Saturday, June 29, 2013

In Memoriam: Lau Kar Leung (1936 -2013)

It's with sadness that Hai!Karate reports that the grand master himself, Lau Kar Leung(also known as Liu Chia Liang)passed away this past Tuesday at the age of 76 in a Hong Kong hospital. It is far too easy to understate what his contributions to the world of martial arts cinema were. When you take a look back, they are plenty.

Leung began his martial arts training thanks to his father, whose master was a direct descendant of the legendary folk hero Wong Fei-Hung. The hero played a big role in his early career, essentially doing day labor work as a stuntman and fight extra on the popular films. After his first action choreographer job in 1953, Leung gained notoriety on his third film, South Dragon, North Phoenix in 1962. That led to his being hired by Shaw Studios in the mid 1960's and a partnership that would seal the studio's acclaim forever in working with renowned director Chang Cheh. Their collaboration on movies like The One-Armed Swordman and The Blood Brothers among many others would thrill audiences for years.

Leung and Cheh clashed often; Cheh was very much a difficult sort, and Leung wanted to have his fight choreography reflect the authenticity and spirit of kung-fu in all forms rather than have it just be eye-catching. And that desire shows up in every film he was involved in. Take a look at this clip from Pedicab Driver against the great Sammo Hung below:

Lau got the chance to direct in 1975 and was responsible for quite a few Shaw classics. One part of that success was his collaboration with close friend and sworn brother, the Master Killer himself Gordon Liu Chia Hui. Their pairing in The Thirty-Sixth Chamber of Shaolin in 1978 would be monumental. Lau continued to act, direct and be fight choreographer for many years until stricken with lymphoma in 1993. Despite that, he kept working. Take a look at this clip from Jackie Chan's Legend of The Drunken Master and respect the fact that this man was doing this a year after being diagnosed. Gangster.

Lau Kar Leung leaves behind a wife, Mary Jean, two daughters and a brother, director/actor Lau Kar Leung. Farewell, sifu.