Opera Schools

[ Master Yu, and William Louie ]

   The idea of Starting an opera school did not begin to take shape until the death of one of his best fiiends, R.T. Lee. Yu explains, "Lee was one of the best performers of military roles. But he never taught any students before he died in Hong Kong. I felt badly because the man was so fabulous, and after he died no one could perform his style. That's why I established a school so I could pass on what I know."    Yu decided to open the school in Hong Kong and moved there in 1950 with his wife and young daughter, Yu So-chow. So-chow was eventually to become a well known actress, starring in over 200 movies. Her most famous role was in The White Serpent. Through his daughter's work, Yu became familiar with the intricacies of the Hong Kong movie industry, and was even called upon to appear in a documentary film on Peking opera. Yu commented on how different movie work was from performances on stage. "On the stage all the moves are traditional. In the movies, you can be more free. Everything is freestyle," he says.
   After 20 years of teaching in Hong Kong, Yu decided to continue spreading his art in the U. S. In 1973, he was invited to train a troupe of Peking opera performers in San Francisco. One member of his troupe was Gini Lau now known as an expert of eagle claw kung-fU. Like Jackie, she still vividly recalls the rigor of the training to which she and the 65 other members of the troupe were subjected. "We worked for more than 25 hours every day," she laughs, before describing a typical day. "We all lived together. Everyday at 7:00 am, we would get up and get on a bus, going to where Sifu Yu lived. We had to be there exactly at 8:00. Then from 8:00 to 12:00 we'd practice acrobatics, types of somersaults, and kung-fu. At 12:00 we'd take the bus back to where we lived and eat lunch Then we'd take the bus back, and by 2:00 we had to be back to work, practicing on the floor. We'd practice until 6:00, then hop back on the bus to go to the theater where we were going to perform. We'd get there by 7:00, and then have to warm up, change, get our makeup on, and be on the stage by 8:30."
   The troupe would then perform from 8:30 to 10:00. "We'd clean up and take the bus home, getting there around 11:00. Then we'd have a midnight snack and go to sleep at midnight," Lau continues. "Sometimes we would work extra hours around Chinese New Year and other holidays." This regimen was followed seven days a week.
   Lau's memories of Yu's disciplinary techniques substantiate Jackie's tales of woe. "Sifu Yu is a very good teacher, but very, very strict" she recalls, a rueful note entering her voice. "When we made a mistake we would have to bend down and he would hit us in the rear."
   After Jackie Chan became a smash boxoffice success, movie companies began to seek Yu out to appear in a movie of his own. Yu finally agreed to appear in The Old Master(originally The Intrigue) with William Louie, an expert in goju karate and white crane. A native New Yorker, Louie has appeared in a number of productions, including Fist of Fear, Touch of Death, and Sonny Chiba's The Bodyguard. In The Old Master, Yu plays a kung-fu master who moves from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, and then is cruelly tricked by one of his senior students. Another student, played by Louie, befriends the old master, who reciprocates by passing on the secrect of his kung-fu style. Combining his new knowledge with his karate training and with movements picked up from watching a toy robot, Louie creates his own "robot style" kung-fu.
   According to Louie, Yu was an extremely cooperative fellow actor. "There couldn't be a better person to work with," Louie says. "Although he's a master, he didn't come on strong. He was very gentle." While on the set, Yu taught Louie some sword moves and acrobatic techniques, as well as blocking out some of the fight scenes.
   Despite Yu's age, he had no trouble completing the film. Louie recalls, "We were shooting one day that was the hottest in L.k, 105 degrees. He was out there in full unifonn, and he did better than the younger guys." Nevertheless, Yu has no plans to do any future films. "I'm 77 years old. Can't do too many tricks now," he says.,br>    Although he retains a keen interest in the martial arts movie world, Yu refuses to comment on the differences between Hong Kong and American films. After lengthy consideration, he would only say, "To each his own. The Hong Kong style is the Hong Kong style. It has certain advantages. But there are also advantages to the movies here. It's good to have a contrast." Yet he still has the teacher's critical eye for his own students' work. "Jackie Chan is pretty good" he admits, "but he doesn't expose all of his ability. He hasn't shown all the kung-fu he knows. Perhaps he'll show more in his next movie."