Profile of Vincent Zhao

Name: Vincent Zhao – Also known as Vincent Zhao Wenzhuo, Wenzhuo Zhao, and occasionally credited as Vincent Chiu or Chiu Man-cheuk
Date of Birth: 10 April 1972
Birth Sign: Aries/Chinese year of the Rat
Country: Harbin, Heilongjiang, China

Training background

Vincent Zhao comes from an athletic family with his mother being a professional sprinter in her youth, and his father being a martial artist. Zhao started practicing martial arts when he was 5 years old but soon stopped after his initial interest waned. Zhao re-started learning martial arts at the age of 8, when he was encouraged to attend a class run by a friend of his father.   He enjoyed other interests as well as martial arts and at times Zhao dedicated himself more to singing than his martial art studies.

Zhao was then sent to the local martial arts academy where he found his love of Wushu. He trained in many techniques and styles, including the Yang and Chen styles of Tai Chi Chuan, and mastering the sword and spear.

In the mid 1980’s Vincent joined the Harbin Wushu team and became the youngest member they ever had representing the team.

While concentrating on expanding his Wushu skills, Zhao also paid attention to his academic studies which won him a placement to study martial arts at the Beijing Sport University in 1990.

During his time at the University, Vincent participated in a large number of competitions and won gold medals in National Championships at both junior and senior levels. It was during his time at the university that Zhao was accepted into China’s national team. Once he graduated, he took a role as a martial arts instructor at the university; however his duration there was just three months as his television and film career began to take precedence.

Here he is in action against Jet Li

Biography

Vincent Zhao was born in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China. The youngest of three boys, his parents encouraged education, physical fitness and martial arts, resulting in Zhao being taken to martial arts classes at a young age. Zhao showed early signs of wanting to entertain due to his love for singing which disrupted his martial arts studies for a period.

Zhao attended a local academy and progressed to the Beijing Sport University. Due to his inclusion in the Chinese national team, his classmates gave him the nickname, ‘The Kung fu King’.

Hong Kong film producer Corey Yuen went to the Beijing Sport University in 1992, in search of a martial artist to portray the main villain for his next film – Fong Sai-yuk (also known as The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk). Zhao’s martial art instructor pointed out Zhao to Yuen and he felt he had found his new star. Surprisingly, Zhao was not keen on the role and needed encouragement from his friends and family before accepting the role. The shooting took place in 1992 and the film was released in 1993. Zhao learnt a lot about acting on the job and on his return to university, Zhao signed up to three months of acting and two months of dancing classes to help compliment his performance skills. Vincent used his martial art athleticism to help with his dancing skills and ended up winning a National College Dance Championship Competition.

Zhao has been linked with Anita Mui for a short period during the mid-1990’s. Vincent has a son who was born in 2002 called ‘Joseph’, however Zhao’s relationship with Joseph’s mother ended, and he met Zhang Danlu later that year. In 2006 Zhao married Zhang, and in 2007 their daughter ‘Rosita’ was born. In 2011 they had a baby boy whom they called ‘Zilong’ after a famous historical general.

Vincent has pursued a film and television career since the early 1990’s and spent his early career in Hong Kong. However, if you refer to his Hong Kong name of Chiu Man-cheuk in his presence – he may tell you off and correct you, as he is proud to be Chinese and wishes to be referred to by his Chinese name.

After having had appeared in films and television for twenty years Zhao has ambitions to direct a martial arts film, based on a story on hidden masters in daily life. Vincent has said ‘I don’t worry about the inheritance of martial arts, which has so many fans in China and the world – The old saying in China goes: Real masters are beside you and me. I believe that’.

Film Career

Zhao’s first film, Fong Sai-yuk, was released in 1993 and was a box office hit in Hong Kong, grossing HK$30,666,842.

During his time filming Fong Sai-yuk, another martial arts star was having contract issues with the fourth in the series of the “Once Upon a Time in China” saga. Jet Li backed out of the role and Tsui Hark met with Zhao during filming of Fong Sai-yuk (perhaps a little awkwardly, as the film also starred Jet Li!). Tsui was impressed with Zhao and offered him the classic role of Wong Fei-hung which Zhao accepted.

Wong Fei-hung is a cultural hero and many famous actors have played the role, including Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and the man who made the role his own after portraying the character so many times, Kwan Tak-hing (read our profile of Kwan Tak-hing).

During filming, Tsui offered Zhao a long-term contract to be an actor, however the importance of education installed in Zhao at a young age prevailed and Vincent turned down the contract as he wanted to complete his education.

Vincent continued filming during school holidays, including the shooting of “Green Snake” (1993) and “Once Upon a Time in China 4” (1994).

