Jimmy Wang Yu was born on March 28, 1944 in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China. He is an actor and film producer and director as well as a screenwriter. He began as a contract actor with Shaw Brothers in Hong Kong and most of Wang’s movies were directed by legendary swords fighting director, Cheh Chang. Wang became the first screen hero of modern Chinese cinema and he was the most popular Chinese actor from 1965 until Bruce Lee came on the scene in 1971.
Before he began working with Shaw Brothers Studios in Hong Kong in 1963, Jimmy Wang Yu served in the National Revolutionary Army. He was also a swimming champion in Hong Kong and enjoyed racing cars. He was, however, not a highly skilled martial artist and this would impact his later career. Camera techniques and film editing gave Wang his aura of invincibility that movie goers saw on screen. Wang did promote Shotokan karate. Jimmy Wang Yu was once the highest paid martial arts film actor in Hong Kong before Bruce Lee broke the his record.
The action drama Temple of the Red Lotus (1965) was Jimmy Wang Yu’s first film and he had a primary role. He later starred in wuxia films beginning with Golden Swallow (1968) which was directed by Chang Cheh. Golden Swallow (1968) also starred Cheng Pei-pei. Jimmy Wang Yu went on to star in numerous other wuxia films, including One Armed Boxer (1972), Return of The Chinese Boxer (1977) and Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976).
It was The One-Armed Swordsman (1967) that launched Jimmy Wang Yu as an actor, and he continued to act as in roles as the One Armed Swordsman or the One Armed Boxer in other movies, including one with Japan’s famous Blind Swordman.
It was the The Chinese Boxer (1970) [The Hammer of God] that sealed his fame in Hong Kong cinema. The Chinese Boxer (1970) was the martial arts film that started the unarmed combat genre, mainly kung fu, and it was also Jimmy Wang Yu’s first directorial debut and the last film he made with Shaw Brothers Studios. The Chinese Boxer (1970) was so successful that it helped Wang became the most formidable Chinese actor who used unarmed martial arts. Wang was unchallenged as the onscreen fighter in Southeast Asia for the rest of the 1960s. But in the beginning of the 1970s, new actors with superior martial arts skills would begin to compete with Wang and martial artist like Ti Lung, David Chiang, and most notably Bruce Lee, would topple Wang. It would be Bruce Lee’s role in The Big Boss (1971) that would revolutionize the martial arts film genre.
The One Armed Swordsman (1967) Golden Swallow (1968) Return of the One-armed Swordsman (1969) and The Chinese Boxer (1970) set new box office records in Hong Kong for 4 consecutive years, a record unbeaten in Hong Kong, and possibly in other countries as well, until recently.
After The Chinese Boxer (1970), Jimmy Wang Yu broke his contract with Shaw Brothers Studio and was sued by the studio. He lost the lawsuit with the studio which led to Wang’s ban from making films in Hong Kong. Jimmy Wang Yu then created a film career in Taiwan, working with Golden Harvest and other independent film companies. His subsequent works were mostly filmed in Taiwan.
Jimmy Wang Yu received the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF).