He was born in Wuhan, Hubei, Republic of China. As the Yang family emigrated from mainland China, Yonfan spent his childhood first in Hong Kong and then in Taiwan. He returned to Hong Kong as a young man to work as a photographer, but left for the United States in 1968 to study film. After a couple of years travelling through the United States, France and Britain, he returned to Hong Kong in 1973, and became a famous photographer noted for his celebrity portraits.
In 1984, he made his box office debut as a director with A Certain Romance. Two years later, Yonfan adapted the much-loved romantic novel The Story of Rose by Yi Shu. Starring an up-and-coming Maggie Cheung, the passionate Lost Romance was a huge commercial success starring a young Chow Yun-fat.
After In Between (1993), Yonfan started to steer away from the mainstream market and began to introduced characters from the marginalised section of the society. With 1998 came another milestone, Bishonen, best known for its romantic cinematography and explicit portrayal of homosexual onscreen passion. Inspired by a real-life scandal in which a Hong Kong playboy was found to possess more than a thousand nude photographs of local police officers, this melodramatic tale of redemption polarized film critics in Hong Kong, but was very well received at film festivals around the globe. It also launched the acting career of heartthrob Daniel Wu.
His 2001 film Peony Pavilion was entered into the 23rd Moscow International Film Festival.
In 2010, Yonfan was head of the jury at Hong Kong's Asian Film Awards in March and was part of the jury of the Sydney Film Festival in May.
In 2011, Yonfan headed the New Currents jury at the 16th Busan International Film Festival in October. The Festival also hosted a retrospective of the director's films, featuring seven of his restored and re-mastered films from the 1980s through 2000s.
- A Certain Romance (少女日記, 1984) starring Sally Yeh
- Lost Romance (玫瑰的故事, 1986) starring Maggie Cheung, Chow Yun-fat
- Immortal Story (海上花, 1986) starring Sylvia Chang
- Double Fixation (意亂情迷, 1987) starring Cherie Chung, Jacky Cheung
- Last Romance (流金歲月, 1988) starring Cherie Chung, Maggie Cheung
- Promising Miss Bowie (祝福, 1990) starring Dodo Cheng, Kenneth Tsang
- In Between (新同居時代, 1994) starring Nicky Wu, Sylvia Chang
- Bugis Street (妖街皇后, 1995) starring Michael Lam, Hiep Thi Le
- Bishonen (美少年の戀, 1998) starring Daniel Wu, Shu Qi, Brigitte Lin
- Peony Pavilion (遊園驚夢, 2001) starring Daniel Wu, Rie Miyazawa, Joey Wong
- Breaking the Willow (鳳冠情事, 2003)
- Colour Blossoms (桃色, 2004), starring Teresa Cheung, Keiko Matsuzaka
- Prince of Tears (淚王子, 2009)
- Cinema of Hong Kong
- Cinema of China
Chinese LGBT film directors
- Simon Chung
- Cui Zi'en
- Kit Hung
- Stanley Kwan
- Quentin Lee
- Zihan Loo
- Scud (film producer/writer)
- Template:Cite web
- Hollywood Reporter .Hong Kong Auteur Yonfan Relishes His Role as Talent Scout 6 October 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-15
- Hollywood Reporter Chinese Director Yonfan to Head Up Busan New Currents Jury 22 August 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-15
- Hollywood Reporter Busan International Film Festival to Feature Yonfan Retrospective 5 September 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-15
"Yonfan Service." Giant Robot Magazine issue 63, 2009.
- Template:IMDb name
- Yonfan Studio