Early Career: Taiwan to Hong Kong

“You damn Japanese” (“Close Escape”)

Although Yukari has indicated that she never sought to be famous, she nevertheless needed to struggle for good parts.  Yukari first appeared in two Taiwanese films (“The Funny Family,” “A Book of Heroes”) released in 1986 in which she was given limited opportunities to display her amazing fighting talent and athleticism, but little screen time or character development.  As soon as her fights ended there was a cut to another scene.  At this juncture her screen persona appeared rather dour and remote, probably reflecting her Japanese movie influences such as Sonny Chiba and Etsuko Shiomi.  She had appeared with Yasuaki Kurata - who had co-starred with both Chiba and Shiomi - and he was apparently instrumental in recommending her for a part in Sammo Hung’s “Millionaire’s Express” (1986).  Yukari briefly appeared as an androgynous samurai warrior, carving her way through Sammo Hung’s stunt team and opponent Richard Norton.  This brilliant cameo presaged three career themes - Yukari’s asexual fighter persona, her extraordinary athleticism, and ability to steal a scene with screen presence out of all proportion to the size of her part.  Ultimately, these same three themes appear to have been responsible for undoing her career. 

“You’re a nice guy . . . girl.” (“Once Upon a Time in Manila”)

Known in Cantonese as Tai To Yau Ka Lei, Yukari appeared as Tsumura Yukari in her early screen roles.  It appears that Hong Kong filmmakers did not quite know what to do with her.  While her physical talent could not be ignored due to the perpetual shortage of full-contact martial arts actors, she nevertheless did not fit the female stereotypes of a male-controlled industry.  Not only was Yukari Japanese - bitterly resented by many Asian nationalities - she also was neither sensual nor particularly beautiful.  In the few romantic parts Yukari subsequently attempted, the way she tenses up or blinks suggests these roles were quite unnatural for her and she did not develop much on-screen chemistry with male leads other than Mark Cheng.  In close-up the camera was not kind to her skin, and her occasional smiles revealed a mouthful of jagged, overlapping teeth. Her slightly cross-eyed gaze, rolling walk and preference for athletic gear or paramilitary drag scarcely fit female stereotypes.  

When she was paired with Moon Lee (Lee, Choi-Fung) in the film “Angel” (1987) these attributes made her a perfect movie villain.  Her portrayal of the sadistic Madam Yeung is one of her most memorable, and has even merited mention on a contemporary S&M website!  This successful movie arguably helped launch the “girls with guns” genre, but regrettably established Yukari as a supporting actor for Moon Lee.  Throughout their subsequent pairings (“Dreaming The Reality,” 1991, “The Big Deal,” 1992, “Kickboxer’s Tears,” 1992, “Beauty Investigator,” 1992, “Mission of Justice,” 1992, “Avenging Quartet,” 1992, “Angel Terminators II,” 1993, “A Serious Shock, Yes Madam ‘92,” 1993) Moon Lee was generally accorded the bigger part and more screen time - being more obviously groomed for stardom.

“You look like a Tom Boy, who’ll want you?” (“The Direct Line”)

After the success of “Angel,” Yukari received more parts.  A number of these appear to have been influenced by Yukari’s association with men with whom she was reported to be personally close.  She was described as having a personal relationship with producer/director/actor Frankie Chan, appearing in the successful “Burning Ambition” (1989) and “Outlaw Brothers” (1990).  Yukari was rumored to have sought to expand her own part and minimize that of fellow Japanese Michiko Nishiwaki in “Outlaw Brothers,” allegedly creating enduring animosity.  Despite Yukari’s strong performance in both movies, these appear to have been the last “big budget” Hong Kong productions in which she would be cast.

Published sources have described her as having married and divorced action actor Mark Cheng, as well as having married producer/director/actor Philip Ko.  She appeared as a supporting actor and romantic interest for Cheng in a series of lesser films (“Midnight Angel” aka “The Justice Women,” 1990, “Godfather’s Daughter’s Mafia Blues,” 1991, “Story of the Gun,” 1992, “Devil Girl 18,” 1992, “Win Them All,” 1992).  Although her cameo performances were still just as strong, sagging direction, limited production quality and mediocre story lines that cast Yukari in a dependent female role did little to enhance her career.  In one of her later appearances with Cheng in “Kickboxer’s Tears” (1992) Yukari departed from this formula.  In one of her creepiest screen appearances her character severs Cheng’s spinal cord with a craft knife and screwdriver while videotaping the entire proceeding.  Her other association, with Philip Ko, included the financially successful “Final Run” (1989) directed by him, as well as low budget Hong Kong  (“Angel’s Mission,” 1988), Taiwanese (“Lucky Seven 2,” 1989) then Philippino productions (“Fatal Chase,” 1992, “Hard To Kill,” 1992, “Ultracop 2000,” 1993, “Lethal Panther,” 1993, “Power Connection,” 1995).  There has been speculation that Godfrey Ho may be a pseudonym for Philip Ko, and the list of credits from this period would include two additional movies created from parts of others, “Angel The Kickboxer” (1992) and “Guardian Angel” (1996), as well as the significantly better made “Deadly Target” (1994).