One of Asia's biggest stars, Chow Yun-Fat was born in 1955 on the island of Lamma, near Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour. Chow's family moved to Hong Kong itself in 1965, and it was there the young boy began indulging in two of his major influences: Chinese opera and American movies. The acting bug bit Chow as a teenager, and in 1973 he attended a casting call for TVB (the Shaw Bros. studio's TV division), where he was accepted for their acting school, along with future director Ringo Lam.
Chow's good looks and natural acting ability made him a hit with audiences, and he became a star of several soap operas. His most notable early role was that of the gangster Hui Man-Keung on Shanghai Beach (a series similar to the US' Hotel) in the early 1980's. Chow was also working in movies during this time, but aside from The Story of Woo Viet, almost all his films were failures with both audiences and critics alike. It seemed as if Chow was going to remain a fairly obscure actor for the rest of his career.
However, in 1985, his life began to turn around. He received a Golden Horse (Best Actor) from Taiwan, and another Best Actor from the Asian Pacific Film Festival for his performance in director Leung Po-Chi's Hong Kong 1941. It was on the strength of this role that he was hired for John Woo's A Better Tomorrow in 1986. And the rest, as they say, is history. Almost overnight, Chow became a major superstar in Asia. Stores around Hong Kong sold out of the sunglasses and trenchcoats similar to the ones worn by Chow in ABT. After his work in Woo's 1989 epic The Killer, Chow became a hit overseas as well.
In 1995, Chow finished his last HK movie, Peace Hotel and decided to follow his good friend John Woo to America. During his time in Hong Kong, Chow won many accolaides, including the Taiwanese Best Actor award (first in 1985, for Hong Kong 1941, and then in 1987, for An Autumn's Tale), and three Hong Kong awards (1987, for A Better Tomorrow, 1988, for City on Fire, and, finally, in 1990, for All about Ah Long).
He has been likened to American actors such as Harrison Ford for his "everyman" image and ability to work in all genres, from romance to comedy to action. Like other great actors, Chow immerses himself in every role, literally becoming his character. At first glance, there may not be much difference between Mark from ABT and Tequila from Hard-Boiled, but Chow's excellent performances help differentiate these two characters (and all the others he has played) as distinct individuals.
Chow's popularity has served as a gateway to making films in the West. Even though his US debut, The Replacement Killers, was not a huge success, he impressed producers enough to make two more US movies, including The Corruptor (an action movie with Mark Wahlberg) and Anna and the King of Siam, which paired him with one of Hollywood's most popular actresses, Jodie Foster. Chow returned to Asia to work on the Academy Award-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which ushered in a new legion of fans to his work. The long awaited reunion with John Woo (who called Chow his "alter ego") will perhaps occur with King's Ransom, a project still in development.
Thanks to Chow Yun-Fat: God of Actors for providing info and some of the pics for this section.