Martial Arts Actors
Martial Arts Actors of the Kung Fu genre. A few of the well known faces and information about their career.
Some of the most memorable martial arts movie actors of all time. Martial Arts movie lovers will no doubt recognize many of the faces here and possibly learn a few things about their favorite actors. I’m a Martial arts movie buff and enjoy a good Kick Butt Action martial arts movie. The actors are in alphabetical order and may not include some of your favorite actors. This does not mean that they are not one of the best actors, if you do not see an actor here give a suggestion in the guestbook section
Martial arts movies
Martial arts film is a film genre. A sub-genre of the action film, martial arts films are characterized by extensive fighting scenes featuring specific martial arts, often following the training and progress of the protagonist in training a specific style or school of martial arts.
Kung fu films
A notable sub-genre of martial arts films are kung fu films, i.e. martial arts films featuring Chinese martial arts. This genre has mainly been produced in China, peaking in the 1970s, and has been dominated by Hong Kong action cinema and its kung fu and wuxia films. Famous actors include Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and Collin Chou.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the most visible presence of martial arts films was the hundreds of English dubbed kung fu and ninja films produced by the Shaw Brothers, Godfrey Ho, Joseph Lai, and other Hong Kong producers. These films were widely broadcast on North American television on weekend timeslots that were often colloquially known as Kung Fu Theater, Black Belt Theater, or variations thereof.
Films surrounding the martial art of boxing begin as early as the 1930s with The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933) and Kid Galahad (1937). The Rocky series of five films (1976 to 2006) enjoyed mainstream success.
While the 1989 Kickboxer starring Jean-Claude Van Damme is nominally about Muay Thai but features a crossover of karate with other styles, movies surrounding the sport of kickboxing appear in the 1990s, with American Kickboxer (1991), Kickboxing Kid (1992), Kickboxing Academy (1997) followed in the 2000s by the films by Tony Jaa. Ferocious Female Kickboxing (1981) and Heavyweight Championship Kickboxing (1990) are not martial arts films in the usual sense but coverage of actual sports competitions.
The mid 1980s saw a proliferation of extremely low budget ninja action films, mostly produced by Joseph Lai and directed by Godfrey Ho. Godfrey Ho was known for his technique of taking footage from little known or unreleased Hong Kong Films (most of them crime or sex thrillers) and splicing them with newly shot ninja footage. This often resulted in films that appeared to have two parallel storylines or sets of characters. Additional footage would be shot so that characters from both movies could appear to interact, usually through phone conversations or editing scenes so that they appear to be in the same room despite not appearing onscreen together. According to Ho, many films were made with the budget of one normal film using this technique. These ninja films regularly employed caucasian actors, most notably Richard Harrison. These actors were overdubbed by different actors despite having spoken english during the filming. The reason for this is that all the ninja footage was filmed without sound. These ninja films were also noted for the colorful, flashy ninja outfits that were regularly worn. Harrison frequently appeared as a character named Gordon whose role and backstory varied from film to film.
Martial arts in films in general
Main article: combat in film
Beginning in the 1980s, there are many action movies starring Western martial artists such as Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mark Dacascos, Steven Seagal, and Wesley Snipes.
Action films that do include one or several scenes of hand-to-hand combat without focussing on the nature and background of the martial art are not usually included in the genre. Examples of this include Catwoman (2004), where lead actress Halle Berry was trained for the fight scenes by capoeira mestre Beto Simas, or The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), which includes a realistic fight scene for which Matt Damon was trained by Damon Caro, the scene itself being choreographed by Jeff Imada, both with a Filipino martial arts background.
war films by their nature often feature armed hand-to-hand combat, in the case of historical settings also historical martial arts. A notable example is the duel between Achilles and Hector in Troy (2004), presented as a fight scene including hoplite armour, round shield, spear and Bronze Age sword, choreographed by Richard Ryan.
