Archive for the Lau Kar Leung Category

Farewell, Lau Kar Leung.

Posted in Lau Kar Leung on June 25, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Lau kar Leung

Ugh. It really sucks to report that Hong Kong Shaw Brothers legend Lau Kar Leung has passed. A veteran of dozens of classic films has left us at the age of 76. While he wasn’t my actual sifu, in a way he was. As a kid I watched many of his films, even if I didn’t know who he was, and tried to mimic the moves he choreographed, in such films as Heroes of the East, Drunken Master 2, Blood Brothers, The Water Margin, Five Shaolin Masters, and so many more.  He was not only one of the best martial arts actors to come out of the Shaw Brothers, but also one of the best fight choreographers of all time. His Hung Gar style kung fu is still being taught by one of his students, the great Mark Houghton! Our condolences go out to Lau’s family, Mark Houghton, and everyone else whose life has been touched by the great Lau Kar Leung.

Here is some of his best work:

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Review: The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Posted in Gordon Liu, Lau Kar Leung, Lo Lieh, Simon Yuen with tags , on June 25, 2013 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Gordon Liu, Lo Lieh, Wang Yu, Simon Yuen, Hoi Sang Lee, Chia Yung Liu, John Cheung

Fight Choreography by Lau Kar-Leung

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

Somewhere around 1978 Lar Kar-Leung, veteran stuntman, actor, and fight choreographer was unhappy with the way that martial arts films were portrayed onscreen, and set about to do a film that would show the philosophy and logic behind the movements. With the help of his Kung-Fu brother Gordon Liu, they would craft a tale of revenge and enlightenment within the form of something that wasn’t well represented in film at the time: Shaolin Kung-Fu. Thus the 36th Chamber of Shaolin was born, and a new gold standard would be created.

The film begins as a group of rebels attack a convoy transporting General Tien Ta (The always great Lo Lieh), and oppressive Tartar general sweeping across the land taking over. Tien Ta engages and defeats the lead rebel in what is a pretty good fight, but very, very weak when compared to what’s to come.  Enter San Te (Liu), a young student whose teacher Mr. Ho works for the rebels, and before long San Te and all of his classmates become couriers for the rebels. This is short-lived, however, as General Tien Ta and his cohorts, General Tang and Lord Cheung find out about this and kill off many students, and arrest all others. San Te and his best friend escape, and only later does San Te find out that his father was killed trying to protect him. San Te and his friend agree to go to the Shaolin temple to learn kung fu so they can take revenge, but they are ambushed by General Tang on the way, and San Te is injured in the escape, but his friend is captured and presumed killed.  San Te arrives at a nearby town where the monks come for supplies, and hides in their cart, and before long finds himself at Shaolin Temple, and after a long time begins to learn Kung-fu, and in the process learns so much more…

The opening of this film alone, showing Gordon Liu going through the forms is one of the best scenes of this ever. Other films did it before, but this one did it the best. The film is at its core one giant training film, and as San Te’s skills grow so does his maturity. The chambers are each magnificent for what they show, particularly the first chamber, the Dining Chamber, where he must make his way across a set of wooden logs floating in a pool of water in order to get to the other side, where dinner awaits. When he falls in he finds he is unable to enter the dining hall until he is dry, but in the time it takes for his clothes to dry the food is eaten up. It is here that one of best lessons for any aspiring martial artist is learned. San Te must master stances, balance and movement here, the foundations of any style one studies.  Without that, your skills can never improve. San Te then does the most important thing anyone can do who looks to becoming a great martial artist… PRACTICE. Only through practice can you reach your full potential, and it is the constant practice that enables San Te to become successful and get past that chamber, as well as all of the others.

The other chambers are brilliant, especially the wrist chamber (painful!) and the staff chamber. You can see San Te’s skills grow as he goes along, mastering each one. Look for the great Simon Yuen (Drunken Master) as the monk who is in charge of the Boxing Chamber.

