When it comes to Hong Kong martial arts movie action, there is a single, rich source of talent, that has influenced the genre probably more than any other element in the past forty years – Yu Jim Yuen’s China Drama Academy.
The academy was one of the main Peking Opera Schools in Hong Kong, teaching traditional Chinese performance skills in martial arts, acrobatics, acting, music and dance. As the audience appetite for traditional opera shows waned in favour of onscreen entertainment, the performers found themselves looking for work in the film industry. Training at the school was particularly tough but the results produced some of the most talented, daring and innovative physical stunt performers to ever grace the big screen.
Hong Kong action legends Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Yuen Qiu, Yuen Wah, and Corey Yuen all trained together at Master Yu Jim Yuen’s school. They would go on to shape the Hong Kong action film industry, with Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao emerging as three of its biggest stars. Their childhood training gave these “Three Dragons” (among the ‘Seven Little Fortunes’) a unique, brotherly bond, leading to frequent collaborations in their film careers. If Jackie was the cheeky comic star, and Sammo the burly, free-flowing fighter, Yuen Biao was the high-kicking acrobat.
Yuen Biao’s “big brother”, Sammo Hung, gave him his first breaks in the film industry, as a stuntman in productions such as Fist of Fury, Enter the Dragon, Hapkido, and doubling for Bruce Lee in Game of the Death. It was also Sammo that promoted Yuen Biao to leading man status in the films Knockabout and the acclaimed The Prodigal Son, as well as taking the lead in Dreadnaught, directed by Yuen Woo-ping. Biao later starred alongside his Peking Opera brothers Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung in the movies Project A, Wheels on Meals, Dragons Forever, and the Lucky Stars trilogy. He has also co-starred with his equally acrobatic Opera brother Yuen Wah in The Iceman Cometh and Eastern Condors.
Behind-the-scenes, Yuen Biao has worked as an action choreographer and director in his own right, including choreographing the action for Jackie Chan’s cowboy movie Shanghai Noon.
Although he is semi-retired from being an action star these days, Yuen Biao continues to make the occasional appearance in Chinese television productions, and guest roles in films such as Rob-B-Hood, The Legend is Born: Ip Man, Tai Chi Hero and The Bodyguard.
As with his Opera brothers, such a prolific career (having worked on over 80 films) gives us a rich pool of awesome scenes to choose from! So, here are our Top 10 Yuen Biao Movie Fight Scenes (in descending order)…
- The Young Master (1980) – Yuen Biao vs Jackie Chan
- Magnificent Butcher (1979) – Yuen Biao vs Lam Ching Ying
- Dragons Forever (1988) – Yuen Biao vs Billy Chow
- Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars (1985) – Yuen Biao vs Phillip Ko Fei
- Eastern Condors (1987) – Yuen Biao vs Yasuaki Kurata & Yuen Wah
- Above the Law/Righting Wrongs (1986) – Yuen Biao vs Melvin Wong
- Millionaires Express (1986) – Yuen Biao vs Dick Wei
- Knockabout (1979) – Yuen Biao vs Lau Kar-wing
- The Iceman Cometh (1989) – Yuen Biao vs Yuen Wah
- The Prodigal Son (1981) – Yuen Biao vs Frankie Chan
When Jackie Chan got to star in and direct his own film for Golden Harvest, he had no hesitation in calling on one of his closest and most talented friends, Yuen Biao. Together they created a classic sequence of traditional kung fu mixed with acrobatics and incredible timing and innovation, as they duel each other with wooden stools!
Lam Ching Ying was also a student of Peking Opera in his youth at the Chun Chau Drama Society run by Madame Fan Fok Fa. Combined with Yuen Biao’s own skills in the art and Yuen Woo Ping’s choreography, this battle involving a fan as a weapon is one of the highlights of Sammo Hung’s old school classic.
Yuen Biao co-starred alongside Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung for this harder-edged collaboration. The end fight features some incredible fighting stunts, not least those performed by Biao himself. The accuracy and timing of his acrobatic manoeuvres as he back flips and somersaults around a warehouse gantry and staircase are breath-taking. Combined with the sledgehammer blows delivered by Billy Chow, it makes for an incredible contribution to the trinity of the Three Dragons’ big finale.
Although it takes place early on in the film, the warehouse fight featuring Yuen Biao, Jackie Chan and Andy Lau more than whets the appetite for some of the thrilling action to come. Biao takes on Phillip Ko Fei with some stunning kicking combinations. The highlight is Yuen Biao performing a jaw-dropping, seamless side-somersault, whirlwind kick into back thrust kick, all in one take, with no wires!
Sammo Hung wanted hard-hitting action for his martial arts’ war film featuring some of the best talents in the business. Yuen Biao himself delivers and receives some of the toughest looking blows as he takes on two of the greatest onscreen fighters in Yasuaki Kurata and Yuen Wah.
Directed by his Opera school buddy Corey Yuen, Yuen Biao plays a dedicated, by the books prosecutor who takes the law into his own hands. Featuring some stunning fights that also feature action star Cynthia Rothrock, one of the highlights is Yuen Biao’s duel with Melvin Wong.Yuen Biao employs an acrobatic, hard-hitting style, bouncing off just about everything to hand in the aircraft hangar setting! It’s incredible to believe that his co-star Melvin Wong, had no formal martial arts training prior to this movie!
Sammo Hung collated an incredible cast list for this film that included action stars such as Hwang Jang Lee, Yasuaki Kurata, Yukari Oshima, Richard Norton, Cynthia Rothrock and Chung Fat to name but a few. Each star gets their showpiece fight, but arguably the most sensational is Yuen Biao’s fight with Dick Wei. They fight up and over a staircase making their way to a balcony where the action features some of the best-timed acrobatic kicking combinations ever captured on film!
This classic comedy from Sammo Hung features Yuen Biao and Bryan “Beardy” Leung Kar-yan as two con-artist brothers. The finale sees Yuen Biao teaming up with Sammo to take on Lau Kar-wing’s deadly villain. Starting in a classic teahouse setting, there is some hilarious Monkey Boxing and a spectacular pay off from the training sequences featured earlier in the movie.
If there is one Hong Kong action star who can rival Yuen Biao for the title of the most agile fighter, it is probably his old classmate Yuen Wah. Their epic final battle in this film perfectly demonstrates their incredible timing and technique. Yuen Biao’s intercepting spinning and jumping kicks are nothing short of stunning, and you will wonder how each fighter manages to jump and somersault onto the other without breaking any bones!
Sammo Hung gave Yuen Biao the lead role in what has come to be considered one of the finest traditional martial arts’ films of all time. Sammo’s sublime choreography blends Wing Chun techniques with the beautiful postures, stances and high kicks of traditional kung fu, wrapped up in the flamboyance of Chinese opera performance. The end fight with Frankie Chan is the perfect summarisation of this combination of styles and incredibly features Yuen Biao fighting himself, as he doubled Frankie Chan for some of the spectacular flips and falls!
So there we have it folks, a selection of what we think are among Yuen Biao’s 10 best movie fight scenes. Which is your favourite; are there any that you like missing from this list, perhaps from; “Kickboxer”, “Project A”, “Dreadnaught”, “Kid from Tibet”, “Licence to Steal”, “A Man Called Hero”? There are many to choose from. Let us know your favourites in the comments below, join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Feel free to check out our other martial arts’ Top 10’s!