Yu Hai also known as Yue Hoi (Cantonese)
With his shinning shaven head, his beaming
smile and the slightly mischievous twinkle in his eyes Mainland born Wu-shu
veteran Yu Hai probably played one of the most personable movie-monks to
ever grace the screen in Jet Li’s semi-classic film debut; THE SHAOLIN
TEMPLE. This was also Yu Hai’s first film. Curiously enough despite being
a Wu-shu senior coach himself, Yu Hai did not fight that extensively in
that movie. He also appeared in only a dozen movies and usually made
brief appearances which taking into account his undeniable screen charisma
is a shame. He may have a more substantial body of work on TV but this
writer knows almost nothing about this part of Yu Hai’s career.
Yu Hai was born in 1942. He started training in
martial arts in his youth and was taught such styles as Tai-Chi, I Hsing
and Mantis Fist. Under the Mainland China authoritarian regime, martial
arts became highly regulated with practical fighting techniques only taught
to the army and police services. The style of martial arts taught to civilians
on the other hand had been considerably altered; changed into a performing
art that emphasised speed and acrobatics without any real combat practicability.
Yu Hai however was probably taught before the great overhaul occurred since
he worked for a time as bodyguard to China’s 1949-1976 Prime Minister Zhou
En-lai. He was also involved in this martial art overhaul process as his
version of the Mantis Fist was criticised by martial art traditionalists.
In 1974 Yu Hai led a Wu-shu Troupe in an international tour to Mexico,
the USA and Hong-Kong. Among the performers featured was a young Wu-shu
prodigy named Li Liang-ji, the future Jet Li.
In the early eighties Yu Hai was cast in Mainland
China’s very first kung fu movie SHAOLIN TEMPLE (84). It’s uncertain whether
Yu had any acting experience prior to this, but he most certainly shows
his skills as an actor playing the genial all-smiling and wise head fighting
monk who tutors Jet Li in the martial arts. His character gives Jet some
welcome advice as well as spouting some funny excuses to avoid some strict
Buddhist rules, yet he is seen barely fighting at all. There was also something
of an ironic twist in having Yu play a Shaolin monk for this latter’s brand
of martial arts were traditionally of the external hard variety while Yu
himself as an exponent of Tai-chi and I Hsing was taught in more soft and
internal oriented style.
Yu Hai returned for the two SHAOLIN TEMPLE follow-ups
- KIDS FROM SHAOLIN (84) and MARTIAL ARTS OF SHAOLIN (86). In KIDS he’s
an ex-Shaolin monk who’s the adopted father of a bunch of kids (including
Jet Li). His role was much less prominent in this film than in the first
SHAOLIN movie although he still has some good moments. He became a fully-fledged
monk again in MARTIAL ARTS OF SHAOLIN, which gave him the opportunity at
long last to fully display his Mantis Fists skills.
Yu Hai appeared next briefly in THE YELLOW RIVER
FIGHTER (88) starring Yu’s fellow veteran Wu-shu performer and regular
screen opponent Yu Cheng-hui. Once again he played a benevolent Buddhist
monk, one who did not belong to Shaolin however and therefore did not fight.
On this production though Yu played a far greater role off the screen than
on, as he was the film’s action choreographer along with Yu Cheng-hui.
Around the same time Yu also appeared in the last sort of film a Mainland
born Wu-shu performer would be expected to be seen; in a Bruce Lee clone
type of movie; SHAOLIN FIST OF FURY starring Bruce Li and Yu played his
By the early nineties most of the first generation
of Wu-shu screen-performers featured in the Mainland Shaolin movies had
retired from a regular movie career. Yu Hai was one of the rare exceptions.
His first nineties appearance was in DEADEND OF BESIGERS (92) in which
he played the father of the heroine Cynthia Khan who sustained a goofy
feud with the mother of his daughter’s fiancée. Yu was also part
of The SAM THE IRON BRIDGE trilogy appearing in the two first parts: THE
WHITE LOTUS CULT and SAM THE IRON BRIDGE (93). He also had a bit part in
Yuen Woo-ping’s TAI CHI MASTER (93) where he set aside his usual personable
screen disposition, as he was a brutal and unfair senior Shaolin monk,
the closest Yu Hai ever came to playing a villain.
