Despite being a certified legend of kung fu cinema, Yuen Biao has always been somewhat of an underdog. Especially compared to his Peking Opera brothers, Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung.
Like many of his peers, he began his career at a stuntman and, due to his acrobatic ability, often doubled for martial artists when particularly flashy moves need to be captured on film. In fact, as much as we may hate to admit it, he has even stood in for Jackie Chan on more than a few occasions.
Eventually, a handful of directors noticed his talent and offered him in slightly meatier roles…like “Henchman # 1” and “Fighter in restaurant.” While not exactly landmark parts, they beat remaining an uncredited stunt worker and strengthened his reputation in the industry.
In 1979, Biao’s “big brother,” Sammo Hung, recommended him to Yuen Woo Ping. He subsequently found himself cast in “The Magnificent Butcher,” a film that would not only thrust him into the limelight but make him a household name in the kung fu world.
Today, Yuen Biao is remembered as the acrobatic king of martial arts cinema. When sitting down to watch one of his films, you know you’re in for at least one awe inspiring demonstration of athleticism as well as some fantastic on screen fights.
So let’s celebrate this legend – who’s still going semi-strong today, I might add – with a breakdown of some of his most impressive scenes.
1. Escaping the Law
In recent interviews, Cynthia Rothrock has claimed Yuen Biao to be the best fighter she ever worked with. It certainly shows in this clip from “Righting Wrongs” aka “Above the Law.”
An amusing tidbit regarding the film is that, in a later fight with Karen Sheperd, Rothrock is actually doubled by Biao and, if you pause the film at the right time, you’ll see him, sans wig, decked out in a snazzy blue blouse!
2. Monkeying Around
“Knockabout” seems to be one of those old school classics that falls under the collective radar of fans. It’s understandable, as Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao’s other collaborations (“The Prodigal Son” and “The Magnificent Butcher”) are awarded legendary status (deservedly so), technically outshining other lesser known films.
With “Knockabout,” it seems Sammo really wanted to highlight the acrobatic prowess of Biao. With some of the most taxing training sequences ever filmed and a finale that includes both Monkey kung fu and a rather lethal version of a jump rope, the film serves as an incredible demonstration of Biao’s talents.
3. Warehouse Rumble
In “Dragons Forever” everybody gets their chance to shine. And while Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan bring their own trademark energy to their fight scenes, it’s Yuen Biao’s precise moves when confined to a warehouse gangway that steal the show.
Surprisingly, in an eleven minute montage of outtakes from the film, Biao is only shown fluffing one move – a seemingly standard kick. But with intricate flips like this, I suppose he couldn’t afford to mess up even once.
4. A Kick to Be Remembered By
Although this clip is essentially a hodgepodge of brawls taken from the final minutes of “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars,” it simply has to be included because it features Yuen Biao’s most celebrated kick.
The film saw its release in 1985, long before Tony Jaa had stepped onto the scene and ushered in a new wave of flip kick driven choreography and so this serves as a reminder that, though the genre has come a long way, Yuen Biao was doing it all years ago!
5. Rooftop Showdown
“Millionaire’s Express” is a who’s who of Hong Kong action stars, featuring the talents of Sammo Hung, Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Yukari Oshima, Hwang Jang Lee and many, many more.
A comedy of errors at heart, the laughs are separated by a series of frenetic fights. One of which pits powerhouse villain, Dick Wei, against Yuen Biao in a fight that seldom sees Biao’s feet on the ground.
6. Fan or Fist?
Although Yuen Biao had featured in over a dozen films before this one, “The Magnificent Butcher” officially put his name on the map.
While this fight doesn’t feature as many outlandish feats of dexterity than many of his others, his speed, precision and ability to incorporate intricate, smaller moves is certainly something to behold.
Combined with Lam Ching Ying’s incredible fan work, this crisply choreographed scene is all about movement and is one of my persxonal favourites of all time.
7. Brotherly Brawl
Sometimes, on screen acrobatics aren’t used to emphasize attacks. Tumbles and falls require just as much skill as an intricate offensive strikes and here, in a fight against Sammo Hung taken from “Shanghai, Shanghai,” Yuen Biao shows us that he’s far from a one trick pony.
The fight does incorporate some minor wire work but the unassisted slams are certainly worthy of note!
8. As Cool as Ice
In “The Iceman Cometh,” Yuen Biao collaborated with another of his senior Opera brothers, Yuen Wah in a film about two medieval warriors forced to go head to head in modern day Hong Kong. It may sound familiar as Donnie Yen’s remake, “The Iceman Cometh 3D” is scheduled for a release later this year.
The finale sees two of the more aerial Peking Opera performers in a truly memorable one-one-one showdown. There are enough flips, kicks, falls and lightning fast strikes to impress even the most action hungry of fans. And check out that backward leaping kick Yuen Biao pulls out of the bag!
9. Twice Upon a Time in China?
If you’re familiar with Jet Li’s iconic “Once Upon a Time in China” series, you’ll recall the first film features Yuen Biao in a rare non-fighting role.
What you may not know is that Yuen Biao actually features twice in the series; starring in an unofficial sixth part, the terribly titled “Once Upon a Chinese Hero” aka “Kickboxer.” Although it lost Tsui Hark as director and, weirdly, Yuen Biao doesn’t play iconic Hung Gar exponent, Wong Fei Hung, it’s a solid wire-fu movie with Yuen Biao performing a number of styles (albeit comically in this clip).
10. Fighting Clean
We’ve all fought the need to do laundry at some point in our lives but have we ever actually fought with laundry? Well, Yuen Biao has.
In “Dreadnaught” (directed by martial arts maestro, Yuen Woo Ping), the interminable chore of washing clothes is spruced up in a particular awesome training sequence.
So next time you feel you’re at war with the whites, throw in some of your favourite forms and it might just make it seems less taxing!
Is Yuen Biao one of your favourite movie martial artists? Do you have a particular film or scene you think is worthy of a mention? Drop us a comment below!