On June 25th, 2013 the martial arts world lost a true icon. Director, choreographer, actor and Hung Gar master, Lau Kar Leung, sadly lost his battle with Leukemia. He was 78 years old.
The legacy he left behind stands strong. One look at his filmography will uncover more than two dozen certified kung fu classics and outside the world of film, his own Lau Family style of Hung Gar thrives, with esteemed pupil Mark Houghton and a handful of others continuing the lineage.
Lau Kar Leung is considered one of the fathers of modern kung fu choreography, choosing to incorporate his knowledge of traditional martial arts into his fights, as well as debuting his god-brother and fellow Hung Gar practitioner, Gordon Liu.
And so here are ten notable contributions Lau Kar Leung (know as “Pops” to fans) gave to the genre he loved so much.
1. Alley Assault
When considering the greatest achievements of action choreographers, this fight from “Martial Club” (directed and choreographed by Lau Kar Leung) is a must see.
It features Gordon Liu, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, an alley consistently decreasing in width and a series of kung fu styles including Hung Gar, Snake, Tiger and Dragon! What more could you ask for?
2. Train Hard
When it was announced that Lau Kar Leung would be co-starring in, as well as co-directing and co-choreographing a sequel to “Drunken Master” with Jackie Chan, it seemed like dreams really could come true.
Sadly, the pair didn’t see eye to eye and Lau Kar Leung was written out of the film early on. He also walked away from being behind the camera.
However, they did manage to film this particular fight scene before the fall out and while Jackie went on to make a modern classic, it leaves us to wonder what could have been.
3. When Masters Collide
“Pedicab Driver” is considered one of the lost classics of the 80’s. Directed by Sammo Hung, he opted to coordinate the action himself but brought in Lau Kar Leung for one of the most iconic one-on-one fights in kung fu cinema history.
4. Pole to Pole
Top ten lists vary but there’s one thing for sure, many fans consider “Eight Diagram Pole Fighter” to be one of the greatest martial arts movies of all time.
Lau Kar Leung directed and choreographed one of the most ballistic weapons finales ever seen as Philip Ko Fei and Gordon Liu trade blows inside the Shaolin temple.
5. Boozy Brawl
During the 70’s, there was a very unusual fad in kung fu cinema: the “covert fight.” This was when two combatants would pretend they didn’t actually know they were fighting. Bizarre but surprisingly original.
Not to be upstaged by the likes of Yuen Woo Ping, Lau Kar Leung inserted one of his own into his film (and personal favourite), “Dirty Ho.”
6. Weapons Galore
In 1982, a year ushering in the decline of period kung fu films, Lau Kar Leung directed his ode to traditional Chinese weaponry.
“Legendary Weapons of a China” is essentially a celluloid catalog of kung fu arms. The final fight is a weapons heavy battle between Lau Kar Leung and his brother, Lau Kar Wing.
7. Chainsaw Showdown.
In tackling the modern era of kung fu cinema, Lau Kar Leung drafted Chow Yun Fat, Conan Lee and Gordon Liu to star in “Tiger on the Beat.”
The film’s climax features a first for martial arts: a chainsaw versus chainsaw fight to the death!
8. Monkeying Around
Training sequences are a staple of kung fu cinema. Lau Kar Leung directed (and starred in) one of the best. Here he is teaching Hsiao Ho in the definitive monkey style film, “Mad Monkey Kung Fu.”
9. A “How to…” by the Master
Thinking of making your own amateur kung fu film? Well, who better to take tips from than a quintessential legend of choreography?
In this clip, Lau Faily Hung Gar student, Mark Houghton, is taught the fundamentals by his master and it almost feels like seeing how a magic trick is done.
10. The Classic to Rule all Classics
I don’t think there’s a more iconic kung fu film than “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.” The genius behind it? That’s right, Lau Kar Leung. From concept to choreography and from art design to actors, no other film has solidified itself as a true great like this classic.
There are so many films and scenes to choose from. Leave us a comment with your favourite Lau Kar Leung moments.