Yu Hai came to work again for Yuen Woo-ping as
well as director Zhang Yin Yan (who had done the two first Shaolin movies
as well as YELLOW RIVER FIGHTER) for TAI CHI II playing the film hero’s
father, a retired Tai-chi master (but equally adept in Mantis fist). This
was his last credited film. As noted above Yu made some TV series but the
only one known by this writer was TAI-CHI REJUVINATOR (probably in the
middle of the nineties).
Yu also made an indirect appearance in the now
famed CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON director Ang Lee’s film debut; PUSHING
HAND. Indeed early in the film, the main character played by Lung
Sihung is seen briefly viewing a k-f movie and the scene shown on TV is
of Yu fighting an opponent. Shortly after in the movie, Sihung’s character
a tai-chi master describes the k-f being displayed as horrible. Ouch! This
writer did not recognize the film being shown - perhaps GREAT WALL dating
back from 1990.
(Written up by Yves Gendron)
Yu Li/ Yue Lee
This actress never made much of an impact in
Hong Kong films during her career in the early to mid-90’s, but I have
always found her appealing whenever I have run across her. One of her better
roles was as Sammo’s ghost wife in My Flying Wife in which she and her
son are attempting to be reincarnated. She teams up with Sammo again in
Slickers vs. Killers as his policewoman wife and displays a few nifty action
A few other noteworthy roles were as Dayo Wong’s
girlfriend in Walk In, Roy Cheung’s love in Shanghai Heroic Story, the
prostitute Jade in The Romance of the Book and Sword, Simon Yam’s wife
in A Day without Policeman, the woman with the deadly and lethal hair in
The Three Swordsmen and Chow Yun Fat’s wife in Prison on Fire II.
In 1995 she had a fine role in the drama Xiu Xiu
directed by Henry Fong Ping with cinematography by Peter Pau. Then in 1999
she received a Best Supporting Actress award in the Asia Pacific Film Festival
for her work in the Taiwanese film Cop Abula.
Yu Cheng-hui/Yue Sheng-wei.
Tall, lanky, bearded and tempestuous with a
fierce scowl on in face, Mainland Wu-shu swordsman Yu Cheng-hui is the
very antithesis of his fellow Wu-shu confederate the genial, shaved, broad-shouldered
and iconic Shaolin screen monk Yu Hai. The lead villain in Jet Li’s film
debut SHAOLIN TEMPLE as well in the third Shaolin entry MARTIAL ART OF
SHAOLIN (86), Yu Cheng-hui’s colourful villains were so vivid that it’s
hard to imagine him in another sort of role. Yet despite his extremely
brief filmography (which limits itself to four films in a 6 years span),
he still found the opportunity to play the heroic lead at least one time.
Born in 1940 in Shantung province, famous birthplace
for many of China’s great heroes and martial artists, Yu Cheng-hui began
training in martial arts at age eleven and became proficient in various
styles of bare hand combat as well as many weapons including the sword.
At nineteen he was a member of the Shantung Wu-shu team and won first place
at a Wu-shu competition held in his native city of Quingdao. He was also
first place in drunken sword display at a Wu-shu competition held in Eastern
China. A very bad leg injury however, sustained during a training session,
forced Yu into early retirement and he became a factory worker.
