Bolo Yeung: The Beast From The East

Bolo Yeung: The Beast From The East

Around the same time that Arnold Schwarzenegger was making his first foray into cinema with the godawful Hercules in New York (1969), so too, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, was a young Chinese bodybuilder by the name of Yang Sze.

Sze, who would later change his name to Bolo Yeung, was a champion bodybuilder who dominated the Mr Hong Kong contest (an oriental Mr Olympia), winning every title between 1970 and 1980.

The ‘Chinese Hercules’, however, is more famous for his iconic film roles than his bodybuilding credentials.

Memorably, Yeung played the antagonist in cult martial arts films Enter the Dragon (1973) and Bloodsport (1988), opposite Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme respectively.

Bolo Yeung

The ‘Beast from the East’, now one of cinema’s most recognisable villains, had a menacing physique and steely gaze (a cross between Peppa Pig and an unrepentant sex killer) which were perfectly suited to these villainous roles.

But despite being cast time and again as an evil bodybuilding brute with pecs like circular saws and a voice so gruff it could make Zippity Doo Dah sound like a death threat, Yeung was in fact a very talented martial artist, acrobat and powerlifter (he could deadlift over 700 pounds!).

Let’s take a closer look at the man behind the villainous facade…

Early life

Bolo Yeung was born in Guangzhou, mainland China, 1946, to a businessman and his wife.

From an early age he developed a keen interest in chops, kicks and beating up pedestrians.

Channeling this obsession, Bolo began practicing martial arts at the age of 10 under the tutelage of several of the city’s most well-regarded masters.

In his teens Yeung begun studying a variety of styles, favouring Tai Chi and Wing Chun (he would also later study Jeet Kune Do under the instruction of Bruce Lee).

Bolo combined this martial arts training with acrobatics and a burgeoning love for bodybuilding, which allowed him to develop a supple, powerful and extremely imposing physique.

Just check him out flexing and crunching his muscles in the video below – although he could do with some cod liver oil for that joint stiffness…

Escaping to Hong Kong

In the early 1960s Yeung took part in the great exodus to Hong Kong in search of a better life.

Like millions of others, Yeung tried to escape the famine and communism of mainland China by swimming 4km through the dirty Dapeng and Shenzhen bays to Hong Kong.

If they didn’t die en route, most of these illegal immigrants were caught and instantly repatriated.

Luckily Yeung managed to evade capture, and he soon settled into his new life in Hong Kong as a gym instructor.

Shaw Brothers

Towards the end of the 1960s, Bolo’s ever-growing physique (his chest now resembled two garbage can lids) and his respected position as a bodybuilding instructor in Hong Kong started landing him several roles at the Shaw Brothers Film Studio.

In this brief period he starred in a range of films such as The Heroic Ones (1970), The Deadly Duo (1971), and Angry Guest (1972).

Bolo Yeung

In these films Bolo was always typecast as the antagonist – typically a huge feral brute who communicated in grunts and glares, rather like an evil jellybaby come to life.

While working on these films, Bolo continued to develop his credentials as a bodybuilder, winning Mr Hong Kong for the first time in 1970.

Enter The Dragon

In 1970, Yeung filmed a commercial with Bruce Lee for Winston cigarettes, a year before Lee’s breakout role in The Big Boss (1971).

“Because I was Mr Hong Kong,” reflects Bolo, “I was well-known, and that’s how Bruce Lee came to know me.”

The two instantly hit it off and would become close friends.

As a result, Lee went on to cast Bolo as the main henchman in 1973’s Enter the Dragon, the film that brought Bruce international fame.

Bolo Yeung

His character in this film was called Bolo, and it was the film’s phenomenal success that brought about the name change.

Bolo appears in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, where, at the behest of Mr Han, he pulverises four guards.

His methods of execution include, but are not limited to, crushing a ribcage with his foot and ripping someone’s head off with his bare hands.

Watching these scenes again, I can’t help but wonder what kind of lover Bolo was in his prime – I mean, he probably didn’t consider it sex if the woman lived…

Although Yeung didn’t get to fight Bruce in Enter the Dragon, Lee promised that he would kill him (on-screen) in his next film, Game of Death.

Unfortunately, Bruce died on 20 July 1973, three weeks before the premiere of Enter the Dragon, and the two never got the chance to film their big fight.

Film career

After Enter the Dragon, Yeung went on to star in hundreds of Hong Kong martial arts films in the 70s and 80s (many of execrable quality), as well as turning his hand to directing.

