(Yam Tat Wah, Ren Da Hua)
Actor, Photographer, Entrepeneur
Born: March 19, 1955- Hong Kong Height: 5'9" Weight: 165 lbs.
Languages: Chinese, English
Simon Yam Tat Wah is the quintessential Hong Kong actor.
In a career exceeding 25 years, Yam has appeared in over 125 movies and more than
40 television series. Whether as hero or villain, supporting actor or leading man, Yam's
colorful screen persona has endured from his early days as a TV star to his eventual
position as a major figure in the exciting world of Hong Kong cinema.
Born in March 1955, Yam Tat Wah is the son of Hong Kong's former police chief, who
died when he was eleven; and has a sister (Yam Yim Yi), and older brother (Peter
Yam Tat Wing, now Hong Hong's Assistant Police Commissioner). As a youth Simon
overcame poverty by modelling for print ads, appearing in commercials, and working in
sales. After completing high school, Yam enrolled in Television Broadcast Limited's
actor training courses, and soon became a regular of televised dramas, sitcoms,
martial arts period pieces, and soap operas.
His first series was the police drama CID, followed by a role as a gay character in the
domestic soap opera A House Is Not a Home. Other shows Yam performed in for TVB,
Hong Kong's largest television studio, include some of their most famous series-
The Shell Game, Man in the Net, Police Cadet II, The Return of the Condor Heroes,
The Smiling Proud Wanderer, and many others.
By the late 1970's Yam was already a household name, yet his contract with TVB
restricted the amount of outside projects he was able to accept. He continued with
the network until his contract finally expired in 1989. Opting not to renew, Simon Yam
was now a free agent, ready to concentrate his efforts on film work full time.
Though free from the confines of a binding contract, Yam was now solicited by various
triad film producers, who pressured him to participate in their work. As a 'name' actor,
Simon Yam was particularly appealling to low budget filmmakers such as Phillip Ko Fei, who
cast Yam in action movies filmed in such far flung locales as France, Thailand, Cyprus and
London. He reached his peak in the early 1990's, starring in an average of at least one film
Simon Yam's movie debut was in the gangster picture Law Don (1979), but his fist starring film
role was later that year in the groundbreaking New Wave erotic drama House of the Lute.
Lead roles in forgettable police films The Informer (1981), and Green Killer (1982) followed,
but did not reflect the success he had in TV, where he continued to work thoughout the 80's.
A supporting role in Leung Po Chi's stylish, campy thriller He Lives by Night subtly relied
on Yam's emerging comic bent. In 1986, he made his American movie debut by starring in the
abysmal New York based snoozer Tongs: A Chinatown Story, with a script based on real life
headlines about local Chinese teenage gangs' urban turf wars.
A major role as a crooked police chief in Yuen Wo Ping's modern action film Tiger Cage
(1988) proved Simon had the stuff to carry a movie as the main bad guy. By 1989, he made
another crudely made English language action movie (Bloodfight), which stretched credulity
by casting him as a tournament fighter competing against Enter the Dragon's Bolo Yeung.
It would be several more years of mostly second tier Hong Kong films before Yam was able to
land his most significant breakthrough role. Though his part was not emphasized in the poster
or other promotion, Yam's role as a Eurasian mercenary in John Woo's Vietnam epic Bullet
in the Head (1990) pushed his profile higher. Simon Yam became a highly demanded actor
In the early 1990's Simon's growing sex symbol status earned him starring roles in a series
of gigolo films, a HK sub-genre that did not even exist prior to involvement. These ranged from
the gigolo tragedy Hong Kong Gigolo (1990), to the comedies Gigolo and Whore (1991) and
its sequel. So synonymous was Yam with the role, that his cameo in the star filled charity
film The Banquet (1991) parodied his suave gigolo image.
Asian audiences have long accepted Simon Yam in villain roles, which he has played with
ease since his days in television. Yam rekindled his flair for playing the bad guy in Ringo
Lam's action film Full Contact (1992). His exuberant performance as the flamboyant villain
opposite Chow Yun Fat (with whom he starred in many TVB series) included his own input:
the character would also be sexually attracted to Chow Yun Fat.
The ultra-violent Full Contact was just a precursor of what was to come for Simon Yam.
In a string of psychological thrillers, playing twisted homicidal characters became another Yam
trademark. Two essential 'psychopath' movies are Dr. Lamb and Run and Kill, dynamic
roles of madness, depravity, and Yam's inimitable hamminess. In Dr. Lamb (1992), Simon plays
a withdrawn cab driver who is also a necrophiliac that kidnaps and dismembers prostitutes.
The role was reprised from a telefilm in which he starred and was based on actual events.
Run and Kill (1993) is a malevolent masterpiece with Yam as a merciless former soldier
who takes out his seething rage over his brother's death on Kent Cheng and his innocent
little daughter. Both films are bona-fide cult classics.
Another widely regarded film is the superbly sexual, kinetic action film Naked Killer, in which
Simon portrayed the cool but traumatized detective Tinam; who upchucks at the sight of a gun,
but must ally himself with the lovely and deadly assassin Kitty
Simon once gain plays an impotent cop in A Day Without Policeman, a similarly shocking
thriller in the spirit of A Clockwork Orange and Straw Dogs. Gangs armed with AK-47's are able
to take control of a lush HK island, wantonly raping and killing the inhabitants- Yam and his
wife (Yu Li) must try to stop the carnage.