Yu hadn’t given up on martial arts though and
in his spare time he still practised, read martial art material, found
martial art teachers and met with martial artists. Thus, through the years,
even while out of official Wu-shu competition, not only did he not lose
his skills, they improved dramatically and he even invented a two handed
sword style of his own alternatively called “Shuang Shou Jian” (Twin Hand
Sword) or “Tang Lang Jian “(Mantis Sword). The last forms for this style
are said to have been finished during a thunderstorm, as Yu observed and
imitated the movements of a praying mantis. After the Cultural Revolution
ended, Yu Cheng-hui accepted an offer to coach the Ningxia Wu-shu team,
which quickly made a name for itself as did Yu. Despite his success however
it seems he had never completely left his factory job as it is said that
he was still working there when he was invited to participate in the very
first mainland martial art movie, the Wu-shu champion all-stellar cast;
His abilities along with his fierce appearance
made him the ideal villain for the intended film. Acting-wise the role
wasn’t all that demanding, just some frowning of the eyes, a big evil laugh,
a vicious snarl and some occasional over-acting which was enough - his
looks did the rest. Trained in Wu-shu swordsmanship instead of Peking Opera,
it made his fencing style very different from other H-K cinema sword screen
masters such as Adam Cheng, Norman Chu or Wilson Tong. He wasn’t
an acrobat but still could jump, tumble and wave his sword around like
a triple jointed human whirlwind.
For SHAOLIN TEMPLE’s follow-up KIDS FROM SHAOLIN
(84) Yu was still fierce looking, but this time no longer a fiendish villain
but a grouchy, abrasive master swordsman, the father of a whole bunch of
girls, ever desperate to at long last get a son from his wife to continue
the Wu-tang swordplay male line. He was still playing a lanky, foreboding
bear of a man but this time his stock traits and attitude were used for
comic effects with great success. It actually takes some time before he
fights in the film but the two times he does - first in a bout with Jet
Li inside a huge cavern and then a desperate combat against a group of
murderous bandits - are quite superb with Yu truly giving it his
After one last turn as a screen villain in MARTIAL
ART OF SHAOLIN, Yu (86) became the star of his own film THE YELLOW-RIVER
FIGHTER (88). Once again using his appearance and attitude to good effect,
he played a grim swordsman who first tragically loses his young daughter
and then later on most of his vision - yet he seeks to overcome the tragedies
in his life to serve the beleaguered people of China. A dramatically demanding
role, Yu’s acting was a bit rough, but it still was impressive and touching.
This was the apex of his movie career.
HKMDB lists no other movies after YELLOW RIVER
FIGHTER but Yu may still have acted in TV series and of course Wu-shu stage
performances. He is only credited as fight choreographer for one film YELLOW
RIVER, but it’s likely he had a hand in arranging his own fights in all
the other SHAOLIN films.
Besides his formidable Wu-shu skills, Yu also
proved himself as a valuable martial art theoretician and teacher writing
countless essays including Shuang Shou Jian (Double Hand Sword) and Yu
Chi Dao (Fish Wing Saber) which combined traditional martial arts and modern
physics theories, making major contributions to the better understanding
and popularisation of Chinese martial arts.
Some info taken from Yu Chien Hui bio-entry
on the Chinese Martial
Art web site:
(Written up by Yves Gendron)
With his superb physical skills, solid acting
chops and sleek cool screen presence many H-K film fans agree that Mainland
born martial art ace Yu Rong-guang not only could but should have become
a leading action star. Instead however, Yu found himself usually playing
the eternal second fiddle opposite a title star either as his opponent
or his dependable comrade-in-arms. Yet often he had a more compelling,
complex and flashy role than the one of the stars and was actually the
film’s real driving force.
Yu’s exact background is not known by this writer
except that he was born in the Mainland and unlike most of the other major
Mainland-born H-K martial performers of his generation like Jet Li, Xiong
Xin Xin or Zhao Wen-zhou (a.k.a. Chiu Man-chuk) was actually trained not
as a Wu-shu performer but as a Peking Opera performer. This different sort
of training accounts for Yu’s distinct brand of physicality in his action
performances. While Wu-shu exponents move much like virtuoso whirlwind
dancers, Yu as a Peking Opera performer trained for the stage delivers
more bombastic and edgy sort of acrobatic and fight displays. Yu though
is more than just a fighting acrobat, he is a sound actor. Though his screen
persona often comes across as restrained, even perhaps a bit bland, he
has this great set of eyes that usually add depth to the characters he
plays. He can use them to express both an innate kindness and vulnerability
when he plays a good guy or project a cold-piercing disdain and cruelty
when he plays a bad one. This - added with his naturally cool and sleek
screen presence - made him a highly appealing screen player.
