When it comes to classic kung fu films, one often thinks of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, or even the Shaw Brothers. However, a group of fighters have acheived success during this time period. Like Lee, Chan, and the popular Shaw Brothers stars, they played heroes and villains in martial combat. However, this group of fighters are skilled mainly in an art that can be said to even exceed that of Lee’s or Chan’s: the Art of Kicking.
Back when kung fu films were wildly popular in the 1970′s, many fans in the West were known to mainly know the likes of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. If there was anyone else, no one really seemed to wonder who this was or who that was. However, as the decades pass and the popularity of kung fu films of old and new have reached an all-time high once again, many begin to wonder who is this or who is that.
While Bruce Lee screamed and used his powerful fists and flying kick and while Jackie Chan would revolutionize the kung fu comedy genre, these eight men were revolutionary in achieving great success with the use of their specialized kicking skills in classic kung fu films.
The one man who defines the art of kicking when it comes to classic kung fu films is none other than Japanese-born Korean Hwang Jang-Lee. Born shortly before the end of World War II in Osaka, Hwang’s family left for their native Korea shortly after the end of the war. At fourteen, against his parent’s wishes, Hwang studied the national martial art of Tae Kwon Do. He would go on to join the Korean Army, where he would end up becoming a Tae Kwon Do teacher. It was during this time where he defended himself against a Vietnamese knife expert and using a roundhouse kick to the temple, killed the man.
In 1975, producer Ng See-Yuen was working on THE SECRET RIVALS for his recently formed Seasonal Film Corporation. Impressed by Hwang’s kicking abilities, Ng casted Hwang as the main heavy of the film, the treacherous Silver Fox. Pitting against Hwang were Wang Tao, who played the Southern Fist exponent and another superkicker, Taiwanese-born John Liu. as the Northern Kick exponent. The film was a hit and Hwang returned a year later for the sequel, SECRET RIVALS PART II (1976) as the twin brother of the original film’s villain.
Hwang would go on to appear mainly as the main heavy in many Hong Kong films, including the two breakthrough films for Jackie Chan, SNAKE IN THE EAGLE’S SHADOW and DRUNKEN MASTER, both released in 1978. Due to his impeccable kicking skills, Hwang was hailed as one of the most talented villain actors in Hong Kong films.
In 1980, Hwang decided to take a chance and play the hero for the first time in his career. HITMAN IN THE HAND OF BUDDHA was the film that not only did Hwang make his debut as the film’s hero, but he would also produce and direct the film. He enlisted the aid of some friends from Hong Kong, from co-stars Eddy Ko and Tino Wong to action directors Corey Yuen, Mang Hoi, and Chin Yuet-Sang, to make the film. The film is pretty standard but once Hwang unleashes those kicks, it is worth the price of seeing.
Hwang would end up relegated to playing more supporting villains throughout the 80′s in Hong Kong films and co-starred in an American B-movie in 1990, STREET SOLDIERS. Hwang made films in his native Korea as well, appearing with Bruce Lee clone with Dragon Lee in a series of films, ending with EMPEROR OF THE UNDERWORLD in 1994. He made his last film in 1996, entitled BOSS, and has since retired from films. According to his son Jason, Hwang lives in Jeju Island, where he runs a restaurant and continues to train, earning his 9th-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do in 2003.
A kicker in this genre known more for flashiness and not known for power and technique like Hwang is Tan Tao-Liang, a Korean-born Chinese martial artist. Like Hwang, Tan is an exponent in Tae Kwon Do. Tan would compete in numerous competitions and developed a flashier style because there were times when he would apparently hit the opponent’s head but was not awarded the points by the referee. Tan decided to develop what he calls the “hop kick”. By utilizing his left leg and chasing the opponent with his kicks, he would eventually be awarded the points.
In 1973, Tan was approached by film producers and made his film debut in THE HERO OF CHIU CHOW (also known as HERO ON THE WATERFRONT). Tan appeared in pretty standard kung fu fare like TORNADO OF PEARL RIVER and THE YOUNG HERO OF SHAOLIN, where he showed off his impressive kicking talents. The hop kick he used in tournaments would be something he would be best known for in his films. In 1976, Tan received his breakthrough role when he appeared opposite James Tien and a young Jackie Chan in HAND OF DEATH, directed by future Hong Kong auteur John Woo. Tan plays a Shaolin student who is sent to track down a traitor in the ranks who has become an evil warlord. The finale, pitting Tan and James shows some of Tan’s best kicking, under the choreography of Sammo Hung.