In these and subsequent films, the flawed hero motif would become a recurring character
profile for Yam. As protagonists in The Incorruptible, Crystal Fortune Run and Police
Confidential, Simon Yam played alcoholic cops who must overcome their weaknesses
for a higher cause. As a morally confused undercover cop in Benny Chan's Man Wanted
(1995), Simon's character must reconcile his duties as a law enforcer with his close relationship
with the drug lord he is trying to take down. In The True Hero, Yam plays a former triad who
changes his ways and becomes a school teacher, preaching the evils of the gang life to his
rebellious students. Like the juvenile delinquents who drag Yam's character back into his old
violent lifestyle, Yam's own career inevitably led back to roles as the villain.
Playing bad guys in Hong Kong cinema spurred encounters with bad guys in real life. Triad-
financed low budget action films were a common occurrence, and Simon Yam was selected
by some of these producers to portray the triad lifestyle in their efforts. In over 35 films,
Simon Yam became one of the most prominent leading men in HK to play gangsters onscreen.
Notable examples include Burning Ambition, To Where He Belongs, Love Among the
Triad, and the first three installments of Hong Kong's longest running triad series, Young and
Dangerous. When non-fictional biographies of actual Hong Kong gang bosses were popular,
Simon took the cash and portrayed four of them. Yam's first two Hong Kong Film Award
nominations were for gangster roles- To Be Number One (1996), and Juliet in Love (2000).
His other nominations were for his role of Anita Mui's husband in the Filmko drama
Midnight Fly (2001), and a Police Tactical Unit commander in Johnnie To's PTU (2003).
One of Simon Yam's finest acting performances was in Scarred Memory (1996). His character,
a triad member, sustains a head injury and becomes a naive, vulnerable amnesiac with the
intelligence of a child. With no memory of his former life, he befriends a newly separated
nurse (Veronica Yip) and develops a romance that is rare and heartfelt.
In 1997, Simon Yam played a happy go-lucky mute chef in the Singaporean telefilm Hope.
The role recquired Yam to learn sign language, as all of his lines were delivered with
hand signs instead of words.
Though one of Hong Kong cinema's most famous faces, Yam is rarely honored for his
acting formally. However, he's repeatedly been recognized in more superficial ways, making
The Ten Best Dressed List, Sexiest Man, or Most Beautiful People list nearly every year.
As a former model, Simon enjoys fashion and playing with his image. His home contains a
a huge closet housing his extensive collection of vintage jeans. Since he likes sunglasses,
Yam designed his own line and named it after himself. An avid golfer, Simon helped design
clothing for the golf enthusiast and marketed it with his showbiz friends. When named the
spokesman for a famous brand of Italian shoes, Simon not only promoted them but designed
their advertising as well. As pitchman, Simon has long standing relationships with Omega
watches and Canon cameras, who have held photography workshops with Simon in Asia.
Simon Yam owes much of his success to his versatility. His filmography spans a wide
array of genres including thrillers, comedies, action, martial arts, and drama.
Among the highlights of his prolific film career are Black Cat, Bloody Friday, Love, Guns
and Glass, First Shot, Rose Rose I Love You, Cash on Delivery, and Fulltime Killer.
Simon co-starred with Jet Li in Li's final Hong Kong film, Hitman, and played the flashy
gum-popping racing outlaw opposite Ekin Cheng in The Legend of Speed.
In 1998, Simon began his association with Milkyway Image, appearing in Johnnie To's
celebrated minimalist crime films Expect the Unexpected (1998), The Mission (1999) and
PTU (2003). The films of Johnnie To and Ringo Lam have been among the most creatively
satisfying experiences for him.
In 1999 Simon and fellow entertainers and film world figures such as Jackie Chan, Tsui
Hark, and Tony Leung Ka Fai led a massive anti-piracy protest through the streets
of Hong Kong.
After talking with American producers for many years, Simon accepted his first big budget
Hollywood role as villain Chen Lo in Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003).
Aside from acting, Simon is an accomplished photographer, whose work has been exhibited
and published in his own photography books, and graced album covers and advertising. In 1996
he conceptualized a slick, provocative coffee table book entitled 'Simon Says'. The book,
done for charity, featured the many sides of Simon Yam in a visual diary that included
candid, naked photos of the star.
Simon designed the "Simon Yam" line of sunglasses in Asia, and is instrumental in
the visual direction of its advertising and the other company brand, fittingly titled "Maniac".
Simon is also on the board of directors of a brand of Chinese men's suits and models their
clothing in their ads. Along with other business interests, Simon is Vice President of the
Wanasports golf and sports apparel retail chain, which includes partners Sammo Hung,
Felix Wong and Blackie Ko. As usual, Yam represents the company in their various
promotional efforts as a model. Other Simon Yam merchandise includes a Simon Yam
international card, and a model figure from the film PTU. The sophisticated home buyer
also has the opportunity of buying a luxury 3 bedroom condominium fully designed and
furnished by.. Simon Yam.
In his free time, Simon enjoys travel and golf. He also busies himself attending public events,
premieres and fundraisers, endorses products, appears on variety and game shows,
judges beauty pageants, and invests in business and real estate.
Yam is also active in charity work. In 2001 he helped fund the construction of an elementary
school for underpriviledged kids in China. Simon has also lent his support for the cause
against the production of clothing made from the endangered Tibetan antelope, and is an
ambassador of the World Wide Fund For Nature. In May 2000, he 'adopted' a baby panda
(one of the world's most endangered animals) for a Szechuan research center.
Years earlier, Simon 'adopted' ten kids from Thailand, financing their education and living
expenses through adulthood. In 2003, Simon Yam formed a nature preserve named "Cute
Bear Forest" out of some valuable Hong Kong real estate he won from a golfing bet.
After a seven year courtship, Simon married Hong Kong supermodel Qi Qi in 1997. Together
they reside in their Kowloon home overlooking Clearwater Bay.
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