A special category are fantasy or science fiction movies featuring fictional martial arts, such as The Matrix (1999), Equilibrium (2002), Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005), although classical Chinese kung fu films often present fictional extensions of Chinese martial arts in wuxia or gun fu style.
Anita Mui Yim-fong (10 October 1963 – 30 December 2003) was a popular Hong Kong singer and actress. During her prime years she made major contributions to the cantopop music scene, while receiving numerous awards and honours. She remained an idol throughout most of her career, and was generally regarded as a cantopop diva. Once she held a sell-out concert at Hammersmith, London, England, where she was dubbed the title “Madonna of Asia”. That title has stayed with her throughout her career, and has been used as a comparison for both Eastern and Western media.
In the 1980s the gangtai style of music was revolutionized by her wild dancing and femininity on stage. She was famous for having outrageous costumes and also high powered performances. Her fanbase reached far beyond Hong Kong, and into many parts of Asia including Taiwan, Mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia as well as the overseas market. In the Hong Kong entertainment industry where stars often come and go, Mui was able to remain a major star in the spotlight for 20 years. Her career only came to a stop in 2003 when she was suddenly diagnosed with cervical cancer, dying at the age of only 40. Even so, her music and film legacy continues to live on. Her success reached well beyond that of the entertainment circle with humanitarian work, donations and charities that played a major role in helping society even well into the present day.
Brigitte Lin or Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia (born 3 November 1954) is a Taiwanese actress. She retired in 1994, though had a minor role in the 1998 film Bishonen.
She was born in Taipei, and was “discovered” in 1972 by a film producer, and first appeared in many Taiwanese romance films based on the novels of Qiong Yao, also known as Chiung Yao. She later switched over to making movies in Hong Kong. At the height of her popularity she was arguably one of the most sought after actresses in the Chinese film industry. She starred in more than 100 movies.
In Taiwan movies, Lin was almost always cast as the female protagonist in the Qiong Yao based movies she appeared in. Her film roles were often that of the ideal girl next door who everyone liked and all men wanted to be with. Her characters often will find love and then – when about to get married – or having just married – tragedy will strike. Often the tragedy is either her fiance’s or husband’s mother disapproves of her, her fiancé or husband contracts some serious disease, her fiancé or husband falls from a high place at his construction site job and is left in a coma, or similar plotlines. Usually the tragedy is overcome by the end of the movie and things end on a happy note. But, sometimes, not.
In Hong Kong movies, Lin made a career of playing transgender roles: in Peking Opera Blues she plays a tomboy who dresses in male Western clothes; in New Dragon Gate Inn she is a woman who dresses as a man, and in Swordsman II and III she plays a castrated male fighter slowly turning into a woman.
She married businessman Michael Ying in 1994 and left the film industry, and now lives in Hong Kong. She has two daughters, born in 1997 and 2001. She made her first public appearance since her marriage at a screening of “Ashes of Time Redux” at the 2008 New York Film Festival.
Bruce Lee (Jun Fan, November 27, 1940 – July 20, 1973) was a Chinese American and Hong Kong actor, martial artist, philosopher, film director, screenwriter, practitioner of Wing Chun and founder of the Jeet Kune Do concept. He is considered by many as the most influential martial artist of the 20th century, and a cultural icon. He is the father of actor Brandon Lee and of actress Shannon Lee. He was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.
Lee was born in San Francisco, California, and raised in Hong Kong until his late teens. His Hong Kong and Hollywood-produced films elevated the traditional Hong Kong martial arts film to a new level of popularity and acclaim, and sparked the second major surge of interest in Chinese martial arts in the West. The direction and tone of his films changed and influenced martial arts and martial arts films in Hong Kong and the rest of the world as well. He is noted for his roles in five feature length films, Lo Wei’s The Big Boss (1971) and Fist of Fury (1972); Way of the Dragon (1972), directed and written by Bruce Lee; Warner Brothers’ Enter the Dragon (1973), directed by Robert Clouse, and The Game of Death (1978).
