Sifu Yu's Career in Opera

[ Master Yu was famed for his powess in general and bandit roles ]

   Yu's own story is one of great achievement and success in Peking opera. His father, Yu Yun-hai was a well known performer in Peking. After moving to Shanghai where his son was born, Yu Yun-hai began training the small child in Northern kung-fu styles and other aspects of opera. "To become a Peking opera performer you have to start early, practicing the martial arts, singing and hand gestures," Yu says.
   Yu eventually began to specialize in portraying generals and warriors. Because of the intense complexity of each part actor's normally learn one role, which they keep all their life, refining and perfecting their art as they mature. The male roles fall into either the wen (civil) category or the wu (military) category. Wu roles feature elaborate swordplay, acrobatics, and kung-fu. The violent physical movements required of military actors is complicated by the intricate costumes worn--heavily embroidered garments representing armor, and four pennants attached to the actor's back which stream out behind him as he engages in the fierce choreography of spears and lances.
   Occasionally, Yu would abandon the majestic bearing and grim ferocity of the general to appear in bandit roles, which require insouciant swaggering and light-footed grace. Bandits must be particularly skillful with the tao, a broad bladed short sword with a curved blade. Brandishing these weapons, the bandits engage in the formalized leaps and dives of stage swordplay. Unlike the general the bandits don simple costumes of dark, tight-fitting garb which makes them resemble unusually agile cat burglars.
   According to Yu, the young Jackie played a variety of roles, including some female parts, but he specialized in the painted face roles of the opera clowns. The wu clowns (there are also wen clowns) are noted for their skillful acrobatics and humorous gymnastics. For these parts, the face is fully covered with paint, each brushstroke painstakingly applied by the actor himself. A complete makeup job may take more than an hour. Although one might expect Chan to excel in monkey roles as well, Yu says, "He was too chubby as a child to be a monkey."