Jimmy Wang Yu

Jimmy Wang Yu (chin.: Jímǐwángyǔ 吉米王羽) was and is a huge star in Asia. Jimmy has worked magic with very few actual skills. He is fabulous as the one-armed Swordsman. Gossip says that he is the one who faced down the triad guys to save Jackie Chan in the '80s. Born as Wang Zheng-quan (chin.: wángzhèngquán 王正權) on March 28, 1943 in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province of China, Jimmy was a former ROC soldier and Hong Kong swimming champion, as well as a racing car enthusiast, before joining Shaw Brothers in 1963. He teamed up with the famous sword-fighting director, Chang Cheh (chin.: Zhāng Chè 張徹, February 10, 1923 – June 22, 2002), and acted in The Golden Swallow with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon actress, Cheng Pei-Pei (chin.:Zhèng Pèipèi 鄭佩佩, born December 4, 1946 in Shanghai, China), in 1968. He is also known as Wong Yulung and Wang Yue. With the death of Bruce Lee , Raymond Chow tries to mitigate the loss of his large star by promoting Wang Yu like new Bruce Lee. But this was unjust and unfair while years before the beginning of the reign of the little dragon, the star of the cinema of martial arts, Wang Yu was the premiere star of the kind.

In the mid-60’s the Shaw Brothers was attempting to broaden their offerings by producing more action films. Their reputation up until then was based primarily on dramas and romances, but the popularity of the Japanese martial arts films seemed to indicate a strong resurgence on martial arts movies. So they began adding action stars to their stable of performers. One of their hires was a former water polo champion from Shanghai by the name of Jimmy Wang Yu.

Wang Yu appeared in a few action films such as Temple of Red Lotus (1965), Twin Swords (1965) and Tiger Boy (1966) before he was to appear in a film called The One-Armed Swordsman in 1967 that was to instantly make him a star. Wang Yu had already worked with the director Chang Cheh but this film was to make both of their reputations.

Wang Yu by the way was right-handed, but tradition necessitated that he play the character left-handed. Chang Cheh revolutionized the martial arts or wuxia film by dramatically revving up the violence and introducing what could be called anti-heroes. Chang Cheh was also a strong believer in “yanggang” or masculine male; and feeling that it had disappeared to some degree from Chinese film created tough, stoic male characters in his films. Wang Yu was his first prototype in doing this.

Their collaborations also included the classics The Assassin (1967), Golden Swallow (1968) and Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969). In all these films Wang Yu plays a lonely, tormented, complex swordsman full of anger but still generally an honorable guy deep down - generic roles that he was to copy many times in his film career. These portrayals made him a gigantic star.

So much so that he was no longer satisfied with the salary that he was receiving from the Shaw Brothers. As this was happening another phenomenon was in the air in Hong Kong. Everyone was talking about Bruce Lee coming to Hong Kong after his televison success in The Green Hornet in the states. Shaw had refused to outbid Golden Harvest for Lee’s services, but they intended to get a kung fu film out to the public first. Trying to keep him happy, the Shaw Brothers allowed Wang Yu to make this film, The Chinese Boxer.

It is The Chinese Boxer (1970) that is generally given the credit as being the first film wholly dedicated to kung fu. Up until this time most martial arts films were based around the sword with some kung fu thrown in from time to time. This film was extremely violent and comprised only of hand to hand combat. This was a year before Bruce Lee made his appearance in HK and in a sense it began the kung fu period of the 70?s. To some degree, it also served as a template for many of the kung fu films to follow - a loner seeking revenge and having to battle seemingly insurmountable odds to get it. It is also strongly anti-Japanese - another thread that was to run through many of Wang Yu’s films.

Even with the huge success of this film, Wang Yu broke his contract and began making films on his own in Taiwan and then in partnership with Golden Harvest. Wang Yu produced and starred in a load of films over the next couple of years. One-Armed Boxer and Beach of the War Gods are considered classics; but he began to be overshadowed by newer stars: Bruce Lee, Ti Lung, David Chiang and others with better martial arts skills.

So his popularity started to dwindle “though he still appeared in two international films” Man from Hong Kong (1975) and A Queens Ransom (1976) and by the mid to late 70’s he was no longer an essential part of the cinematic landscape. His later 70’s films have been termed schlocky, but lots of fun by some - and they still have that Wang Yu feel to them that are different from any other films. There is no doubt that Wang Yu was a vital and extremely important part of the evolution of HK action films and he still has a loyal base of fans.