Lee became an iconic figure, particularly among the Chinese, as he portrayed Chinese national pride and Chinese nationalism in his movies. While Lee initially trained in Wing Chun, he later rejected well-defined martial art styles, favoring instead to utilize useful techniques from various sources
Gojo Kai Karate Black Belt Carter Wong was head martial arts instructor to the Hong Kong Police Force. One of his police students continuously raved to his director friend, Huang Feng, about his teacher’s incredible skills and strength. Intrigued by his friend’s accounts Huang sought permission to sit in on one of Carter’s classes. Huang had already ‘discovered’ Sammo Hung and Angela Mao and he was looking for a leading man for his upcoming film, “Hapkido”. He sat silently through Carter’s class and afterwards went up to talk to him. A few weeks later Carter was working on his first movie, along with Sammo, Angela her real life teacher Whang In Sik and also Chi Hon Tsoi. Also working on “Hapkido” were an uncredited ‘bootmaster’ Leung Siu-Leung who was helping Sammo with the fight choreography and a young stuntman/actor now known as Jackie Chan.
The stare down incident came when Bruce Lee appeared on the “Hapkido” set with Chuck Norris and Bob Wall, saying loud enough to be heard by the entire crew that he had brought them along so that they could see how a kung-fu movie should NOT be made. He weaved around the set, jabbed out at various people and then unleashed a barrage of near misses at an unblinking Carter Wong. There was a few seconds deathly silence as Carter stood motionless staring right into Bruce’s eyes. Whether Bruce sensed a fellow spirit, or just realised Wong wasn’t in the mood to be baited, we will never know. But after a few seconds Bruce grinned broadly at Carter and then, making exaggerated parrying moves as he backed away, turned, and still grinning, left the set.
During the seventies Carter and Angela became something of a kung fu double act in a series of kung fu classics. Probrably the best ones were “When Taekwondo Strikes” which apart from having possibly the best title of any kung fu film was also the only film ever made by Supreme Master Jhoon Rhee. Rhee is SO awesome in this that he had to have his hands chained together for his main action sequence(!). Carter, Whong In Sik and Angela all spent time training with Rhee during the making of this movie.
Donnie Yen Chi-Tan (Born 27 July 1963) is a Hong Kong martial artist, actor, film director, fight choreographer, and producer. He is a well known film and television actor in Hong Kong and, more recently, in the West, having been featured in many movies with prominent, internationally known actors such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. Many consider him to be Hong Kong’s top action star; director Peter Ho-Sun Chan said that he “is the ‘it’ action person right now” and “has built himself into a bona fide leading man, who happens to be an action star.”
Jackie Chan, SBS, MBE (born Chan Kong Sang, on 7 April 1954) is a Hong Kong  actor, action choreographer, filmmaker, comedian, producer, martial artist, screenwriter, entrepreneur, singer and stunt performer.
In his movies, he is known for his acrobatic fighting style, comic timing, use of improvised weapons and innovative stunts. Jackie Chan has been acting since the 1970s and has appeared in over 100 films. Chan has received stars on the Hong Kong Avenue of Stars and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As a cultural icon, Chan has been referenced in various pop songs, cartoons and video games.
Chan is also a Cantopop and Mandopop star, having released a number of albums and sung many of the theme songs for the films in which he has starred. In 2008, Chan sang at the 2008 Summer Olympics closing ceremony
Li Lianjie (born April 26, 1963), better known by his stage name Jet Li, is a Chinese martial artist, actor, wushu champion, and international film star who is currently residing in Singapore. After three years of intensive training with Wu Bin, Li won his first national championship for the Beijing Wushu Team. After retiring from wushu at age 17, he went on to win great acclaim in China as an actor making his debut with the film Shaolin Temple (1982). He went on to star in many critically acclaimed martial arts epic films, most notably the Once Upon A Time In China series, in which he portrayed folk hero Wong Fei Hung. His first role in a Hollywood film was as a villain in Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), but his first Hollywood film leading role was in Romeo Must Die (2000). He has gone on to star in many Hollywood action films, most recently starring beside Jackie Chan in The Forbidden Kingdom (2008), also with Mark Dacascos in Cradle 2 the Grave (2003) and as the titular villain in The Mummy: Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor (2008) opposite Brendan Fraser. He is set to star in the upcoming film The Expendables.