The best series of fights occur after these scenes, as the skeptical Justice Abbot challenges San Te to a fight with whatever weapon San Te chooses, and each time the Abbot uses a pair of Butterfly swords. The fights here are choreographed masterfully, as San Te is defeated again and again, until he ponders the fights and invents the 3-section staff, which he uses to defeat the Justice Abbot in the best fight of the bunch. The movement and choreography are in great sync here, and both Liu and Hoi Sang Lee do a fantastic job pulling it off.

The graveyard fight is also a stand out as it shows San Te’s skills in relation to the training he’s undertaken. Everything he does makes sense, and the audience knows exactly why he makes the moves that he does because of the training sequences earlier in the film.  Gordon Liu became a star with this film, and it’s not hard to see why. He plays a great San Te, able to show his immaturity and the beginning of the film and then his maturity toward the end, even as he sees his revenge standing right in front of him.  He fights for the people, not for revenge, and Gordon is able to embody this brilliantly. Lau Kar-Leung’s camera work is fantastic, and the composition of each scene is incredibly well done. The camera shifts exactly where it should to showcase the fights in the best manner, pulling back when it needed to and to get closer when it was best, and you always know the space between fighters and their relation to the environment.

The 36th Chamber is a kung-fu classic, considered one of the greatest of all time, and with good reason. All of the parts come together beautifully to form a great cinematic experience. Gordon Liu would become a huge star after this, and Lau Kar-Leung would cement his place as one of the best fight choreographers and kung-fu film directors ever.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Not a bad fight in the bunch, and simply gets better as the film goes along. Lau Kar-Leung went into a very deep bag of tricks for this one, and they all worked.  The speed and complexity of the choreography is astounding. As good as it gets.

STUNTWORK: (8) These guys do a pretty good job. Nothing death-defying, but well done.

STAR POWER: (9) Gordon Liu became a big star after this, and Lar Kar-Leung jumped to the top of the heap as a director. Lo Lieh is as good as always, as was John Cheung.

FINAL GRADE: (10)  One of the greatest kung-fu films of all time.  The gold standard many would, and should be judged by afterward. If you want to introduce someone to the world of martial arts in film, this is where you want to start.


Review: Five Shaolin Masters (1974)

Posted in Alexander Fu Sheng, Chaing Tao, Chang Cheh, Chi Kuan-Chun, David Chiang, Fung Hak-On, Gordon Liu, Lar Kar Wing, Lau Kar Leung, Leung Kar Yan (Beardy), Meng Fei, Ti Lung, Tsai Hung, Wang Lung Wei with tags , , on December 5, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

Starring David Chaing, Ti Lung, Alexander Fu Sheng, Wang Lung, Gordon Liu, Liang Chia-Jen (Beardy), Meng Fei, Chi Kuan-Chun, Fung Hark On, Chiang Tao, Tsai Hung

Fight Choreography by Lau Kar Leung and Lar Kar Wing

Directed by Chang Cheh

The name Shaw Brothers has long been synonymous with kung-fu films and for good reason. Run Run Shaw and his brother Runme forged martial arts films into what they are today, and really created the studio system for them in Hong Kong. For that alone we should all bow down and worship them…forever. Not all of their films were great, and many were not good in relation to the fact that they churned out what seemed like hundreds, but when they struck gold boy did they ever, and directors like King Hu and  Chang Cheh are many of the reasons why, and in 1974 Chang Cheh got together an all star cast in a film about Shaolin revenge that thrills with wall to wall action…

The story opens during the Qing Dynasty, where the Manchus attacked the Shaolin Temple and kills everyone there–except five of them, of course. The opening escape of the Shaolin is a thrilling way to showcase the cast while rolling the opening credits at the same time. We are introduced to: Hu Dedi (Chaing), the leader of the group, the young idiot Mao Chao-Hsing, Tsai Te-Chung (Lung), Fang Ta-Hung (Fei), and Li Shih-Kai (Kuan -Chun) as they are the last to escape the temple, and are pursued by a cast just as good as the heroes, led by Chiang Tao, the always dependable Fung Hark-On, Tsai Hung, Beardy, and Wang Lung. Now if that’s not an all-star group of villains I don’t know what is.