Yu’s screen debut was in the k-f production HOLY
ROBE OF SHAOLIN (85) made in the Mainland but directed by Tsui Siu-ming
a H-K born Peking Opera trained performer/ action director turned fully
fledged filmmaker. In the film Yu is a Wu-tang disciple turned assassin
who disguised as a Buddhist monk seeks to take over the Shaolin Temple.
At this early point, Yu’s acting skills weren’t very refined but his screen
presence and physical skills were enough to make him one sleek k-f assassin,
the forerunner of his ruthless bandit roles later in the nineties. This
was to be Yu’s sole venture into pure k-f movie making as HOLY ROBE was
made at the very tail end of the martial art trend.
Yu found himself working for Tsui again in MIRAGE
(87) playing an adventurer-photographer going on a search on the Silk Road
for a young woman whose image he saw reflected in a mirage. An under-appreciated
and unfortunately all too hard to find epic venture movie, MIRAGE showed
Yu as a compelling leading man displaying a haunting longing in his eyes;
that is before discovering that the object of his search is a deceptive
mirage in more ways than one.
Three years later Yu was in TERRACOTA WARRIOR
(90) where he played opposite the formidable screen duo of Gong Li and
director turned occasional actor Zhang Yimou. These two were the film leads
but Yu managed to outshine Zhang in a more showy and complex role as a
latter day matinee idol cum grave robber. What Yu did in between his films
up to then is not clear - perhaps some TV, stunt work or going back on
the Peking Opera stage
Yu’s H-K film career started in earnest with RED
FIST (91) a modern actioner pairing him with fighting female star Sharon
Yeung Pan Pan where he played the hard-boiled Mainland cop to Sharon’s
high-kicking H-K female counterpart. RED FIST actually started a string
of movies where he was paired with a Hong-Kong female star. Next
came the period film DEADEND OF BESIEGERS (92) where Yu played an honourable
Japanese samurai who goes to China to be taught their martial arts and
gets to learn it from fighting girl Cynthia Khan. In PROJECT S (94) he’s
a former army officer turned bank robber who has to mastermind a daring
heist under the nose of the woman he loves Mainland colonel Michelle Yeoh.
Finally, in EAST IS RED (93) he’s a court official facing Brigitte Lin’s
“Invincible Asia”, the legendary warrior who he is initially in awe of
but who he later seeks to destroy after he witness the horrific wave of
destruction and death Asia unleashes. All these films called Yu to play
the second fiddle to the title female star, yet most of the time his character
had greater depth than they did.
Between these films, Yu made IRON MONKEY (93)
the role he is best known for and which saw him use his physical abilities
to the fullest as he’s all over the place as the acrobatically inclined
masked Chinese Robin Hood hero by night and a personable doctor by day.
The film also shows a rare acting side of him, as at one point he disguises
himself as a legate officer to fool the local corrupt governor. He
plays it in broad burlesque fashion filled with snappy mannerisms fit for
a Opera comedy which contrast with his usually more restrained screen-persona.
Interestingly, as the fake Legate officer Yu wears a pair of black spectacles.
It is part of his disguise of course but it also hides his eyes whose usual
“humane” quality would no doubt have acted against his broad performance.
With his superb IRON MONKEY performance along
with those of his others movies, one would have thought that Yu would now
enter the ranks of a major action player but it never happened. Despite
being in one of the best martial art films of the period IRON MONKEY did
weak business in H-K because of the wide availability of Taiwanese-originated
tapes, dashing Yu’s prospects. The other big reason why Yu’s career never
reached the height his talent deserved is because of the decline of H-K
cinema in general and action in peculiar that started in the early nineties.