Off the screen Wang Yu was also legendary - for getting into numerous public brawls, having many affairs and having ties to the triads. This last item was helpful when Jackie Chan was trying to break his contract with Lo Wei in the late 70’s. Jackie later appeared in a Wang Yu film “Island of Fire”, as a repayment.

Wang Yu’s Filmography

As Actor

Twin Sword (1964)
Tiger Boy (1964)
Temple of the Red Lotus (1965)
The Twin Swords (1965)
Magnificent Trio (1966)
Tiger Boy (1966)
The Assassin (1967)
Trail of the Broken Blade (1967)
Asia-Pol (1967)
Sword and the Lute (1967)
One-Armed Swordsman (1967)
The Sword of Swords (1968)
The Golden Swallow (1968)
One-Armed Swordsman Return (1969)
My Son (1970)
The Chinese Boxer (1970)
One Armed Boxer (1971)
The Desperate Chase (1971)
The Professional Killer (1971)
Morale and Evil (1971)
Invincible Sword (1971)
Zatoichi 22: Meets the One Armed Swordsman (1971)
Magnificent Chivalry (1971)
The Invincible (1972)
Furious Slaughter (1972)
The Last Duel (1972)
Chow Ken (1972)
The Adventure (1972)
Shogun Saints (1972)
Royal Fist (1972)
Black Friday (1973)
A Man Called Tiger (1973)
Knight Errant (1973)
Seaman No. 7 (1973)
Beach of the War Gods (1973)
The Two Cavaliers (1973)
King of Boxers (1973)
Ten Fingers of Steel (1973)
Boxers of Loyalty and Righteousness (1973)
The Tattooed Dragon (1973)
My Father, My Husband, My Son (1974)
The Iron Man (1974)
The Hero (1974)
Four Real Friends (1974)
A Cookbook of Birth Control (1975)
The Man from Hong Kong (1975)
The Gallant (1975)
Return of the Chinese Boxer (1975)
Great Hunter (1975)
A Queen’s Ransom (1976)
One Armed Swordsman Against Nine Killers (1976)
One Armed Swordsmen (1976)
Killer Meteors (1976)
Rage of the Masters (1976)
Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)
Tiger and Crane Fist (1976)
The Criminal (1977)
Brotherly Love (1977)
One Arm Chivalry Fights Against One Arm Chivalry (1977)
Lantern Street (1977)
Deadly Silver Spear (1977)
Point of the Finger of Death (1978)
Big Leap Forward (1978)
Ma Su Chen (1979)
Fantasy Mission Force (1979)
The Battle of Guningtou (1979)
Revenge of Kung Fu Mao (1982)
Fantasy Mission Force (1983]] with Jackie Chan)
Shanghai (1984)
Millionaires’ Express (1986)
Island of Fire (1990)
Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
Shogun & Little Kitchen (1992)
Requital (1992)
Beheaded 1000 (1993)
Cinema of Vengeance (1995)

As Producer

Boxers of Loyalty and Righteousness (1973)
One Armed Swordsman Against Nine Killers (1976)
Island of Fire (1990)
Beheaded 1000 (1993)
Stand Behind the Yellow Line (1997)
Eighteen Springs (1997)

As Director

The Chinese Boxer (1970)
The One-Armed Boxer (1971)
Boxers of Loyalty and Righteousness (1973)
Beach of the War Gods (1973) ( Raymond Chow Man Wai directed this. Wang Yu only acted)
Four Real Friends (1974)
The Man from Hong Kong (1975) ( Australian Brian Trenchard-Smith was principal director w/Wang Yu doing some 2nd unit work)
Tiger and Crane Fist (1976)
Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)
One Armed Swordsmen (1976)
Beheaded 1000 (1993) (Wang Yu produced this film but did not direct it. Ding Sin Saai directed it)

As Action Director

Boxers of Loyalty and Righteousness (1973)
Tiger and Crane Fist (1976) (action director was Lau Kar Wing - not Wang Yu)

As Scriptwriter

The Chinese Boxer (1970)
The One-Armed Boxer (1971)
Beach of the War Gods (1973)
Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976)

This article first published on November 6th 2002.