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Wong Yu

 
 
 
 
Other names : 汪志权
汪禹
Wang Yu
Wong Chi Kuen
Young Wong Yu
Wong Yue
Yung Wong Yu
 
Birthdate : 26/10/1955
Date of death : 1/5/2008
Nationality : China
Workplace : Hong Kong
Activities : Action Director (1), Actor (65), Brief appearance (6), Cameo (1), Stuntman (1)

Biography

Largely forgotten nowadays, Wong Yu was kung fu cinema’s first comic jester. Alexander Fu Sheng may have been the kung fu genre’s first naughty kid, but back in the 1970s he was starring in straightforward and bloody potboilers. Wong Yu, on the other hand, was a real clown who starred in the first patented kung fu comedy back in 1975 - master martial filmmaker Lau Kar Leung’s brilliant, groundbreaking directorial debut SPIRITUAL BOXER. The film was made a full two and a half years before Jackie Chan starred in SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW, which while certainly a landmark kung fu comedy was not the very first one, as later incorrectly credited by many. Some even called Wong Yu Shaw Brothers' answer to Jackie, while in fact he preceded him.

Wong Yu has a similar name as the early swordplay/kung fu star Jimmy Wang Yu, Wong being the Cantonese pronunciation of the same name. He also bears something of a passing resemblance to him. That’s no coincidence. The story goes that Run Run Shaw, the Shaw Studio owner, was so angry at Wang Yu for leaving him in 1970, that he hired a look-alike - originally a luggage clerk – and gave him a stage name that mimicked Wang, and had him play the buffoon onscreen so as to embarrass his former star. That’s a nice story, but one that sounds a little too good to be completely true. Regardless, if Wong Yu was originally meant to ridicule Wang Yu, he quickly developed his own original screen persona: the goofy, puppy eyed, mischievous trickster. This was a far cry from being a mere parody.

In truth, both Wang and Wong were very much products of their time. In the late sixties and early seventies, Wang Yu echoed Hong-Kong’s restless angst-filled youth with his stoic, grim faced, fiercely heroic image. In the later seventies Wong Yu’s mischievous trickster, trying to live by swindling and cheating with his quick wit and fast mouth, was the ideal hero for the working class youth caught up in Hong Kong’s difficult struggle for survival.

Wong Yu’s beginnings are a bit clouded. His first recorded appearance is as an extra in the independent production BLOODY FISTS (72), which suggests that he most likely had a background as a stuntman. About one year later Wong appeared either as an extra or in a bit part in the Shaw Brothers adult period film GOLDEN LOTUS (74). The next thing we know though, is that Wong was the lead player in a pair of movies that, judging from their titles, would appear to be youth oriented romantic dramas: THIRTEEN (starring a young Tien Niu) and YOUNG PASSION. Such a sudden rise may suggest there is some truth to the idea that he was chosen for his resemblance to Wang Yu. Considering the nature of his first couple of films though, it seems unlikely that he parodied Wang Yu. More likely he would have played a puppy eyed youth in love with the film’s leading lady. Wong Yu can also be seen in THE FLYING GUILLOTINE as a victim of the titular device.

Wong Yu’s real breakthrough role however was in Shaw Brother’s house choreographer Lau Kar Leung‘s aforementioned directorial debut, SPIRITUAL BOXER (75). At the time, kung fu cinema had been in a creative quagmire, getting quite stale with it’s done-to-death, formulaic, angst-filled tales of revenge that always ended in carnage. Kung fu was out of the public’s favour and irreverent burlesque comedy was in. Lau, a genuine kung fu master and a descendant of Cantonese legendary folk hero Wong Fei Hung, came-up with this oddball mixture of kung fu and slapstick comedy in a tale of a young folk magician with expertise in exorcism as well as spiritual boxing. The character is actually a con-martial artist who uses his skills to earn some money but also helps the locals against a ruthless landowner. This was the first genuine kung-fu comedy, and Wong Yu truly excelled in it. Rather scruffy looking, he might not have had the physical presence of Shaw’s earlier martial stars such as Ti Lung or Chen Kuan Tai (who made a cameo appearance at the beginning of the film) but he was quite agile, and through Lau Kar Leung’s training he was made to look at least like a passable screen fighter. His great talent though wasn’t in straight kung fu fighting but in his great comic flair, which allowed him to both effectively parody the original Wang Yu when the occasion demanded, to engage in some wicked monkey-like antics, and to create his own endearing, good-hearted, goofy character. SPIRITUAL BOXER ranked seventh in that year’s box office charts - the highest grossing Kung fu film of the year.