This along with Yu’s Mainland outsider status and unconventional looks
no doubt played against him and resulted in him often being the token Mainlander
in a limited range of stock supporting roles.
Thus Yu was the Mainland cop usually giving
the HK born hero a hand or a hard time in such films as GREEN HORNET (94),
GLEAM OF HOPE (same), RED ZONE (95), FOX HUNTER (same) and COMBO COP (same).
In FROM BEIJING WITH LOVE (94) he made a brief cameo as a James Bond type
Mainland super-spy who comes to an early bad end in the film’s introduction.
At times Yu found potentially more interesting
or grey roles such as a trouble-prone tough truck driver in MIDNIGHT TRAIN
ORIENTAL (96), a tragic type of killer in HEARTS OF KILLERS or a
friendly gang boss in MAN WANTED (both 95). However these films were largely
slapdash or defective productions and did little for Yu’s career.
It was in roles as a ruthless Mainland hard-boiled
criminal that brought Yu more distinction than his good guy roles.
His first was in Kirk Wong’s ROCK N’ ROLL COP (94) facing Anthony Wong
as the H-K cop who’s on the hunt for him (their roles were reversed in
the subsequent GLEAM OF HOPE (94) a dull FUGITIVE rip-off). Then Yu played
a nasty k-f villain in the Jet Li action vehicle MY FATHER IS A HERO (95).
This is probably his most outrageously wild role ever where he is seen
wearing sunglasses the whole time. Afterwards Yu became a vicious bank
robber and cop killer in the high-octane cop thriller BIG BULLET (96),
up against cop Lau Ching Wan and in which his earlier nemesis Anthony Wong
became his Italian sprouting partner in crime.
Since 1996 as H-K cinema continued it’s sharp
decline, Yu’s film prospects nose-dived. While he has received a good dozen
bit parts none of them were of any great importance. Twice he found
himself playing Donnie Yen’s foil in Yen’s two directed over-stylised efforts;
BALLISTIC KISS (96) and SHANGHAI AFFAIR (98). He was the ill- fated
father of one of the film heroes in STORM RIDER (98) and was also father
to Michelle Reis and husband to Deannie Yip in PRINCE CHARMING (99). Most
certainly his most unlikely part ever was in ENJOY YOURSELF TONIGHT (99)
whose poster misleadingly showed Yu with a gun in hand but where in fact
he plays a bespectacled nerd who appears at the film’s beginning and is
gone after three minutes. One of his last appearances to date was as an
imperial guard in Jackie Chan’s American vehicle SHANGHAI NOON (2001) where
he has a bout with Chan armed with a three-sectioned staff, the best one-on
one fight in the film but unfortunately an all too brief one. One
of Yu’s last H-K screen appearance was in the triad movie WARNING TIME
(Sept 2000). Interestingly, he received a large role in the high budget
Korean film Musa as a Chinese General chasing after the Princess played
by Zhang Ziyi. He also recently appeared in the Tsui Hark produced Era
of the Vampires (aka Vampire Hunters) and performs some very solid martial
Other Yu Rong-guang film appearances (all character
parts) ; TAXI HUNTER (93), THIRD FULL MOON (94), LOVER OF THE LAST
EMPRESS (95), WIND BENEATH MY WINGS (95), KILLER HAS NO RETURN
(96), 18 SHAOLIN GOLDEN BOYS (96), LEOPARD HUNTING, WIPE OUT (both
98), BIG SPENDER (99), NEVER COMPROMISE (99). Yu has also acted as co-action
director in RED FIST and DEADEND OF BESIEGERS.
(Written up by Yves Gendron)
The many Yuen's who make up the Yuen Clan (Yuen
Chung Yan, Yuen Woo-ping, Simon Yuen etc) and the ones that took their
masters name from Yu Jim-yuen in the Zhonggou Xiju Xueyan Peking Opera
School (Yuen Wah, Corey Yuen, Yuen Bun, Yuen Biao etc) will come later
in a separate page as we thought it would make sense to keep them together..