Jimmy Wang Yu
Jimmy Wang Yu (WÃ¡ng Yu; Yale: Wong4 Jyu5; born March 28, 1943 in Wuxi, Jiangsu, also known as Wong Yu-lung and Wang Yue) is a Chinese actor, director, producer, and screenwriter. He shot to fame with the Shaw Brothers Studio’s martial arts film, The One-Armed Swordsman, in 1967. His film, The Chinese Boxer, in 1969, is credited with being the first Hong Kong martial arts film that kick started the unarmed combat genre that took Asia by storm in the 1970s.
Lau Kar Fai (AKA Gordon Liu)
Gordon Liu (Lau Kar-Fai; Liu Jia Hui, formerly spelled Liu Chia-Hui, born Xian Jinxi; born November 30, 1955) is a Chinese martial arts film actor. Best known by Western moviegoers for his role as Pai Mei in Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), and as Johnny Mo in Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003), the head general of the Crazy 88, O-Ren Ishii’s (Lucy Liu) personal army. Elsewhere, Liu is known for his role as San The from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin and its sequels from which he adopted his shaved head style. Some fans call him the “Master Killer” after the alternate title to The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. He is also known to Indian fans as Hojo in Warner Bros’ first Bollywood movie Chandni Chowk to China
He was born in Guangdong Province, China and is the adopted brother of famed Shaw Brothers directors and actors Lau Kar-Leung (Liu Chia-Liang) and Lau Kar-Wing (Liu Chia-Yung). In his youth, he skipped school to train in martial arts without his parents’ knowledge. He trained at Lau Charn’s martial arts school of Hung Gar discipline, which descended from Wong Fei Hung’s grand student (father to Lau Kar Leung). Lau Charn’s wife assisted in his training and their friendship eventually led to his adoption into Lau’s family, and he received the name Lau Kar Fai. As he grew up, he found a job as a shipping clerk to make ends meet. His interests had always been towards martial arts and he was eventually offered a role by Lau Kar Leung. His name prior to being adopted was Xian Qixi.
See more info at Squidoo Martial Arts Actors – Gordon Liu
Lau Kar Leung
Lau Kar-Leung, born July 28, 1936 in Guangzhou, Guangdong is a famous Hong Kong martial arts filmmaker, choreographer, and actor.
Lau Kar Leung was the third child of Lau Cham (Lau Jaam, 劉湛), a martial art master who studied under Lam Sai Wing, pupil of the legendary Wong Fei Hung. Lau’s wife is Mary Jean Reimer, a solicitor in Hong Kong, who was formally an actress known as Yung Ching-ching (Weng Jingjing). He has two brothers who make a living in the film industry, actor/choreographer Lau Kar-wing, and adopted martial brother Gordon Liu (a.k.a. Lau Kar-Fai). His nephew Lau Kar Yung (son of his older sister)is also an actor,choreographer and director. Another nephew, Lau Wing-kin (son of Lau Kar-wing) is also an actor, and assisted Lau Kar-leung with directing the action of Seven Swords.
Lau Kar-Leung is best known for his movies which he made during the 1970s and 1980s for the Shaw Brothers Studio. One of his most famous films is The 36th Chamber of Shaolin which starred his adopted brother, Lau Kar-Fai (Gordon Liu). And Drunken Master II which starred Jackie Chan.
Lee Hoi Sang
Family name: Lee
(Lee Hoi Shang, Li Hai Sheng)
Country: Hong Kong
Alternative names: Lee Hoi Sang, Lee Hoi Shang, Li Hai Sheng, Hai-Shung Lee, Li-Hai Sheng
Profession: Action Director, Assistant Action Director, Actor.