The Five Shaolin are good, but not good enough to defeat the Emperor’s men, and they go into hiding, meeting up with other Shaolin who have taken to hiding in an attempt to regroup and attack the Emperors’ men. This is tougher than it seems as some of the Shaolin and the local rebels have ideas of their own, and there is even a shaolin traitor who ratted them out to the Manchus, Ma Fu-Yi (Wang Lung). Hu Dedi tries to garner the support of Chief Gao, leader of a group of rebels, but Gao has a little bit of bitch in him, and decides he wants Hu to kill the local magistrate, who just happens to be the very badasses that the Shaolin ran away from in the first place. Compounding matters is Mao “I’m the young idiot of this film” Chao-Hsing, who in his bravado and yes, idiocy, gets captured but not before finding the Shaolin traitor. Hu Dedi and Chief Gao rescue him, but it costs Gao his life. Reunited with the other Five Shaolin Masters, they go to train, and plan to take on the Manchus in a fight to the finish…

Five Shaolin Masters has that familiar theme that runs through many Shaw Brothers film of brothers-at-arms and the bonds of fellowship even as Chang Cheh throws so many martial arts fight scenes into this film that it would satiate even the most ravenous kung-fu film buff. The acting runs the gamut, but each actor more or less plays their best character-type: David Chaing as the stoic hero, Ti Lung as another stoic hero, Chaing Tao as a villainous douchebag, and Fung Hark-On as the bad guy badass. The only problem I had was with Alexander Fu Sheng, who always looked as if he was too hot, and never really bothers to wear a shirt, which he seems to opt out of for any film he makes. C’mon Alex, those abs aren’t that great! His character irked me the entire film, which may have been the intent, as he acted like a knucklehead, and an overconfident knucklehead at that. I’m convinced Cheh knew this as whenever Fu Sheng fights he gets some children-sounding music that seems to say “ yes, he’s the comedy relief of this film”. Gordon Liu has a cameo, and looked like he stumbled on set from a different film, and they just decided to use him in this one.

The camera work is great, and captures the fights in all of their ShawScope glory, of which there is many. The slow parts aren’t very long, and the fights, from the opening to the end, escalate the complexity and astounding choreography perfectly. Lau Kar Leung was always one of better choreographers from the Shaw Brothers stable, and he shows why. The villains are damn tough, and the fights show this appropriately, and the choreography flows brilliantly so that at all times you know what each fighter is doing and more importantly why, rather than being a bunch of pretty movements. My favorite fight? The fight that begins to save Mao. Beardy really shows his stuff here, as does Wang Lung. The Final fight is–I have trouble choosing one over the other, so I won’t! The final fight does have one of the most painful kills ever committed to films. Gentlemen, you may want to look away at that part. You’ll know what I mean.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Lau Kar Leung does some of his very best work here, and is nothing short of tremendous, and with so many fights, they all move the story at the same time giving something different each time.

STUNTWORK: (9) The stuntmen bring some great stuntwork and falls, and yes, even their overacting for their death scenes has a brilliance all their own. Kudos to the poor bastard at the beginning of the film who rolls himself down a fight of concrete stairs. I hope they bought him a beer.

STAR POWER: (10) Are you kidding me? Check that cast list again!

FINAL GRADE: (10) This is one of the best of the Shaw Brothers output. An average story surrounded by tremendous martial arts fight scenes and stars. A must see for any martial arts film enthusiast.

Review: Executioners From Shaolin (1977)

Posted in Chen Kuan-Tai, Gordon Liu, Lau Kar Leung, Lo Lieh, Yu Wong with tags , on June 28, 2011 by Michael S. Moore

starring Lo Lieh, Kuan Tai Chen, Lily Li, Yu Wong, and Gordon Liu.

