yun Fat

Gangsters, bumbling young men and the smooth Casanova—Chow Yun Fat’s different lives in 60 years

Happy 60th Birthday, Chow Yun Fat!
Happy 60th Birthday, Chow Yun Fat!
18 May 2015

Happy 60th Birthday, Chow Yun Fat!

From top left (clockwise): Hard Boiled, From Vegas to Macau, All About Ah Long, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

As the popular saying goes, “you only live one life”, but Hong Kong veteran star Chow Yun Fat has done far more than that.

From his humble beginnings as a dim sum seller when he was a kid, Yun Fat won the audience over with his great comedic timing and acting chops, molding himself into the renowned action hero that he is today.

The longtime actor is also known for the wide variety of characters that he has lived as throughout his years in the industry. With over 100 films under his belt, it’s no surprise that Yun Fat has basically played almost every role possible—gangster bosses, honey-tongued playboys, gambling kings and pirate lords—you name it, he’s played it.

Even as he grew older, Yun Fat continued to churn out quality action movies, the most recent being the gambling movie From Vegas to Macau II. In fact, it’s almost hard to believe that this nimble-footed man has already reached the big Six-O.

As we celebrate Yun Fat’s 60th birthday and the 40 years of great entertainment that he has blessed us with, we take a look at some of the actor’s most notable roles.


Photos: Mega-Vision Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics, Cinema City Co. Ltd., Golden Princess Film Production

The gambling king
The gambling king
18 May 2015

The gambling king

From left: From Vegas to Macau, God of Gamblers

One of Yun Fat’s most well-known roles has to be that of gambling master, Ko Chun, in the insanely popular God of Gamblers movie series.

The movies, which revolve around Ko Chun’s adventures (or misfortunes?) when his innate gambling talent attracts enemies and endangers his loved ones. Don’t worry, for the street smart “God of Gamblers” manages to outsmart people who plot against him every single time.

Wacky plots and the trademark outlandish humour made the series a hit with audiences, inspiring linked sequels starring Stephen Chow, as well as many other parodies and spin-offs.

It’s a testament to a character’s popularity when you get to cameo in your own film—Yun Fat’s latter gambling series, From Vegas to Macau, featured a running joke where Ko Chun would appear at the end of the movies to snatch Ken’s (the gambling king in the movie) disciples.


Photos: Mega-Vision Pictures, Win’s Movie Production

The gangster (with a sense of justice)
The gangster (with a sense of justice)
18 May 2015

The gangster (with a sense of justice)

From top left (clockwise): A Better Tomorrow, The Last Tycoon, The Bund, A Better Tomorrow

Who could possibly forget Yun Fat’s role as Hui Man Keung, the broody and idealistic gangster?

The actor’s performance as the doomed young man in the 1980 drama series The Bund is one of his most iconic roles ever, and was also what propelled him to fame in Hong Kong. Similarly, the movie A Better Tomorrow, which also featured Yun Fat as a goodhearted gangster, was what landed him mainstream movie star status.

It seems that tragic heroes were what made the audience tick back in the days, for one of the similarities that Yun Fat’s mob characters share are their tragic fates. Mark Lee (A Better Tomorrow) is reduced to a cripple and eventually killed while trying to save his friend; Man Keung is mercilessly killed the night before he would reunite with his sweetheart in France; and Cheng Da Qi (The Last Tycoon) meets his end while hiding from Japanese soldiers in a car.

If you’re a Yun Fat fan who’s planning to revisit his best movies anytime soon, we suggest you keep the tissue box within arm’s reach.


Photos: Cinema City Company Limited, Mega Vision Pictures, Television Broadcasts Limited 

The assassin (with a conscience)
The assassin (with a conscience)
18 May 2015

The assassin (with a conscience)

From left: The Killer, The Replacement Killers

Don’t ask us how, don’t ask us why, but when Yun Fat is an assassin, he always comes with a much – unneeded—conscience.

Yun Fat’s roles as seasoned killers in the popular movies The Killer and The Replacement Killers both have trouble completing their final killing jobs—Ah Jong in The Killer is forced to take on another hit after he accidentally blinds an innocent woman’s eyes during what was supposed to be his last shootout.

Why, you ask? Well, it’s because he needs to raise money for the woman’s eye operation. Naturally, “one more job” always means bad news in action movies, and Ah Jong ends up being killed by his vengeful boss in the end.

His character in The Replacement Killers, John Lee, winds up being pursued by his former employer after he fails to complete his final mission as well (his conscience is at work again). We can’t help but think that these assassins are really bad at their jobs when it comes to crucial moments, though it’s hard not to root for anti-heroes who seem to struggle with doing what’s right—but then again, it’s Chow Yun Fat, guys.


Photos: Film Workshop, Brillstein Entertainment Partners 

The average joe (who quickly becomes badass anyway)
The average joe (who quickly becomes badass anyway)
18 May 2015

The average joe (who quickly becomes badass anyway)

From left: God of Killers, Full Contact

Yun Fat doesn’t always play the “God” of something, though. In the movies Full Contact and God of Killers, he plays characters that have no particularly special traits—the average joes.

Okay, we’re not fooling anyone here. It’s true that Yun Fat starts off as a normal guy in these movies, but he quickly becomes the master of fighting, even managing to overpower long time gangsters. These underdogs are almost always dragged into the fray against their wishes—Gou Fei in Full Contact gets involved with gangsters in order to save his friend Sam Sei (Anthony Wong), while Woo Viet in God of Killers is forced to become a hired killer in order to save his girlfriend from prostitution.