Lee Hoi Sang primarily stared in many movies but as a villan. He is the most notable face in the martial arts genre. Most people will recognize his face faster that most notable actors but never knew his name.
Lo Lieh 29 June 1939 in Pematang Siantar Indonesia – 2 November 2002) was a Hong Kong actor in martial-arts films. His real name is Wang Lap Tat. At somepoint after his parents sent him back to China he attended acting school in Hong Kong, he was hired by the Shaw Brothers Studio in 1962, Lo Lieh went on to become one of the most famous actors in Hong Kong kung fu films in the late 1960s and 1970s. He died of a heart attack in November 2002.
See more info at Squidoo Martial Arts Actor Lo Lieh
Maggie Cheung Man-yuk (born 20 September 1964) is a Cannes Best Actress, Berlin Best Actress, five-time Hong Kong Film Award and five-time Taiwan Golden Horse winning Chinese actress from Hong Kong. Raised in England, she has over 70 films to her credit since starting her career in 1983. She is the first Asian actress to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Born in Hong Kong, Maggie Cheung Man-yuk’s family roots are in Shanghai. In 1971, she entered Primary one of St. Paul’s Convent School. Her merchant-class family emigrated from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom when she was eight. She spent part of her childhood and adolescence in the UK. She returned to Hong Kong in 1982 for vacation, but ended up staying for modeling assignments; she also got a sales job at Lane Crawford department store. In 1983, she entered the Miss Hong Kong pageant, where she was first runner-up and won the Miss Photogenic award. She was a semi-finalist in the Miss World pageant the same year.
Prior to 1988, her screen appearance was often limited to cameo roles. One of Cheung’s notable movie roles then is that of “May”, the girlfriend of police detective “Kevin” Chan Ka Kui in Jackie Chan’s Police Story series (however, she did not reprise the role in Police Story 4: First Strike or New Police Story). Maggie frequently cited her performance in the movie As Tears Go By (1988), her first of many collaborations with film director Wong Kar-Wai, as the piece that truly began her serious acting career. In Centre Stage, she performed in Cantonese , Mandarin and Shanghainese fluently, switching languages with ease. In Clean, she performed in fluent English, French and Cantonese. She is a polyglot as a result of her upbringing in Hong Kong and England.
Audiences outside Asia have become increasingly familiar with her work, including Irma Vep, Centre Stage, Chinese Box, In the Mood for Love, Hero, 2046, and, most recently, Clean.
Dato’ Michelle Yeoh Choo-Kheng ; born 6 August 1962) is a BAFTA Award-nominated actress and dancer, well known for performing her own stunts in the action films that brought her to fame in the early 1990s.
Born in Ipoh, Malaysia (then Malaya), she is based in Hong Kong and was chosen by People magazine as one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World in 1997.
She is best known in the Western world for her roles in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, playing Wai Lin, and the multiple Academy Award-winning Chinese action film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which she was nominated the BAFTA for “Best Actress”. In 2008, the film critic website Rotten Tomatoes ranked her the greatest action heroine of all time.
She is credited as Michelle Khan in some of her earlier films
Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng was born to a prominent ethnic Chinese family in Ipoh, Malaysia on August 6, 1962. Her parents are Janet Yeoh and Dato’ Yeoh Kian Teik, a lawyer and MCA politician. She was very active when she was young and had a passion for dance. She started to study ballet at the age of four years old. At 15 years old she moved with her parents to England, where she was enrolled in a boarding school. Yeoh later studied at the Royal Academy of Dance in London, majoring in Ballet. However, a spinal injury shattered her lifelong dream of being a prima ballerina, and she consequently had to switch her focus away from dance to choreography and other arts. She later received a B.A. degree in Creative Arts with a minor in Drama.
In 1983, at the age of 21, Yeoh won the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant. She was also Malaysia’s representative at the 1983 Miss World pageant in London. From there, she appeared in a television commercial with Jackie Chan which caught the attention of a fledgling Hong Kong film production company, D&B Films.