Fight Choreography by Lau Kar-Leung

Directed by Lau Kar-Leung

The film begins as we center on two fighters: Shaolin Master Zhishan (played by Hoi Sang Lee, the Justice Abbot from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin ) and Pei Mei (Lo Lieh, and yes, it is the same Pei Mei Quentin Tarantino used for Kill Bill) Pei Mei has been ordered to kill all of the Shaolin, and Master Zhishan stands in his way, but not for long as Pei Mei dispatches him after Master Zhishan tries to crush Pei Mei’s testicles and get this:

Pei Mei is able to pull his testicles into his groin. I am not kidding you.

He will pull this trick over and over the entire film. You’ll hear a little popping sound to know his nuts are somewhere within his body. Now THAT is kinda F***ed up. I mean, what happens if they get stuck up there? Do his guys suction them back out with a plunger or something?

I digress. We then follow Hung Hsi Kuan (Chen) as he leads a group of shaolin fighters escaping Pei Mei’s army, when they run into fellow brothers led by Brother Tung (Liu) who, with a small group of men run a diversion so the others can escape. This is Gordon Liu’s one and only scene, and he has a great fight with the soldiers, moving fast and gracefully before he dies in a hail of arrows.

Hung Hsi Kuan, along with his brother Hsiao and the remaining men acquire red boats they use to disguise themselves as an acting troupe, and sail all over China performing while at the same time aiding any rebels they happen across. They come across one town where a kung fu perfomer, the beautiful Wan Yun-Chun (Li) and her uncle, are tired of the red boats, not realizing who is on it. She challenges Kuan to a fight, and her uncle stops it once he realizes who they are, and he and his daughter join them. Months pass and Hung Hsi Kuan and Wan Yun-Chun fall in love, and are soon married. Months later Pai Mei discovered that the Red Boats are what the rebels are using, and has his men attack them wherever they are found. Hung Hsi Kuan takes the now pregnant  Yun-Chun and with his brother abandon the boat, hiding in a small village. Time passes and Yun-Chun has a child, Hung Wen-Ding. As Hung Hsi Kuan grows up, he sees his father training day after to day to finally avenge the Shaolin by killing Pai Mei…

Executioners From Shaolin is a film that spans more than a decade, which is pretty ambitious. Lo Lieh is fairly one note as Pai Mei, but his fights are great, making Pei Mei look like a formidable opponent. Gordon Liu has only one real scene, but he is fantastic in it. Hung Hsi Kuan does a great job playing a man obsessed with killing Pei Mei, even as time passes and he has a family. Lau Kar-Leung has a good cast, but not a very large budget as the camera quality and sets are not very well done, ShawScope or not. A few areas of the film actually blur up a bit.

The fights are well done but I was a bit underwhelmed. The opening fight with Gordon Liu was great, and the Pei Mei fights were fairly good, but the final fight between Pei Mei and Hung Wen-Ding was terrible. There was no flow to it, and it seemed they saw the running time of the film and were like” we gotta wrap this up quickly!” and Wen-Ding easily defeats Pei Mei, which doesn’t jive with the 80 minutes prior of seeing Pei Mei kick all kinds of ass, not to mention the fact that it isn’t Hung Hsi Kuan who defeats him.

The ending mars what is otherwise a fairly decent kung-fu film. Pei Mei is a great bad guy character, but his defeat at the hands of an immature boy just makes me feel as if I was cheated out of a better film somehow.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) Some of the best stuff belonged to Gordon Liu, but the Pei fights were great. This falls short of anything better because the final fight was simply not up to par. Lau Kar-Leung has done better than this.

STUNTWORK: (7) The fight on the stairs leading to Pei Mei had many stunt men falling down them, and they made it look fairly good. They performed their duties as cannon fodder well.

STAR POWER: (8) Lo Lieh is the bigger star here, and a cameo by future star Gordon Liu and Kuan Tai Chen, veteran of many Shaw Brothers films gives the proceeding the gravitas it needs.

FINAL GRADE: (7) This film is famous for the villain Pei Mei, whom Quentin Tarantino had Gordon Liu play in Kill Bill. The film itself has its moments, which makes it worth a watch, but the final fight is too disappointing to overlook.


