Yasuaki Kurata (20 March 20 1946 - ) aka David Kurata is considered the most famous Japanese action star in the 1970s HK action movies. Kurata is an accomplished martial artist who has dan ranks in Karate (7th degree), Judo (3rd degree), and Aikido (2nd degree). He was once dubbed “The Bruce Lee of Japan” by the Japanese fans. Perhaps, Kurata is best known for his extended battle against Jet Li in “Fist of Legend” (1994) and for his villainous role in “So Close”(2002). Having stayed in HK and Taiwan before, he is fluent in Cantonese and speaks a little conversational Mandarin. Among all the action stars he has met in his career, Kurata said the most memorable is Bruce Lee.
Kurata & Bruce photos: http://postimg.org/image/jbpm47inh/
Although both Kurata and Bruce have never acted in a movie before, they did have an opportunity to work together in “Fist of Unicorn” in which Bruce was the action choreography adviser and Kurata played the villian who fought Unicorn to death towards the end of the show.
As Kurata is a martial artist like Bruce, thus, both have a common interest, i.e. martial arts. They often discussed about different kinds of martial arts whenever they had a chance to talk. Their friendship blossomed within a short period of time. Both became good friends. This could be seen in Kurata sending Bruce Lee off personally at the Kai Tek airport on 4th May 1972 and he gave a pair of nunchaku to Bruce as a gift. In turn, Bruce and Unicorn recommended Kurata to work in “Fist of Unicorn” although he was not a contract actor of Sing Hoi Movie Company. Both Bruce and Kurata might have a chance to work together should Bruce had live longer since Kurata was signed to GH in 1972.
Kurata admitted that he was greatly influenced by Bruce in the fight choreography, especially the realism of the fight sequences and the powerful kickings on the screen. His popularity in Japan and South-East-Asia was as huge as Sonny Chiba in the 1970s.
Below is Kurata’s interview, perhaps some of you have already seen it before. For those who have not, may wish to take a look:
Yasuaki Kurata on meeting Bruce Lee (partial interview)
(16 Dec. 2011)
This interview segment is from the “Fist of Legend” DVD special feature called “The Way of the Warrior.” Full interview is about 30 minutes, however, this video is only Kurata's story of meeting Bruce Lee for the first time at Golden Harvest Studios during the filming of Fist of Fury.
Complete Interview with Kurata Yashaki
(21 Aug. 2014)
Transcript of the interview (Thanks to Marten Go)
Kurata: “When Bruce Lee was filming FOF, I happened to be there in the early 1970s. I met a man at a bowling alley called Robert Chan. Even now, I visit him whenever I go to HK (Note: Robert Chan passed away in 2012). He grew up with Bruce Lee and also grew up fighting him.
So at the time, he asked me “Do you know Bruce Lee?” I said, “I don’t know Bruce Lee.” He said, “You know, the ad with three legs.” In Chinese characters, it said, “Three legs.” It was an ad with Lee at the time. He said, “This is it.”
So, I thought he had three legs. But there’s no way someone would have three legs. He asked me if I wanted to meet him and I said yes. He said he’d take me to meet him.
We went to the GH studios. I remember it clearly. Inside that studio, he was wearing an open white Kung Fu shirt. He was walking towards me. I thought he’d be much taller. I expected him to be skinny as well, but he was smaller than I thought. He said, [In English] “Hello, I’m Bruce Lee.” He was so smooth. He’s only 5’6” though (Note: Kurata’s guess on his height. In fact, Bruce was 5 ft 7.5).
We started talking about martial arts. “What about akido?” And, “What about judo?” We kept talking and talking. Lo Wei, the director was at the time, way at the back. He’d say, “Mr. Lee, it’s time to shoot.”
Lee would say, “Don’t worry, we can make them wait.” And the three of us, including Robert, would keep talking. I remember his strength when I shook his hand. Normally, if you squeeze hard, your face becomes rigid too. He smiles gently, yet has a very firm grip. I thought he must be the real thing.”
Kurata’s Filmography & Other Careers
Kurata has made around 100 movies mostly in HK and some TV series mainly in Japan. In 1970, he left Japan to pursue his movie career in Taiwan before going to HK to make action films.
In 1971, He first starred in “The King of Boxers” with Mang Fei followed by “Prodigal Boxer”. In early 1972, he joined Shaw Bros and made 2 films, “Angry Guest” and “Four Riders” with Ti Lung. Then, in mid 1972, he joined GH. Shortly after, he filmed “Fist of Unicorn” starring Unicorn Chan and the action choreography adviser was superstar, Bruce Lee.