Tan would appear in a series of films with Taiwanese-born female fighter Angela Mao. THE HIMALAYAN (1976), DUEL WITH THE DEVILS (1977) and SCORCHING SUN, FIERCE WIND, WILD FIRE (1979) had the two team up and fight against the bad guys. Mao utilizes her skills in Hapkido while Tan lets loose his lethal leg work. In 1976 as well, Tan starred alongside Wang Tao and Tommy Lee in one of the most underrated kung fu classics of all-time. THE HOT, THE COOL, AND THE VICIOUS seems somewhat like a rip-off of THE SECRET RIVALS. However, with Lee not only as the main bad guy, but as action director as well, his choreography work in this film is kicked up a notch when compared to his work on the action in SECRET RIVALS. Tan and Wong would return for the sequel, CHALLENGE OF DEATH (1979), where Wang plays a different character.
THE LEG FIGHTERS (1980), or INVINCIBLE KUNG FU LEGS, is hailed as one of Tan’s best films. The cast is comprised of superkickers galore with Tan being the true veteran of the bunch. However, that does not hinder the skills of cast members Hsia Kwan-Li, Peng Kang, Chin Lung, and Sun Rong-Chi. Sun and Peng choreographed the action scenes, in which various styles of kicking is displayed. The finale, pitting Tan and Hsia against Peng is definitely one of the best shot fight scenes in this era.
Tan would retire from films in 1984, with his final appearance in JUNGLE HEAT, a Hong Kong film that co-starred Sam J. Jones (FLASH GORDON). Tan relocated to Monterey Park, California where he would open a Tae Kwon Do school and adapted the English name of Delon Tan.
In 1990, Tan worked on the film BREATHING FIRE as story writer and executive producer under the name “Delon Tanners”. The film starred former GOONIES actor Jonathan Ke Quan (who studied under Tan in Tae Kwon Do after training under Philip Tan in 1984) and Eddie Saavedra as brothers who try to stop a gang of bank robbers, not knowing it is their own father, played by another TKD artist, Jerry Trimble, who is the leader. It is possible that Tan may have came in as action director as well as Quan, Saavedra, and Trimble gets to show some impressive-like martial arts skills in the vein on Tan Tao-Liang.
Who do you get when you have a kicker who shows off his flexibility to a tee with his trademark overhead axe kick? You have Taiwanese-born kicker John Liu Chung-Liang. Born in 1944, there have been many contrasting reports on how Liu became a martial artist. Some suggest that his father trained him in martial arts as a child while according to the documentary TOP FIGHTER (1994), it was believed that Tan Tao-Liang trained John in Tae Kwon Do, forcing him in the splits because of a lack of flexibility.
Nevertheless, Liu has proven to be quite the kicker. He made his film debut in a small role in the 1972 Taiwanese kung fu film THE GREAT BOXER, starring Lee Goon-Cheung and Wu Yin. However, it was the 1976 classic THE SECRET RIVALS that got him noticed. Playing the Northern Kick stylist out to avenge his parents’ deaths, Liu was able to showcase some amazing kicking skills, especially when it came to the finale, in which he teams up with Wang Tao to fae Hwang Jang-Lee’s Silver Fox.
Liu would return for the sequel in the same role a year later. He would go on to appear in many Taiwanese and Hong Kong films, his best including DEATH DUEL OF KUNG FU (1979), where he re-teamed with Wang Tao to face another superkicker, the late Eagle Han Ying; MAR’S VILLA (1979), and FIGHTING ACE, where he pulls off an amazing move with his axe kick, killing a thug from behind with this very move.
In 1981, John set up his own production company and made some well, not very good films in comparison to his glory days of the 1970′s. NINJA IN THE CLAWS OF THE C.I.A. (1981) was a trashy combination of kung fu and European soft-core pornography. Despite an appearance from Casanova Wong, it just ended up being quite a bomb. After two more films, Liu eventually relocated to Paris, where he was teaching Zen Kwun Do, a martial art form that he created, and retired from films. That was until 1998, when he returned to play the villain in the very B-grade film TRINITY GOES EAST. Being in his 50′s at the time, Liu still was able to show that he has not lost a step when it came to the fights. Since then, it is unknown whether Liu returned to France or returned to Taiwan.
The one kicker who has perfected the art of the spin kick in classic kung fu cinema is none other than Korean-born Tae Kwon Do expert Casanova Wong. Born Kim Yong-Ho, Wong began training at a young age. He would even practice in the icy rivers during the extremely cold winters, a method that was seen in the 1989 American martial arts film BEST OF THE BEST. Wong would serve time in the Korean Army and even competed in tournaments during his days in service.
Casanova started his film career in Korea, but in 1977 made his debut with THE LONE SHAOLIN AVENGER. It wasn’t until 1978′s WARRIORS TWO that he gained fame as his character of Cashier Hua. A kicking expert, Hua trains in Wing Chun from Leung Jan, played by non-martial artist Leung Kar-Yan. The finale showcases Wong’s kicking and wing chun skills as he teams with Sammo Hung (who directed and choreographed) against Fung Hak-On.
