Thursday, 17 November 2011

Forgotten actors: Bolo

Bolo, the Girth, in Enter the Dragon
There is a class of actors, within the category of character actors, who I find particularly fascinating because no one notices them or writes about them. They are heard and seen throughout the movie and yet they remain unheard and unseen. In spite of acting in scores of films, they are neither famous nor popular and, I suspect, not very wealthy either. They rarely talk on screen. When they do communicate, it’s usually through an unspecified mix of grunts and snorts, pointing of the finger, heaving of a muscle or facial contortions. They play the hero’s butler, the major’s private, and the villain’s sidekick with equal ease. They make you laugh without being funny. When they are serious, they are dead-serious. And they are entertaining.

One such character actor caught my eye on television last weekend when I was watching a part of Enter the Dragon (1973). Now this is a film I must have seen at least fifty times yet I barely noticed the evil Hans’ man-for-all-whippings Bolo–the bare-chested martial arts hoodlum with a muscular girth that would make a bear jealous. He’s the guy who Roper (John Saxon) kills towards the end of the movie.

Bolo doesn’t just fight; he fights to kill. He kills even when a man is down. In one scene, Bolo, mad look on his face, holds a minion between his powerful biceps and folds him up like a book, breaking his spine into two, and throws him on the ground.

Frank Dux (Van Damme) and Chong Li (Bolo) in Bloodsport

Enter the Dragon is one of three films that gave Bolo (Bolo Yeung) a reputation for brutality and little else. The other two movies are Bloodsport (1988) where he is defeated in the ring by Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Double Impact (1991) opposite Van Damme in a double role. The half-crazed look and the bear-like girth greet you in both the films.

In Bloodsport, Frank Dux (Van Damme) and Chong Li (Bolo Yeung) are bitter rivals who meet in the ring for the fight of the tournament. Bolo mouths exactly two dialogues, both addressed to Dux: “You break my record, now I break you, like I break your friend” and this singular gem “You are next.” You don’t need brains to say those lines, brawn is enough.

If I were Bolo’s opponent in a film, I would have melted like butter on a hot platter; watching him from the other side of the screen, I can’t help laughing at his antics. I said char-actors like him were entertaining, didn't I?

If Van Damme is known as “The Muscles from Brussels’, Bolo Yeung is nicknamed ‘The Beast from the East’. The 5' 6" Bolo was born in China. He took interest in bodybuilding and became Mr. Hong Kong bodybuilding champion at the age of 21, a title he held for ten years and earned him another nickname, ‘The Chinese Hercules’. Bolo and Bruce Lee were foes in Enter the Dragon but they were close friends in real life. In fact, Bolo trained under the legendary martial arts icon. Bolo Yeung is 65 and lives with his family in Los Angeles, California.

Character actors like Bolo are the unsung heroes of popular cinema, a fact Bolo knew only too well. He once said, “There are plenty of times people will come up to me for an autograph and tell me they
enjoyed my work on Enter the Dragon. But people just know me from the movie; they don't really know who I am.”

4 comments:

  1. Enter the dragon was on at my house last night, or was it the night before.

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  2. Yes, they keep showing ENTER THE DRAGON more than they do Bruce Lee's other films. I liked the idea of martial arts hero Chuck Norris playing the baddie in THE WAY OF THE DRAGON (which I remember watching as RETURN OF THE DRAGON).

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  3. //One such "char-actor" caught my eye on television last weekend when I was watching a part of Enter the Dragon (1973). Now this is a film I must have seen at least fifty times //

    A bit unrelated to your post, but had to comment. Saw the movie on TV partially couple of weeks ago. Always look out for 2 scenes, one at the beginning where Bruce is teaching a kid (the moon thing) and of course the fight with Robert Hall.

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  4. WordsBeyondBorders: Thanks for writing. Yes, I remember both the scenes, especially Lee's fight with Robert Wall, a renowned martial arts expert in real life.

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