Underdogs, check. A higher purpose, check. Abominable villains, check. It’s almost impossible not to enjoy watching these characters fight their way to victory (whether their sudden acquisition of killer skills are believable or not).


Photos: Beverly Wilshire, Silver Medal Productions Ltd. 

The nice—and sometimes rich—guy
The nice—and sometimes rich—guy
18 May 2015

The nice—and sometimes rich—guy

From left: All About Ah Long, An Autumn’s Tale, The Fun, the Luck & the Tycoon

It’s a rare Chow Yun Fat movie where he actually manages to get the girl and a happy ending. It’s particularly frustrating in movies like An Autumn’s Tale and All About Ah Long, where he plays well-meaning good men who are just doomed to fail when it comes to romance.

Samuel Pang in An Autumn’s Tale is the typical example of “nice guys finish last”—he helps the female lead with basically everything, shows her around the city, and even sells his car just to buy her a graduation gift. Despite that, she spends three quarters of the movie moping over her cheating boyfriend, and it is never clear whether she reciprocates Samuel’s feelings.

In a tragic twist, Yun Fat’s character in All About Ah Long, Ah Long, is able to win back his ex-girlfriend’s heart, but dies in an accident before he has the chance to enjoy the fruits of his labour.

Watching these movies would probably equate to putting your heart through a lot of unnecessary pain, so if you’re interested in checking out Yun Fat as a swoony romantic hero, The Fun, the Luck & the Tycoon, where Yun Fat plays a rich man who gives up his fortune for love, would be more lighthearted—and fulfilling—fare.


Photos: Cinema City Co. Ltd., D&B Films, Cinema City & Films Co. 

The martial arts master
The martial arts master
18 May 2015

The martial arts master

Who doesn’t love a good martial arts movie with some breathtaking stunt action?

As an action star, Yun Fat naturally has his fair share of martial artist roles, including a lead role in the Hollywood adaptation of the popular manga, Dragonball Z. Amongst them, the most popular film will be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the 2000 wuxia film featuring other big names such as Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi. With US$128 million (approximately S$176 million) of box office earnings in America, it is also the most successful foreign film in tinstletown.

This period film features Yun Fat as Li Mu Bai, a Wudang swordsman who seeks to avenge his teacher’s death at the hands of the villain, played by veteran Hong Kong actress Cheng Peipei. Eventually, the highly skilled swordsman manages to kill his teacher’s attacker and even confesses his hidden love for his long-time friend.

As with most other Chow Yun Fat heroes, though, Mu Bai ends up dying via a poison dart while saving someone else from them—we can’t say we didn’t see this coming.


Photos: Sony Pictures Classics

The playboy
The playboy
18 May 2015

The playboy

As much as Yun Fat has played anti-heroes and conflicted main leads, his film characters still tend to be likeable somehow—even when he is a bigamist.

It may sound unbelievable on paper, but yes, Yun Fat stepped into the shoes of a man with dreams to marry two women at once for the film Diary of a Big Man. And the weirder thing is, he actually manages to do it!

The film follows Chow Ting Fat’s (Yun Fat) comedic antics as he strives to keep his two wives from find out that there are, uh, two wives. Unsurprisingly, the jig is eventually exposed, but even then, Ting Fat manages to get his happy ending by converting to the Middle Eastern religion—which allows for multiple marriages—with his wives.

We won’t suggest this movie for the easily offended, but Ting Fat is one charming playboy, so if you’re up for some laughs and don’t mind a straight up ridiculous plot, then this is one of Yun Fat’s classics that you won’t want to miss.


Photo: City Cinema Co. Ltd.

The tough cop
The tough cop
18 May 2015

The tough cop

From left: Hard Boiled, City War, The Corruptor

Of course, there’s also the typical Hong Kong action movie hero: the police officer who’s on a deadly chase with a mob boss.

Yun Fat has played all types of cops—the angry cop out to avenge his friend’s death (Hard Boiled), an undercover triad member pretending to be a cop (The Corruptor), and even a harsh cop who doesn’t believe in going easy on criminals (City War).

All these characters have a knack for doing the right thing, though, whether it lands them in hot soup or not. The fast-paced action and repeated betrayals also help to immerse the audience into the movie and keep them guessing. When Hard Boiled was aired at the Toronto International film festival, some viewers got so excited that they even shouted at the screen.

If you’re a Hong Kong movie fan, you’re bound to have seen Yun Fat in one or two of his police officer roles, but if not, it’s never too late to start.


Photos: Cinema City, Golden Princess Film Production, New Line Cinema 

Philanthropist extraordinaire (in real life)
Philanthropist extraordinaire (in real life)
18 May 2015

Philanthropist extraordinaire (in real life)

Yun Fat may be many other things in his movies and dramas, but in real life, he’s just your regular good guy.

He’s the owner of a huge fortune worth HK$1 billion (approximately S$164 million), but Yun Fat travels around in cabs and public transportation like the rest of us, and doesn’t even go shopping that often. When asked why he does not have a personal chauffeur to drive him around, the affable actor explained that having a driver would mean that the latter has to wait around for him and he does not want that.

So if he’s not going to spend that enormous fortune on himself, where is it going to go to?

Apparently, Yun Fat is planning to donate every single cent of his earnings to charities after he passes away, keeping the mindset that what he has does not belong to him; he is merely “keeping it temporarily”.

You know what—out of all the cool personas that Yun Fat has taken on, the thrifty guy with a big heart is the one that we like the most.


Photos: TPG 

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