Partly thanks to his athletic ability, Zhao preferred to do some of his own stunts, although that led to some injuries. Vincent suffered a severe ankle injury during the shooting of one of the Wong Fei-Hung films that it had not healed fully and it’s been said that it hasn’t completely healed. The injury has led him to occasionally being substituted for stunts as his flexibility has been impaired.

The film “Once Upon a Time in China 4” was a success and the franchise progressed with Zhao continuing the classic role in its fifth film. After “Once Upon a Time in China 5”, Tsui set about producing a television series about Wong Fei-hung and Vincent took the role to the small screen. In film, the “Once Upon a Time in China” series continued, with Jet Li returning to the role.

Zhao signed with a Hong Kong talent agency in 1997, which promoted more film work and he went onto bigger film roles in the late 1990’s. After the millennium, Vincent went back to mainland China and began working on the small screen again seeking out roles in television series and films. In 2006, he went back to Hong Kong after an offer by TVB to work on the “Master of Tai Chi”.

In 2008 Zhao appeared in the film, “True Legend”. The film unfortunately did not do as well as expected following mixed reviews. More recently, in 2010, he had a small role in the film, “Sacrifice”.

The year 2012 would see Zhao join forces with Corey Yeun again to star in “Wu Dang”, which helped to re-launch Zhao, although during the same year, differences with Donnie Yen would result in him being removed from the film, “Special Identity”.

In 2013, Vincent returned to television to appear in the Spring Festival TV Gala

Performing during the Spring Festival TV Gala in 2013

Performing during the Spring Festival TV Gala in 2013

His appearance helped maintain his profile with the public as tens of millions of viewers tune into the Gala each year. Although he was hesitant to undertake the role, Zhao portrayed a teacher who coaches children to improve their martial arts techniques.

Zhao explained his nervousness on taking the role: ‘It is kind of taboo for martial artists to perform onstage – viewers are distant, and cinematographers do not necessarily capture the best movements of a sequence.’

Zhao chose to take part though, as he felt the message of the show was more important. Zhao would go on to say, ‘The performance revolves around a martial artist and his disciples, depicting how martial arts are inherited from one generation to the other. As a martial artist myself, I feel the message echoes my own sense of mission.’

Zhao also added that he felt that the role was the ‘profession I should have done but never did’, referencing his time as a martial arts teacher. This role also helped Zhao in his personal life, as his daughter watched the show which, after seeing him as a martial arts teacher, asked to return to martial arts lessons which she had initially quit. This further renewed his interest with martial arts.

Zhao’s latest film is the “The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom”, released earlier this year (2014).

Did you know?

  • Zhao prefers to do all his own stunts if possible.
  • He was originally selected to play the lead villain in “Rush Hour 3”.
  • Regarding his constant movement between film and television roles, Zhao has stated ‘I never took professional acting classes. The only thing I could do back then was sports and martial arts. In order to train myself, I must accept more television work to touch up my acting.’
  • “True Legend” won the Best Asian Action Movie award.
  • In 2001 Zhao portrayed Huo Yuanjia, the founder of the Chin Woo schools that now stretch across the globe.
  • Zhan Zhao is a character that Andy Lau and Felix Wong have also portrayed. However Vincent has said, ‘If we were rated like products in the market – I think audiences would think I am the best Zhan Zhao.’

Selected Filmography

YearFilm TitleRole
1993Fong Sai-yukGovernor of Kau-man
1993Once Upon a Time in China IVWong Fei-hung
1993Green SnakeMonk Fat-hoi
1994Once Upon a Time in China VWong Fei-hung
1995The Chinese FeastLung Kwun-bo
1995The BladeOn Man / Ting-on
1996Mahjong DragonPak Kwai-sau
1998The Blacksheep AffairYim Dong
1999Body WeaponWu Chi-kwan
2000Fist PowerBrian Cheuk
2001The Sino-Dutch War 1661Zheng Chenggong
2005Dragon Get AngryRong Haishan
2005In the BlueWushu coach
2010True LegendSu Qi'er
2010SacrificeZhao Shuo / Zhao Zhuangzi
2012Wu DangTang Yunlong
2014The White Haired Witch of Lunar KingdomJin Duyi

Stuart Grimes is a fan of all martial arts. He has studied Shotokan Karate for a few years as a teenager and also taken classes in Judo, boxing and Kickboxing. His children have inherited his love of martial arts and currently train over 12 hours a week, incorporating Chin Woo Kung Fu, Gymnastics and Sport Karate. His eldest two children compete regularly and either hold or have held English, British or European titles in the WTKA, WKU, ISKA, WKKC, WMO, WMKF and WKC, as well as a Unity International Games title.

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