Wong Yu’s next role, in the Lau Kar Leung picture CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS (76), was the serious elder student of a kung-fu school, but he became the goofy oddball again in Lau’s third entry, EXECUTIONERS OF SHAOLIN (77). As Hung Wen-Deng, the “effeminate” son of Chen Kuan Tai and Lily Li, he battles and baffles the invincible white-haired Taoist priest Bai-mei using his father’s Tiger Claw and his mother’s Crane techniques.

In 1977 Wong Yu strayed outside of Shaw for the first time to star in the independently produced directorial debut of Lau Kar-leung’s younger brother Lau Kar Wing, HE HAS NOTHING BUT KUNG FU. This paired him with the Lau siblings’ adopted brother Lau Kar-fei (better known in the west as Gordon Liu). As in SPIRITUAL BOXER, Wong Yu played another mischievous trickster , this time a pick-pocket instead of a fake spiritualist. That Wong Yu was able to work outside of the studio shows that he was not a contract player since Shaw imposed strict contracts on their actors, including a rule to never act for any other company. Wong Yu worked again for the younger Lau the following year in DIRTY KUNG FU (78).

1978 saw the full blossoming of kung fu comedy as well as Wong Yu’s career with PROUD YOUTH (78), SPIRITUAL BOXER 2 (79), KUNG FU INSTRUCTOR (79), YOUNG AVENGER (80, probably Wong’s last venture outside of Shaw) and KID WITH A TATTOO (80). His best role, though, would find him again with Lau Kar Leung in DIRTY HO (79), which paired him again with Gordon Liu, playing a bumbling, arrogant scoundrel who becomes the devoted servant and bodyguard of a Manchurian Prince.

From the early eighties on, and for the next several years, Wong Yu made an average of three movies a year as star or supporting player in various genres. These films range from typical kung fu comedies like KID FROM KWANGTUNG, YOUNG VAGABOND (both 82) and TALES OF A EUNUCH (83) to more straightforward martial arts pictures like ROAR OF THE LION (81), CRAZY SHAOLIN DISCIPLE, MASTER STRIKES BACK (both 85), as well as rompish farces THE SHY BOY (83), HOW TO CHOOSE A ROYAL BRIDE (84) and historical dramas BATTLE FOR THE REPUBLIC OF CHINA (81). Wong continued to work regularly for Lau Kar Leung (LADY IS THE BOSS (83), EIGHT DIAGRAM POLE FIGHTER (84)) but also made several films with the Shaw Brother's notable veteran director Sun Chung (PROUD YOUTH, KUNG FU INSTRUCTOR, KID WITH A TATTOO, RENDEZVOUS WITH DEATH, MASTER STRIKES BACK).

But while Wong was settling comfortably within the cocoon-like Shaw studio lot, things were not going well for the studio itself. Indeed as the seventies wound down and the eighties began, a new wave of fresh, vigorous talents, trends and film companies started to emerge. These met with instant success while Shaw, on the other hand, was still stuck in their obsolete, stale, studio-bound practices. Thus Shaw saw its share of the Hong Kong movie market melt away like ice in summer, so that within only a few years it had become a minor player in the Hong Kong film industry. Jackie Chan and Cinema City caper comedies were in; Shaw Brothers and their martial art films were out. Shaw tried to cope by making kung fu caper comedies of their own, many of them starring Wong Yu (hence the idea that he was a response to Jackie Chan), but to little avail.

