Lau Kar Leung (Liu Chia Liang), one of the most revered martial artists in Hong Kong Cinema, has lost a long battle with leukemia and died late last month. He fought against Jackie Chan in Drunken Master 2, but also worked on numerous Shaw Brothers films like My Young Auntie and 36 Chambers of Shaolin. To study the films of Lau Kar-leung is to study the greatest examples of the martial arts genre. With the news of his untimely passing, now is a fitting time to countdown his top 10 best:
Legendary Weapons of China (aka Legendary Weapons of Kung Fu) is a 1982 martial arts fantasy film directed by Lau Kar-Leung. It takes place during the late Qing Dynasty when Empress Dowager Cixi dispatches her agents to various factions of the Boxer Rebellion in order find supernatural martial artists that are invulnerable to western bullets. Although Lau Kar-Leung is known for showing “real Kung-Fu” in his films, he does take some artistic license by incorporating elements of TaoistMaoshan folk magic with hand-to-hand combat.
Lau Kar-Leung makes a believably grizzled and embittered master, Lo Lieh excels as an amusingly sleazy villain, and Hsiao Ho shows excellent comedic timing as the raffish but dedicated student. However, the key to the appeal of Mad Monkey Kung Fu is the way it handles the action: since he is functioning as both director and choreographer, Leung makes the filmmaking and action compliment each other in a way that is often breathtaking (particularly during the training scenes and the finale). The end result might be a bit too esoteric for every cinematic palate, but Mad Monkey Kung Fu offers plenty to the kung fu fans for whom it was so obviously made.
In 2007, at the age of 70, he served as action choreographer and in a supporting role in Tsui Hark’s Seven Swords. Lau was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2010 for his contribution to the martial arts film genre.
I’m not going to go into the plot, but I will say that this one is a Liu comedy. If his brand of comedy appeals to you, you will definitely enjoy this. Besides, the fu (choreography by Liu & Hsiao Hou) is absolutely incredible. Many great cameos by Gordon Liu (who sings and plays guitar here), Kwon Young-Moon, Wilson Tong & Yuen Tak (one of Jackie Chan’s classmates during their Opera school days). Many great set-pieces including a ballroom dance turning into an all-out brawl, European fencing versus Chinese swordplay & the numerous martial bouts towards the film’s end, culminating with a fantastic bout between Johnny Wang & Liu Chia-liang.
The film and its satiric sequel, Return to the 36th Chamber, star legendary actor Lau Kar-fai, who appears in Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino’s hip homage to the martial arts genre.
Chow Yun-Fat and Conan Lee play two mis-matched cops that are forced to work together to stop a heroin smuggling ring. TIGER ON BEAT is an action comedy that will please fans of Chow Yun-Fat that like to see him show his lighter side.
A 1994 Hong Kong kung fu action film directed by Lau Kar-Leung. Jackie Chan stars as Chinese folk hero, Wong Fei Hung. It was Chan’s first traditional style martial arts film since The Young Master(1980) and Dragon Lord (1981). The film was directed by Lau Kar-leung, although Jackie Chan is credited with directing the final fight scene.
If there’s a real “fan favorite” Shaw Brothers movie, it would have to be this kinetic later-period masterpiece, packed with some of the studio’s finest stars and fight sequences, and helmed by Lau Kar-leung. Fu Sheng, Lily Li and the great Gordon Liu headline this tale of two brothers who survive a clan massacre and seek revenge, leading to ultra-violent, acrobatic smack downs (including the dazzling titular pole fighting) that will leave you in cinematic traction. Don’t miss the chance to gather up your friends for a martial arts party movie that will obliterate you — even the opening credits sequence manages to smack you across the head!
Another tale of revenge, subverted, Lau Kar-leung’s 36th Chamber of Shaolin stars Gordon Liu as a student who joins the Shaolin Temple to become a Kung Fu master and take back the land from the corrupt Manchu. Liu spends most of the film in spectacular training sequences before teaching the monks a valuable lesson about the perils of isolationism.
Lau Kar-leung co-choreographed the fight scenes in this brutal but beautiful martial arts classic, about a mutilated Kung Fu student (Jimmy Wang Yu) who must overcome his handicap to defend his school from enemies with a fiendish new weapon.