Jimmy Wang Yu was born in 1944 as Wang Zheng-quan. Gifted athletically, he studied at the Shanghai Sports Academy, and was an accomplished swimmer, rider and race car driver. Wang's athleticism was key to his subsequent career as a star in martial arts films. Wang settled in Hong Kong in the early 60s and studied civil engineering in Chu Hai College.
Wang joined Shaw Brothers in 1963. In 1964, he got the lead role of Tiger Boy in Thunder Tiger, by winning a public audition. He spent a lot of time preparing for the role by practicing with martial arts teachers. His effort paid off and his performance in the movie was widely acclaimed. He soared to stardom with Temple Of The Red Lotus (1965). Because he was so gifted athletically, he was able to handle most of the stunts himself. The success of the movie gave Shaw Brothers a lead in the martial arts genre over its competitors, with Wang as one of its foremost actors. Wang gave us his most stunning performance yet in The One-Armed Swordsman (1967), as the one armed swordsman who single-handedly avenged the humiliation suffered by his master. The one armed swordsman's loyalty to his master and his devotion to his lover has defined the image of the archetypical martial arts hero. The movie was also the first Hong Kong movie to gross over one million dollars in box office takings, strengthening Shaw Brothers' lead in martial arts movies.
Wang got the role of the one armed swordsman because he was very masculine, although not exceptionally handsome, which was exactly what director Chang Cheh envisioned a real martial arts hero should be. That masculinity along with his professionalism and athleticism made Wang the premiere martial arts actor in Hong Kong. He was also the highest paid actor in Hong Kong prior to Bruce Lee.
During the 60s, Wang starred in numerous Hong Kong movies including The Twin Swords (1965), The Magnificent Trio (1966), The Sword Of Swords (1968) and Golden Swallow (1968). His directorial debut, The Chinese Boxer (1970), which he also wrote and starred in, brought the popularity of fists-and-kicks martial arts movies to a new height in Hong Kong. Wang moved to Taiwan in the 1970s because of a contract dispute with Shaw Brothers. He became one of the best directors of the martial arts genre and directed 11 movies, while he starred in or wrote many more, including Beach Of The War Gods (1973) and Four Real Friends (1974).
Among the many movies directed by Wang, The Chinese Boxer probably was the most influential. This film was made in response to a Japanese Judo film. In the film, a Chinese martial arts expert defeated a Japanese Karate master. For the first time, scenes of Chinese defeating foreigners appeared in films, and introduced a different perspective for martial arts movies.
Over a career that spanned 30 years, Wang has starred in or directed 59 martial arts films. He was one of the most influential figures in the genre in the 60s and 70s. His movies like The Chinese Boxer have paved the way for subsequent classics like Lo Wei's The Big Boss (1971) and Fist Of Fury (1972). Wang wasn't only the first star of the martial arts era; he was a truly remarkable talent.
(Films available in Celestial’s Shaw Brothers Film Library with year of production/ theatrical release)
Temple Of The Red Lotus (1965)
The Twin Swords (1965)
The Magnificent Trio (1966)
The Sword And The Lute (1966)
The Trail Of The Broken Blade (1967)
One-Armed Swordsman (1967)
The Assassin (1967)
Golden Swallow (1968)
The Sword Of Swords (1968)
Return Of The One-Armed Swordsman (1968)
My Son (1969)
The Chinese Boxer (1970)