On July 2, 1983, a tragedy occurred when Wong Yu, fellow Shaw Brothers actor Alexander Fu Sheng and the latter’s brother Chan Cheng-po were in a terrible car accident. Both Wang and Chan survived but Fu Sheng later died of his injuries at the hospital. Wong Yu was quite close to Fu Sheng and was very affected by the tragedy. Months later, in the kung-fu production CRAZY SHAOLIN DISCIPLES (85), he would play the part of the mischievous kung fu kid, Fong Sai-yuk, a role which had been Fu Sheng’s own martial art debut in HEROES TWO (74) more than a decade earlier.

After a couple more years and its market share continuing to decline, Shaw at long last realised it was fighting a losing battle and shut down its movie-making facilities. One of Wong Yu’s last Shaw pictures was GIRL WITH THE DIAMOND SLIPPER (85), starring a perky young Miss Hong Kong named Maggie Cheung. The studio closure left Wong Yu and his fellow Shaw players out on a lim, in a movie world that had long passed them by. What did not help matters is that Wong Yu was having serious alcohol and drug problems. It seems that Wong Yu found work in television, and from then on made only sporadic appearances in movies, generally as bit parts. Thus he can be seen in a handful of action films, many of them starring Japanese female nutcracker Yukari Oshima - FRAMED (89), GODFATHER'S DAUGHTER MAFIA BLUES (91), SPIRITUALLY A COP (91). He also had bit parts in Stanley Kwan’s great cinematic masterpieces ROUGE (87) and CENTER STAGE (92).

Interestingly, many of Lau Kar Leung’s regular players somehow found their way into Kwan movies (Wong Yu, Lau Kar Wing, Kara Hui in ROUGE, Gordon Liu in ISLAND TALES (2000), most likely because Kwan himself started out at the Shaw studio. Wong Yu’s last couple of movies were the Category III soft-porn adult productions POWER OF LOVE and PEACH SEX NOXIOUS STAR (both 93). Wong was also credited as action choreographer for the former; his only credit as such, it would seem.

His glory days as one of Hong Kong’s great mischievous tricksters now long behind him, Wong Yu eventually left the movie industry altogether. He overcame his drug problem and was even regarded as a role model by the police narcotics department. He then served as deputy boy-scout commissioner for a Hong Kong district.

Wong Yu later engaged in several business ventures, unfortunately without much success. It was said that he ended up working as a factory worker for a while. Wang Yu passed away in May 2008. Having once been plucked out of obscurity, Wong Yu had sadly returned to it.

Yves Gendron (edited and updated by Sylvia Rorem, 28/03/2001)
 
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Filmography
 [ 2000 - 1990 - 1980 - 1970 ] 
 Alternate lists by alpha / genre / year
 
