"I'm always saying I'm not a big star. I'm an actor and I would love to work in different types of films, in all kinds of roles. This makes me more happy."
Sometimes called "the Robert DeNiro of Hong Kong," Simon Yam is known for his wide versatility. He has played everything from a "normal" action hero (Hitman, where he holds his own beside Jet Li) to a homosexual crime lord (Full Contact) to a straight-out necrophiliac serial killer psycho (Dr. Lamb).
Born in 1954 as Yam Tat-Wah, Simon grew up poor, with his father dying when Yam was only 11. Despite this, he still did well in school, where he pursued many realms of art, including painting, photography and -- of course -- acting. While still in high school (at the age of 16) Yam began doing work in commercials and when he was 20, he went on to the TVB (Shaw Bros.) acting school -- where one of his classmates was none other than Chow Yun-Fat. The two hit it off right away, acting together in about 10 series and remain friends to this day (it was because of their friendship that Yam felt comfortable with the idea of his character being in love with Chow in Full Contact).
After leaving TVB in 1988, Yam moved onto films, mostly in small roles as gangsters or other "bad seeds." He became so associated with gangsters that many people (falsely) believed that he had ties with the Triad, especially, after a strange coincidence, a gangster he had portrayed in a film was arrested at the movie's premiere. He also starred in a series of Cat III "gigolo" movies, where he gained a reputation as "Mr. Nice Guy." In fact, many Cat III actresses would only work with Yam, as he was one of the few actors who didn't try to go too far during love scenes.
Even though Yam was gaining popularity, it was not until he appeared in John Woo's 1991 Vietnam epic Bullet in the Head (where he demonstrated some of the English that he picked up by watching TV) that he became a bonafide star. Since then he has worked tirelessly in movies, with over 100 films to his credit -- sometimes appearing in as many as 12 a year. Even his honeymoon with model/actress QiQi had to be put on hold as he continued working. In 1997, he received a Hong Kong Film Award nomination for his work in To Be No. 1.
Yam, like other popular Hong Kong stars, has received offers to work in Hollywood. He was offered a role in Chow Yun-Fat's US debut The Replacement Killers, but turned it down. It seems as if Yam will be staying in Hong Kong for years to come. In addition to working in films, he has also gone back to working in TV because he feels "the quality of television is higher than films."
Offscreen, Yam still pursues his painting and photography and has published a book of his work. He also enjoys traveling and has made a documentary of his travels in Mainland China. Like his friend Chow Yun-Fat, Yam also gives a lot of his time and money to charity. He "adopted" (through a Save the Children-type program)10 children in Bangkok after seeing the conditions they lived in while he was there shooting Full Contact.
Thanks to The Official Simon Yam Site for providing the pictures and some of the info for this section.