Sammo Hung (born January 7, 1952) is a Hong Kong actor, martial artist, producer and director, known for his work in many kung fu films and Hong Kong action cinema. He has been a fight choreographer for, amongst others, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, King Hu, and John Woo.
Hung is one of the pivotal figures who spearheaded the Hong Kong New Wave movement of the 1980s, helped reinvent the martial arts genre and started the vampire-like Jiang Shi genre. He is widely credited with assisting many of his compatriots, giving them their starts in the Hong Kong film industry, by casting them in the films he produced, or giving them roles in the production crew.
In East Asia, it is common for people to address their elders or influential people with familial nouns as a sign of familiarity and respect. Jackie Chan, for example, is often addressed as “Dai Goh” , meaning Big Brother. Hung was also known as “Dai Goh”, until the filming of Project A, which featured both actors. As Hung was the eldest of the kung fu “brothers”, and the first to make a mark on the industry, he was given the nickname “Dai Goh Dai” , meaning, Big, Big Brother or Biggest Big Brother
Simon Yuen Siu-Tin (sam seed)
Yuen Siu Tien (1912-1980) (also known as Yuan Xiao Tian, Simon Yuen, Sam Seed or “Ol’ Dirty”) was a kung fu movie star in the 1970s. He starred in films with actors like Jackie Chan and under the direction of his son Yuen Woo-ping. He died of a heart attack in 1980.
Yuen Siu Tien trained in traditional Peking opera role of Wu-Shen. He began his acting career in the first Wong Fei Hung film to star Kwan Tak Hing, Story of Huang Feihong (1949), at the age of 37, though his film appearances were rare until the late 1950s. He is most well known for portraying mentors and Kung Fu masters. One of his most internationally well-known films came late in his career, Drunken Master (1978), in which he played Su Hua Chi (aka The Beggar So), an old hermit who had mastered the art of Drunken Boxing, aiding a young Wong Fei Hung, played by Jackie Chan. The role was a reprisal (in all but name) of the one he had played in another of Chan’s films, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978). At the time, Drunken Master proved to be the most successful film to feature Jackie Chan. The film portrayed Wong Fei Hung as a young and mischievous rascal as opposed to the venerable, confucian master of kung fu as played in many films by Kwan Tak Hing. The movie was a surprise international hit, and greatly helped to boost the career of the then 66 year old actor.
Shinichi Chiba (born January 23, 1939), also known as Sonny Chiba, is a Japanese actor. Chiba was one of the first actors to achieve stardom through his skills in martial arts, initially in Japan and later before an international audience.
Born Sadaho Maeda in Fukuoka, Japan, he was the third of six children in the family of a military test pilot. As a boy, he manifested an interest in both theater and gymnastics, and he was serious enough about the latter to earn a place on the Japanese Olympic team in his late teens until he was sidelined by a back injury. While he was a university student, he began studying martial arts with the renowned World Karate Grand Master Masutatsu “Mas” Oyama (whom he later portrayed in a trilogy of films), leading to his becoming a first-degree black belt.
Yuen Biao (born 26 July 1957) is a Hong Kong actor, martial artist. He specialises in acrobatics and Chinese martial arts and has worked on over 80 films as actor, stuntman and action choreographer. Along with Peking Opera School “brothers” at the China Drama Academy, Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan, he was one of the Seven Little Fortunes.
Born (Hsia Ling-Jun) in Hong Kong, he was the fifth child in a family of eight children. At the age of 6, he was enrolled at the Peking Opera School The China Drama Academy. He was given the stage name Yuen Biao (Little Tiger) and trained alongside schoolmates Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Corey Yuen, Yuen Wah and several others who would later become famous in Hong Kong cinema. He quickly showed a talent for acrobatics, and remained at the school until the age of 16. When he left, Yuen followed his classmate Sammo Hung into a career in the Hong Kong film industry.
 Film career
Further information: Yuen Biao filmography
Yuen Biao has appeared in over 130 films to date. He has also played roles in 8 television series for Hong Kong channel TVB.