Some talk of Alexander, and some of Hercules. Of Hector and Lysander, and such great names as these. But of all the world’s greatest heroes, there’s none that can compare with Chow Yun Fat.
Chow Yun Fat was one of my childhood heroes and he is still one of my heroes and favourite actors today. Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan may have been the face of East Asian and Hong Kong cinema for many people but I personally hold Chow Yun Fat in higher regards for he was different. Here was an actor who wasn’t a martial artist, instead he just shoots people and looks really cool whilst doing so. As mentioned in my initial piece on Hong Kong cinema, I watched many of his movies at a less than appropriate age, but I digress.
The Los Angeles Times once labelled him as “The Coolest Actor in the World” and it is easy to see why. His breakout role in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow in 1986 as Mark Gor won him critical acclaim, made him a superstar in Asia and inspired a whole generation of youngsters to adopt the trademark trench coat, shades and toothpick in the mouth look. In fact, a “Mark Gor coat” has entered Hong Kong’s lexicon as a colloquial term for a trench coat. Chow Yun Fat also possesses a unique on-screen presence and charisma which is rarely seen in any other actors, as a result, he has been compared to the likes of Clark Gable and Alain Delon.
As a kid, the Chow Yun Fat I knew was what most of the West knew too, as a cult action hero.
Bar A Better Tomorrow, he starred in further heroic bloodsheds such as City on Fire, The Killer, Hard Boiled and Full Contact. I recently discovered he has a larger repertoire of acting talents and skills than just looking sharp with two berettas in his hands; he has done wacky comedies (Diary of a Big Man), tragic melodramas (All about Ah Long) and romantic dramas (An Autumn’s Tale). Hollywood eventual beckoned but unfortunately it wasn’t to be; Bulletproof Monk and Dragonball Evolutions do not exist as far as I am aware. Having failed to establish a solid foothold in Western cinema, he eventually returned back to his home country to continue plying his trade with Hong Kong and/or Chinese productions.
A local hero would be an apt term to describe Chow Yun Fat’s reputation in Hong Kong. He is known to be one of the most down to earth and humble actors in the business. He goes to his local street market to buy his groceries. He cooks for his mother. He takes the bus and MTR. He does not see the needs for materialistic goods and just finds happiness in the simple things. He grew up in a working class family and dropped out of school to support his family before finding acting success. As a result, Chow Yun Fat is very relatable to most of Hong Kong and many admire him for not forgetting his roots and upbringing. He further cemented hero status in my eyes when during the 2014 pro-democracy protests, he became one of the first Hong Kong celebrities to publicly declare his support for the Umbrella Movement. When told this could jeopardize his movie career in China with threats of bans and censorship, he gave China the middle finger by proclaiming “I’ll just make less then.”.
The above is why I, like many others, consider him a role model and hero. Apart from just being a cultural icon, Chow Yun Fat demonstrates how one can be gracious and humble in spite of fame, success and popularity. He reminds us to not forget about our roots wherever we end up in life. As Rudyard Kipling’s poem If states, if you can “walk with Kings – yet not lose the common touch”, you can become a decent person, just like Fat Gor.