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Sporting chance gives actor his big role

By Xu Fan | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-06 06:51
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Actor Yu Shi  has emerged as one of the most sought-after young stars, with popular roles, such as Batay, a Kazak youth in To the Wonder. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Self-discipline and training provides leading man with qualities to conquer the screen, Xu Fan reports.

In 2009, a year after the country was swept by sports fever following Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Summer Olympics, Yu Shi, a teenager from Liaoning province, set out on a journey to pursue his dream. Despite his parents' reservations, Yu, also known as Yosh Yu, chose to veer off the conventional education path, opting instead for a basketball school, a local institution that nurtures future athletic talent for the Chinese Basketball Association.

Little did he anticipate that the years ahead would resemble a life akin to that of an ascetic monk. Every winter morning at 5:30, amid the harsh chill of northeastern China with temperatures frequently dropping below — 20 C, he would commence his training, occasionally concluding the session clad only in a gym vest and shorts, sweat crystallizing into ice on his lashes. He and his comrades often longed for rain the following day to provide a brief reprieve from the arduous laps around the field.

As Yu saw friends depart one by one due to the demanding regimen, he persisted for five years and ultimately secured admission to Liaoning Technical University based on his sporting prowess.

Despite once envisioning his future as a basketball coach or an office worker, the young man's fate took an unexpected turn.

In 2018, amid more than 15,000 hopefuls, he emerged as one of the 30 young talents groomed for director Wuershan's fantastic epic trilogy, Creation of the Gods, one of the most financially endowed projects in the annals of Chinese cinema.

The epic, loosely inspired by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) novel Fengshen Yanyi (The Investiture of the Gods), recounts the collapse of a tyrant at the end of the Shang Dynasty (c. 16th century-11th century BC) and the rise of an army of justice led by Ji Fa, who founded the Western Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-771 BC), portrayed by Yu.

A subversive adaptation differing from most previous TV dramas and cinematic remakes of the novel, Creation of the Gods focuses on the growth of a group of young warriors, making the young actors' casting and training crucial for the project.

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