Hong Kong’s poet of the margins, Herman Yau has spent his career telling the stories of people who never get a chance to speak for themselves, people like blue collar prostitutes, political prisoners, and sex criminal serial killers with the Ebola flesh-eating virus. With over 70 films to his credit (40 of which he directed), he’s given chances to young actors, earned Anthony Wong his first “Best Actor” award, been responsible for popular hits like the Troublesome Night series, directed the first Chinese 3-D animated movie (Master Q 2001), made political protest films like From the Queen to the Chief Executive, and shot movies from Sentenced to Hang (1989, Hong Kong’s first Category III movie) to Tsui Hark’s Time and Tide (2000).
Born in 1961, Yau got his start working on TV dramas while also making independent movies with friends, and he directed his first film, No Regret, in 1987. A few years later, in 1993, he made Taxi Hunter starring his buddy, Anthony Wong, as a man whose wife was killed by taxi driver negligence and who now takes revenge against all taxi drivers. This launched a string of collaborations between the two men including Untold Story (1993, aka, Human Meat Roast Pork Buns, for which Wong won his first “Best Actor” award), Cop Image (1994, Wong plays a traffic warden obsessed with becoming a “real” cop), and culminating with 1996’s Ebola Syndrome in which Wong plays a serial killer and rapist who also happens to be a carrier of the deadly Ebola virus.
In an industry full of feuds, Yau is one of the most-liked men in Hong Kong. While other filmmakers target their films to the Mainland Chinese audience, Yau has continued to make movies rooted deeply in Hong Kong’s local culture and history. He directed From the Queen to the Chief Executive (2001) about real-life underage convicts held at “Her Majesty’s Discretion” abandoned in a legal limbo after the 1997 handover, and True Women for Sale (2008) based on his interviews with working class prostitutes. He has also publishes books, shoots commercials, and new his film, Ip Man: The Final Fight (2013) was selected to be the opening film of this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival. No one in Hong Kong wondered why. Because they all know that if the Hong Kong film industry had a face, for 20 years that face has looked a lot like Herman Yau.