Review: Seven Swords (2005)

Posted in Donnie Yen, Lau Kar Leung, Reviews, Tsui Hark with tags , , on September 10, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

starring Donnie Yen and Lau Kar Leung

Fight Choreography by Lau Kar Leung

Directed by Tsui Hark

Seven Swords is a return to form of sorts for Tsui Hark after a bevy of misfires, and the film features fights choreographed by one of the best in Hong Kong, but many of the problems that Tsui Hark’s films have follows him into this film, and not the best efforts of Donnie Yen and the other actors can cover them up. The problem here is they have a template for a story that’s worked before, but Tsui Hark fumbles the results.

The film is about a group of seven swordsmen, each carrying a powerful sword that have special abilities , and find themselves protecting a small village from an oppressive warlord named Fire Wind who means to destroy it. Sounds familiar? The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven have the exact same plots, and pulled them off to perfection.

After a massecre of martial artists in a town nearby, a former executioner under the previous ruler now makes amends by stealing the death tags the soldiers place on the bodies of the wanted so they can collect a reward, but finds himself injured and take to the village where most of the film takes place. After finding out that their village was next on Fire Wind’s to do list, Yuan Jin, a local woman who is head strong, and her former boyfriend Han agree to take the General to Mount Heaven, where the other swordsmen live. Little do Yuan and Han know that there are actually only five swordsmen, and they are the other two. The movie gives not damn reason at all for why this is. Just, here’s some badass swords, now go with these expert fighters and try not to get killed on the way! A meteor falls and strikes the earth on their way to the mountain, and we’re told it’s important with no explanation why it is! Soon the Seven Swords return to the Village and find themselves getting involved in the village politics as well as one of their own swordsmen (Donnie Yen) getting involved with Fire Wind’s “woman”, and before long the rest of the Seven swords go to face Firewind to get their friend back and finish the fight once and for all…

I have to say that FireWind and his cronies are one fucked up group of individuals. I mean crackerjack crazy, like a bunch of Jack Nicholsons circa The Shining who all know kung-fu! We don’t know why they’re so nuts, but they are, and herein lies my main problem with Tsui Hark. He wants us to fill in the blanks way too much, and let’s plots dangle in the air for all eternity. There’ s a scene in the film where the Emperor’s men find an ancient sword that’s supposed to be the greatest sword of all…and I shit you not that’s it. The plot disappears and never returns.

Something else that comes and goes is Donnie Yen. He’s on the DVD covers, but don’t let that fool you. He’s not really the star of the film, just a name to add to the marquee. He basically serves as a plot device to get the characters from one place to another, and a storyline about a romance he has with Fire Wind’s woman goes nowhere. Donnie gets maybe two fight scenes, and they are short ones at that.  Donnie pretty much collected a paycheck for this one.

Another crazy scene is when Han has to let his horse Joy Luck go for reasons I still don’t think make a damn lick of sense, and we are treated to four minutes of this damn horse walking across what must be all of China. He goes to the mountains. The plains. The rocky terrain, all the while looking for Han. It felt like a Disney nature flick, planted right in the middle of a martial arts film! Tsui Hark tries too hard to place drama in places that didn’t need it, and most of them go nowhere. This film almost feels like Tsui is saying, “ If Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou can do it, I can do it better!”

The problem is, he can’t.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (7) The fights are good here, but not the greatness that I was expecting, and I expected more of them that what we actually got. This film won the Golden Horse awards in China for best fight choreography, but I don’t see it.

STUNTS: (8) The stunts wire work was pretty good, and everyone did what was needed, but it was not much to speak of here.

STAR POWER: (6) Donnie Yen and Lar Kar Leung are the only notables here, but Donnie really fells more like an extended cameo. His character seems to be there only to allow the Seven Swords to have their final battle with Fire Wind.

FINAL GRADE: (7) Not a bad film, but Tsui Hark’s trademark flimsy to nonsensical plots get in the way too much. The fights were good looking but really didn’t contain any substance for me, just like the rest of this film.