For this slurry of films Bolo honed his trademark ‘not looking’ style, where he would, like a naturally gifted corporal punisher, nonchalantly cripple his targets without even bothering to give them eye contact.

Many of these were Bruceploitation films where he appeared alongside ‘clones’ of Bruce Lee, such as Bruce Li, Bruce Le and Dragon Lee.

Bolo Yeung

However, Bolo Yeung’s big break came with a starring role as Chong Li alongside Jean Claude Van Damme in 1988’s Bloodsport.

Rather than Van Damme, many consider Bolo to be to true star of the film, and indeed he subsequently developed a sizeably loyal fanbase.

Chong Li is certainly an intimidating opponent for the ‘gay karate man’ (literally one of JCVD’s first film roles, no joke) – just have a gander at some of these fantastically brutal fight scenes:

Van Damme and Bolo’s on-screen chemistry was so successful that the two later teamed up again in Double Impact (1991), and further hits for Bolo would follow, including films such as Tiger Claws (1992) and Ironheart (1992).

During this halcyon period, the name ‘Bolo’ became a guarantee – a watermark for bone-crunching action.

Just like relying on a Helen Mirren or Kate Winslet movie for some decent muff, schoolboys knew that a Bolo film would deliver the goods when it came to gratuitous violence.

Renting a video cassette with his name attached would guarantee brutality, destruction and a slew of innocent bystanders picking up their teeth with broken arms.

A golden age of cinema.

Also during this time, Bolo got to fulfil his ambition of becoming an on-screen hero, appearing as the good guy in Shootfighter: Fight to the Death (1993) and Shootfighter II: Kill or be Killed (1996), as well as two other films.

However, in most of these movies he is clearly out of his comfort zone, and just wanders around the set like a baffled Neanderthal who has accidentally time travelled 5,000 years into the future.


Bolo Yeung currently lives in Monterey Park, Los Angeles.

He has a daughter (Debbra) and two sons, Danny and David, the latter a bodybuilding champion in his own right.

He still trains regularly, practicing Tai Chi and weightlifting, and holds a managerial position at ‘The Tapei International Federation Of Body Builders’ squad and is chairman of ‘The Hong Kong Gym Business Association’.

And the future?

Well, Bolo is still holding out hope that one day they’ll be a sequel to Enter the Dragon, with himself cast as the lead.

Although I sincerely doubt this will come to fruition, stranger things have happened in the martial arts film world, such as The Next Karate Kid (1994).

Hilary Swank beating up her boyfriend’s bullies, a pet hawk, Buddhist monks dancing to The Cranberries, and a courgette used as a weapon?

Even as a kid I can remember thinking, “What. The. Fuck. Is. Going. On.”

And then there’s the insane 1977 Bruceploitation flick The Dragon Lives Again, where Bruce Lee, now in hell, teams up with Popeye to prevent Dracula, James Bond, the Godfather (among many others) from taking over the afterlife.

It’s fucking mental – here, for example, is a clip of the Chinese Popeye beating up some mummies.

Anyway, I digress.

Regardless of what the future has in store for Bolo Yeung, no-one can doubt his enduring contribution to Kung Fu cinema and his reputation as one the toughest and baddest dudes around.

A true legend.

Bruce Lee was the king of Kung Fu, Angela Mao the martial arts queen, but neither could compare or compete with the Chinese Hercules.

He’s the superhuman ‘Beast of the East’: bonecracker, headcrusher, backsnapper, bodybreaker.

Men, women, old, young, hundreds, or one alone, each challenges and each becomes the pulverised prey of Chinese Hercules, the first and only muscle-mad monster of the martial arts.

Bolo Yeung Enter The Dragon gif

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  1. Hi Henry – did you see Bruce Lee fight Chuck Norris in Enter the Dragon?

    1. No, I’ve not seen him fight Chuck Norris in Enter the Dragon.

      I’ve seen him fight Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon

  2. I was a huge fan of Bolo in my teens and he was my inspiration for getting into strength training and bodybuilding ….

    I’d love to see him get a part in the expendables franchise … Would be great to see his menacing glare again as he has a showdown with Barney Ross lol

    1. Thanks for your comment Ben – he was certainly one of my inspirations growing up. I always found his body much more appealing than Bruce Lee’s!

      And I agree, I’d love to see him kicking all kinds of ass in The Expendables. I’ve heard Sly wants Dwayne Johnson as the villain in the fourth film – I reckon Bolo would make a great henchman, kinda like the role he played in Ironheart.

