Chow Yun Fat is the coolest action star of all time because he’s the sweetest. Or maybe it’s because he’s the sweetest he’s the coolest.
On May 18, 1955, Chow Yun Fat was born on Lamma Island, Hong Kong. His mother was a cleaner and vegetable farmer, his father an oil tanker. Living in a small community without electricity, he spent his days as a diligent farmer and street vendor with his mother. After dropping out of high school to work odd jobs as a bellboy, taxi driver, postman and camera salesman, his life changed after responding to a newspaper advertisement for TVB, the Hong Kong Television Station, for an actor training program of three years. Fresh out of graduation, he secured roles in television soap operas like “Conflict” and “The Bund,” becoming a national heart throb. His first feature film roles had him dubbed box office poison, but after his role as the gangster Mark in John Woo’s “A Better Tomorrow,” Fat became an international action superstar, and has been ever since.
Most popular for his roles in the heroic bloodshed genre (characterized by violent, stylized action, gunplay and melodramatic themes of brotherhood, friendship, loyalty and redemption), especially his collaborations with director John Woo, Chow Yun Fat shone as Woo’s honorable alter ego in musical inspired action scenes, because with his confident swagger Fat offered an emotional vulnerability that touched the hearts of many. When scenes found his characters crying he improvised incidents from his life into dialogue, injecting his true self into the role much to Woo’s delight.
Besides being an actor, Chow Yun Fat also specializes in being a great guy! He’s so down to earth he takes public transportation, frequents local food vendors, wears discount clothing, hikes and jogs in the park, goes on movie dates with his wife, does charity, cleans up HK streets, takes selfies with any fans he bumps into, and lives simply with his wife Jasmine Tan on only 100 dollars a month. After his death his million dollar fortune will be donated entirely to charity. Affectionately dubbed Brother Gor, Chow Yun Fat is Hong Kong’s favorite person! Here are 10 essential Brother Gor classics.
10. All About Ah-Long (1989)
“All About Ah-Long” starts off with a cute sequence of our leading man Ah-Long (Chow Yun Fat) rushing his farty little son to school as he heads off to work. An opening so adorable the audience is fooled into thinking this movie’s going to be a nice, feel good romp- but beware! What follows is something much darker; a harrowing melodrama in what could be described as “Kramer vs. Kramer” meets “The Wild Angels.”
Directed by Johnnie To, “All About Ah-Long’s” melodrama brutally assaults the emotion. When we meet Ah-Long’s ex girlfriend, Sylvia Poon, we delve into Ah-Long’s scumbag past as an unfaithful, abusive boyfriend, who was left with a clean slate when raising their child Porky. Sylvia’s become a successful head of a casting organization, offering her son a better life rife with opportunity. Ah-Long’s poor life has little to offer in material goods, but lots in heart, while Sylvia’s capitalist Hong Kong feels artificial and exhausting to Porky, a boy of the streets. To cope, Ah-Long sets his sights on an old hobby: motorcycling, the only saving grace to his crippling inadequacy. You’ll be unsure what to feel at the end of this dramatic commentary on class in HK and East versus West.
9. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
A coming of age story about kung-fu prodigy Yu Jiaolong (Zhang Ziyi), we watch as she steals a legendary sword originally wielded by famed swordsman Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat). When she’s cornered by the equally famed Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), enemies from the past surface, kicking this sprawling wuxia epic into motion. But there’s a problem: Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien are falling out of love with kung fu, falling in love with each other. These two heroes just want to settle down for a peaceful life of love.
“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” doesn’t have Chow Yun Fat as the lead, but he still gives a smashing performance. The audience soars, witnessing breathtaking fight scenes clashing with the elegant will they won’t they dynamic between Chow Yun Fat and Michelle Yeoh. Catch Chow Yun Fat dancing in the trees.
8. The Story of Woo Viet (1981)
Vietnamese refugee Woo Viet flees Saigon, traveling through Thailand and Hong Kong, where he meets and a newfound lover (Cora Miao). When circumstances force the couple into a Thai refugee camp, many fellow refugees begin vanishing.
One of Chow Yun Fat’s first major onscreen performances, “The Story of Woo Viet” was later marketed as “God of Killers” in the West to draw in the action crowd, but this Ann Hui masterpiece is the polar opposite. Juxtaposing the tragic stories of Vietnam refugees with themes of Hong Kong’s political uncertainty, this brutal character study and political drama leaves an empty feeling when finished.
7. Love in a Fallen City (1984)
Adapted by Eileen Chang from her classic Chinese novel, “Love in a Fallen City” is Ann Hui’s romantic blockbuster set in Hong Kong on the eve of Japanese invasion. Fan Liu Yuan (Chow Yun Fat) is a rich playboy pining after Pai Liu So (Cora Miao), a divorcee. The two are opposites: Fan Liu Yuan is a life of the party businessman and a lover of western fashion. Pai Liu So is an introvert in love with Chinese Opera.
“Love in a Fallen City’s” touching performances and masterful direction work harmoniously, crafting one of the finest love stories of the Hong Kong New Wave.
6. Hard Boiled (1992)
After losing his partner in a brutal tea house shootout, police inspector and saxophone hobbyist “Tequila” Yuen (Chow Yun Fat) teams up with origami enthusiast and undercover cop Alan (Tony Leung) to bring an end to the psychopathic triad leader Johnny’s (Anthony Wong) reign.
Since most of John Woo’s popular films prior glamorized gangster life into exhilarating romances (perhaps unintentionally spiking triad membership in the 80s) he made it up by glorifying police life. “Hard Boiled” is Hong Kong’s enormous action extravaganza, where John Woo and his crew get to go absolutely crazy. It’s not only one of the greatest Hong Kong, Chow Yun Fat, or heroic bloodshed films of all time, it’s one of the greatest action spectacle films to ever exist. Stuntmen perform exhilarating motorcycle fights in an all time cinematic high! The sequence where Chow Yun Fat wields two pistols while sliding down a flight of stairs is legendary, and the movie’s biggest action set piece of an exploding hospital nearly incinerated Fat to death. After cursing John Woo out, he quickly asked, “Did it look okay?”
Chow Yun Fat is excellent as a tough, lovable, baby saving cop, and young Tony Leung is perfect as an undercover suffering from a violent identity crisis. Both Fat and Leung play off each other in humorous and intimate moments, sharing the pain of the police life. Leung’s traumatized by playing a character 24/7, having to kill cops and gangsters, unsure which is which. Tequila and Alan live like cops, but will they die like men? To sort out their personal problems, the hard boiled justice serving pair hit the pub and ask advice from the bartender: John Woo.
Besides our main leads, Anthony Wong’s maniacal insanity as Johnny holds a remarkable screen presence as a trigger happy animal. He plays the best dirtbag in the heroic bloodshed genre, a spoiled brat with unlimited access to a military the size of a small nation. But “Mad Dog” (Phillip Kwok), a member of Johnny’s gang, serves as “Hard Boiled’s” most intimidating baddie as a one eyed, motorcycle riding, machine gun extraordinaire, dressed in fire and shadow- a character resulting from on set improvisation, creating for Tequila a formidable foe.