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OBIT: Martial Master Lau Kar-leung (1936 - 2013) (TRAILER)

Thompson on Hollywood By David Chute | Thompson on Hollywood June 28, 2013 at 1:25AM

The pioneering martial arts choreographer and director Lau Kar-leung, who died this week at age 77, was a kung fu purist. Lau had a vivid imagination and great skill when it came to devising and staging fight sequences. In fact, Lau was a key figure in every phase of Hong Kong martial arts movie making.
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Gordon Liu (Lau Kar-fei) in Lau Kar-leung's "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin"
Dragon Dynasty Gordon Liu (Lau Kar-fei) in Lau Kar-leung's "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin"

The senior Lau claimed a direct martial lineage from "Magnificent Butcher" Lam Sai-wing, a disciple of turn-of-the-20th-century Hong Fist legend and latter-day iconic HK movie character Wong Fei-hong. Lau Charn played Lam in the early films of the long series of black-and-white B pictures about Wong that began production in HK the late 1940s. Kar-leung entered the family business as an extra and stuntman on his dad's films around 1950.

Lau conceived and directed what is widely regarded as the definitive historical Chinese martial arts movie, "The 36th Chamber of Shaolin" (1978), starring his adopted martial brother Gordon Lau Kar-wing aka Gordon Liu ("Kill Bill"). Based on a Cantonese pulp novel of the 1940s, the film gave lasting shape to the central populist myth of the Shaolin Monastery, the story of a fugitive from oppression who works his way through a series of grueling training rituals, acquiring skills that enable him to turn the tables on his enemies.

The classic martial arts movies Lau made at Shaw Brothers also included  "Challenge of the Masters" (1976), "Executioners from Shaolin" (1977), "Heroes of the East" (1978), "My Young Auntie" (1981) and "Legendary Weapons of China" (1982). Later he did strong work with younger performers such as Jet Li, in "Martial Arts of Shaolin" (1986), and Jackie Chan, in "Drunken Master II" (1994).

At Shaws, Lau and Tang choreographed most to the violent macho kung fu films of Chang Cheh, including "Men From the Monastary" (1974), "Five Shaolin Masters" (1974) and "Shaolin Martial Arts" (1974). And in his first film as a director, "The Spiritual Boxer" ( 1976), Lau created nothing less than a new sub-genre, the raucous kung fu comedy, which would become a Hong Kong staple in the 1980s in the work of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung.

This Japanese TV segment has cool footage of Lau sifu directing Gordon in "The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter" (1983). No English, unfortunately.


And the final fight sequence from the film:


This article is related to: Obit, Foreign


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.