  3. Dude you punched a cat for just looking at you… what a fucking weak little shit you are… attacking animals for looking at you LMAO… I’d fucking knock you the hell out dude.

    Ain’t no way Bolo Yeung would beat Bruce Lee in a real fight, are you fucking insane and I am a fan of both but even Bolo knew he couldn’t fuck with Lee…

    Last few lines were that of a delusional fanboy..

    Bolo rocks but Bruce Lee is fucking Bruce Lee just like you are some tossboy with fucked up hair thinking hes all tough coz hes got a little black belt.. come street fight with me, only one of us would leave alive dumbass and it won’t be you hahah.

  4. Rofl that dude Anthony is a meatheaded idiot… Which is weird because they usually HATE Bruce Lee and watch MMA like it’s porn. *Shrug*

    I never really thought of Bolo Yeung being the true star of the movie but you’re right!

    I remember watching Bloodsport not because of JCVD and his ultra tight shorts (wtf, GSP anyone?) but because of the mysterious bad guy who looked as though he could pick me up by the wrists and tear me in half like a wishbone all while not even looking at me.

    An exceptional villain really makes the hero shine and it doesn’t get any scarier than Bolo Yeung, even today there isn’t an actor alive that can pull off that kind of menacing intensity with just a stare.

    Jean Claude and his hilarious spinning split kick always made me laugh, when I was younger all my friends and I took WTKD and I remember all of us practicing that kick in front of the mirrors.

    The way they used slow-mo where the ball of his foot would make contact with the cheek so perfectly that it would cause a recoil action leading to a crazy spinning K.O…

    IRL it looks hilariously odd and you always land with your opponent behind you, a simple push could tip you over.

    When I think about it now I can’t help but laugh — JCVD doing ballerina kicks while his opponent is just recycling people like a car being crushed into a cube…

    Thanks for the read, I came across an old YouTube video with Bolo in it and it triggered some nostalgia so I searched Bolo Yeung.

    I finally have a backstory to the mysterious monster of my youth lol, turns out he’s just a man with a family.

    I wonder what it would be like to be that massive and imposing, nobody would ever mess with me!

    Flex my pecs and grunt, grrrr!

    1. Thanks for the comment David – you definitely weren’t alone in trying to recreate those JCVD roundhouse kicks in front of the mirror!

  5. Who didn’t recreate those kicks as a kid growing up?

    I recreate everything Jon did, on down to to the ridiculous whine he does after he roundhoused your face to the floor.

    1. Oh man, I definitely recreated those noises!

  6. Bolo had huge screen presence.

    Still wonder though how he got so big on such a small frame (he was only 5’6″).

    Did he take winstron which was freely available and legal then?

    1. I’m not sure about the particulars – but a quick Google search shows that his juicing has been fairly well documented.

      Regardless, as you say, a colossal on-screen presence!

      Would love to have seen him play a Bond villain’s henchman.

  7. Saw him in Enter the Dragon, has an amazing body shape.

    1. Definitely check out some more of his films!

  8. Would have been great if Bolo made a movie with Frankie Chan Chi Leung.

    Watch “Operation Scorpio” 1992!

    1. Chi-leung is a beast!

  9. Wow, he is in Dragon.


    Gonna watch some more films.

    1. Which film is that?

      He’s been in rather a few with the word ‘dragon’ in them – but none just called ‘Dragon’, at least to the best of my knowledge.

  10. Bolo Yeong….Bruce Lee wins.

    His stare is baddest.

    1. Haha… no doubting that!

  11. Bolo and I go to the same gym, I see him almost every morning.

    I wasn’t sure if it was him or not since he’s now 70 and I’ve only seen him in the ivies when he was young.

    But my trainer said yes that’s him.

    I introduced myself and told him I am a fan and he shook my hand but since then he’s been very reluctant to say hello or talk.

    I don’t approach him just wave and say hi but he no longer reacts to my greetings.

    Is he just unapproachable or is it a language barrier?

    I don’t know.

    I’m 60 years old and grew up a fan of martial arts movies.

    Kind of bummed me out to think he’s too bad ass to say hello to a fan.

    Oh well, take care anyway Bolo.

    1. Bolo Yeung is the man!

      I am so happy that he is still kicking.

      He was always such an inspiration growing up.

  12. Hi, can you tell me how to defeat people with a knife.