Although Kurata did not have a chance to make a movie with Bruce Lee while he was alive, he still have chances to co-star with Bruce Lee’s imitators like Bruce Leung/Liang and Bruce Li. Kurata got to know Bruce Leung through director, Ng See-Yuen. Bruce Leung was then, an unknown action choreographer. However, director Ng got them together and made a series of classic action films such as “Rage of the Wind” (1973), “A Gathering of Heroes”(1973), “Call Me Dragon”(1974), “Little Godfather from Hong Kong” (1974) and “The Fighting Dragon”(1975).
Later, Kurata made 2 classic Bruce’s clones movies with Bruce Li, i.e. “Chinese Connection 2”(1977) and “Edge of Fury”(1978). The actions choreographed in these 2 films were considered few of the best among Bruce Li’s movies.
In 1973, Kurata became an overnight sensation in South-East-Asia and was the first Japanese action star to shine in HK. He was so hot that many big Japanese movie companies were trying to invite him to make movies.
From 1973 to 1976, he made 7-8 Japanese TV action series in his own country, teaming up with the local action superstar, Sonny Chiba. The TV series were hits in Japan, HK and Taiwan.
In 1978, he co-starred Shaw’s new star, Gordon Liu in “Heroes of The East” in which he acted in the role of a Japanese Samurai. In 1979, he made “The Magnificent 3.” There were some JKD fighting sequences involved. However, the actor who played the JKD champion, Bronson Lee did not meet up to the expectation. The main attraction was still Kurata.
1980s – 90s
In 1981, he played a Japanese Ninja expert in “Ninja in the Deadly Trap.” Then, in 1982, he starred in “Legend of A Fighter” with Leung Kar-Yan. Kurata played a Japanese warrior and fought with Master Fok Yuen-Ka. The fighting was exciting and amazing. Kurata died in a honorable way and the audience could feel the spirit of Bushido.
Early 80s saw the declining of the Kung Fu films and the emergence of the contemporary action movies. In 1983, he played along with Michael Hui and Karl Maka in a comedy action film “Aces Go Places II.” In 1985, he co-starred Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung in “Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars.”
As age catches up, Kurata turned to working behind the camera. He directed a few movies and returned to Japan to continue making many TV series.
Into the 90s, he would occasionally appear in some HK movies. He was a true professional and regardless of 1960s-1980s action stars or a new comer, he would always foster good relationship with all of them.
In 1994, he played along Jet Li in “Fist of Legend,” a remake of Bruce Lee’s FOF. The ultimate fight between both of them was very exhilarating and creative.
In addition to his work as an actor, Kurata runs the stunt agency Kurata Promotion (established in 1976 under the name “Kurata Action Club”). He also teaches at a private college (“University of Creation, Art, Music & Social Work”) and is the chief advisor to the “All Japan Nunchaku League.” In 2004, he published a book, “Hong Kong Action Stars” which recollects many stories of the HK action stars he has worked with.
2000s - Present
He directed a movie “Yellow Dragon” in 2003 in which his Japanese student had parts in it. From 2000-2013 he had cameo appearances in several HK films. In 2010 he appeared in “Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen” (2010) which starred Donnie Yen as Chen Zhen, a film that pays tribute to Bruce and to commemorate his 70th Anniversary.
In 2011, he set up a Karate school in HK as he always treated HK as his second home. Many of his former co-stars and celebrities like Ti-Lung, Chan Wai-Man, Bruce Leung, Dorian Tam Tao-Liang attended and congratulated him during the school’s opening ceremony. Ti Lung praised Kurata as a punctual, modest, diligent and outstanding actor and has great passion for martial arts.
In 2010 Tokyo Film Festival, Kurata was invited to talk about Bruce Lee on the stage. He said, “Bruce Lee died after completing ETD. It’s really a shame. Having worked with Bruce before (in Fist of Unicorn), I felt very honored. It will be a treasure in my entire acting career.” Kurata said it with sincerity and his emotions touched everyone who were present in the festival.
Here is a video that pays tribute to Yasuaki Kurata. Edited with full of actions.
(Mar 25, 2014)
This interview was included at the beginning of the Japanese Laserdisc of Bruce Lee Martial Arts Master (1993).
Can anyone translate?