Title    ( HK -  All )  Year Activity
 
 Dance Of A Dream 2001 Actor
 Easy Money 1994 Actor
 Peach Sex Noxious Star 1993 Actor
 Power Of Love 1993 Action Director, Brief appearance
 Center Stage 1992 Actor
 Handsome Siblings 1992 Brief appearance
 Godfather's Daughter Mafia Blues, The 1991 Actor
 Spiritually A Cop 1991 Actor
 Framed 1989 Actor
 Dragons Forever 1988 Stuntman
 Mistaken Identity 1988 Actor
 Rouge 1988 Actor
 Innocent Interloper, The 1986 Cameo
 Seventh Curse, The 1986 Brief appearance
 Crazy Shaolin Disciples 1985 Actor
 Flying Mr. B, The 1985 Brief appearance
 Girl With The Diamond Slipper, The 1985 Actor
 Master Strikes Back, The 1985 Actor
 Why Me ? 1985 Actor
 Young Vagabond 1985 Actor
 Comedy 1984 Actor
 Dress Off For Life 1984 Actor
 How To Choose A Royal Bride 1984 Actor
 Wits Of The Brats 1984 Actor
 Big Sting, The 1983 Actor
 Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, The 1983 Actor
 Lady Is The Boss 1983 Actor
 Mercenaries From Hong Kong 1983 Actor
 Shy Boy, The 1983 Actor
 Take Care, Your Majesty 1983 Actor
 Tales Of A Eunuch 1983 Actor
 Kid From Kwangtung 1982 Actor
 Winner Takes All 1982 Actor
 Battle For The Republic Of China, The 1981 Actor
 Challenge Of The Gamesters 1981 Actor
 Lion Vs Lion 1981 Actor
 Notorious Eight 1981 Actor
 Kid With A Tattoo 1980 Actor
 Rendezvous With Death 1980 Actor
 Swift Sword 1980 Actor
 Young Avenger, The 1980 Actor
 Dirty Ho 1979 Actor
 Kung Fu Instructor, The 1979 Actor
 Shadow Boxing, The 1979 Actor
 36th Chamber Of Shaolin, The 1978 Actor
 Dirty Kung Fu 1978 Actor
 Proud Youth, The 1978 Actor
 Adventures Of Emperor Chien Lung, The 1977 Actor
 Call Girls, The 1977 Brief appearance
 Executioners From Shaolin 1977 Actor
 He Has Nothing But Kung Fu 1977 Actor
 Challenge Of The Masters 1976 Actor
 Criminals, The 1976 Actor
 Emperor Chien Lung 1976 Actor
 King Gambler 1976 Actor
 Last Tempest, The 1976 Actor
 Snake Prince, The 1976 Actor
 White Butterfly Killer 1976 Actor
 Big Brother Cheng 1975 Actor
 Cuties Parade 1975 Actor
 Flying Guillotine, The 1975 Actor
 It's All In The Family 1975 Actor
 Spiritual Boxer 1975 Actor
 That's Adultery ! 1975 Actor
 Golden Lotus 1974 Actor
 Gossip Street 1974 Actor
 Hong Kong 73 1974 Actor
 Tea House, The 1974 Actor
 Thirteen 1974 Actor
 Two Faces Of Love, The 1974 Actor
 Young Passion 1974 Actor
 Facets Of Love 1973 Brief appearance
 Bloody Fists, The 1972 Actor
 

 Article    Review    Poster/Gallery    DVD Captures    Trailer    DVD Captures/Trailer  
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Gallery
 
 Wong Yu pictures :  (Hide)
Crazy Shaolin Disciples
The Flying Mr. B
The Girl With The Diamond Slipper
The Master Strikes Back
Young Vagabond
How To Choose A Royal Bride
Wits Of The Brats
Mercenaries From Hong Kong
Tales Of A Eunuch
Tales Of A Eunuch
The Big Sting
The Big Sting
The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter
Kid From Kwangtung
Winner Takes All
Challenge Of The Gamesters
Lion Vs Lion
Rendezvous With Death
Rendezvous With Death
Dirty Ho
The Kung Fu Instructor
The Kung Fu Instructor
The Shadow Boxing
Dirty Kung Fu
The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin
The Proud Youth
Executioners From Shaolin
The Adventures Of Emperor Chien Lung
Emperor Chien Lung
The Snake Prince
Spiritual Boxer
The Flying Guillotine
Gossip Street
Hong Kong 73
The Tea House
 
 Other Wong Yu pictures :  (Hide)
Crazy Shaolin Disciples (8)
The Flying Mr. B (1)
The Girl With The Diamond Slipper (1)
The Master Strikes Back (1)
Young Vagabond (8)
How To Choose A Royal Bride (5)
Wits Of The Brats (2)
Lady Is The Boss (1)
Mercenaries From Hong Kong (4)
Tales Of A Eunuch (3)
 
More pictures in the gallery
 
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