Wong would go on to star in films in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and his native Korea. A cameo appearance in DUEL OF THE SEVEN TIGERS (1979) earned him the nickname “The Human Tornado” when he pulls off fifteen consecutive spin kicks against Cliff Lok. However, after WARRIORS TWO, many fans feel his best film has to be THE MASTER STRIKES (1979), directed by a woman, Kao Pao-Shu. In the film, Wong plays a bodyguard who is set up by the villain and ends up going insane. He grabs the attention of two conmen, played by Meng Yuen-Man and Tony Ching Siu-Tung, who tend to use him to get the villain’s loot. The fight choreography by Ching and Tong Leung Siu-Hung showcase not only Wong’s skills, but the acrobatic skills of Meng and Ching’s weapons skills are well done as well.
Wong made his last Hong Kong film in 1985 with GOLDEN DESTROYERS. He returned to Korea, where he continued to make films until the early 1990′s. Today, Wong is a film and television producer. He looks the same as he did only with silver hair these days.
Hapkido grandmaster Hwang In-Shik is one of the underrated kickers in the world of classic kung fu films, having gained notoriety in pretty much two films, WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972) and THE YOUNG MASTER (1980). Born in 1940 in Sunchon, North Korea, Hwang started out studying Tang Soo Do. At the age of 13, he began to study Hapkido under Choi Yong Sul, who founded the art. Three years later, he earned his 1st-degree black belt in the art.
In 1972, director Huang Feng was shooting the film HAP KI DO in Korea. The film starred Angela Mao, Carter Wong, and Sammo Hung as three Chinese revolutionaries hiding out in Korea to train in the titular art. Scouting for actual hapkido experts, Huang discovered both Hwang and Ji Han-Jae, who trained the film’s stars for the film. Hung, who was going to be action director of the film, successfully fused hapkido into his fight choreography for the film and it was a hit film for Golden Harvest.
That same year, Hwang co-starred as a Japanese fighter in Bruce Lee’s directorial debut, WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972). It was rumored that Hwang was attempting the show that Korean martial arts were dominant over Chinese kung fu and Lee taught him a lesson by having his character beaten up first by Chuck Norris, who was a practicioner of Tang Soo Do, and then by Lee himself.
After appearing in WAY OF THE DRAGON, Hwang starred in films like STONER (1974) and THE ASSOCIATION (1975), which he also choreographed with Sammo Hung and starring fellow Korean Byong Yu. In 1975, Hwang returned to Korea, where he starred in some martial arts films there such as THE GREAT KUNG FU ENCOUNTER and BLACK LEOPARD. A year later, Hwang decided to retire from films and emigrate to Canada, where he opened the Eagle Hapkido Academy in Toronto, Ontario. However, in 1980, an old friend of Hwang’s from Hong Kong came calling.
Jackie Chan, who by this time was a star, was looking for someone to play the main villain in his first film for Golden Harvest, THE YOUNG MASTER (1980). Hwang returned to play bad guy Master Kam and the features a fifteen-minute fight sequence between Hwang and Chan, where Chan showcased Hwang’s hapkido techniques. To this day, Hwang had felt that he was somewhat held back until Chan came along and actually was glad he was able to show the real hapkido on the screens. The two would have a rematch in DRAGON LORD (1982) and Hwang made his final film in 1983 as the villain in the Billy Chong film A FISTFUL OF TALONS (1983).
Today, Grandmaster Hwang In-Shik continues to run the Eagle Hapkido Academy in Toronto. He occasionally gives seminars about the art of hapkido. You can find the Eagle Hapkido Academy online at http://www.eaglehapkido.com.
Before Hwang Jang-Lee kicked his way into Hong Kong cinemas, one of the best superkickers in the classic era came from Hong Kong and his name was Leung Siu-Lung. The high flying kicker was also known as “Bruce Leung” or “Bruce Liang”. As a result, he was known as a Bruce Lee clone to some fans. However, this is definitely not the case at all as he never truly imitated the legend himself.
Born in 1948, Leung came from a family with a martial arts background. His uncle trained him in martial arts and even his mother-in-law trained him in Northern style kung fu. At the age of fifteen, Leung started out as a stuntman and by the time he was 25, he began starring in films for Ng See-Yuen. According to Leung, Ng worked with him on many films because Ng was after his wife! Nevertheless, Leung got to showcase his kicking skills and even trained Japanese action star Yasuaki Kurata with his kicking skills when they fought each other in CALL ME DRAGON (1974).
Leung got his breakthrough role in Chang Cheng-Ho’s final film for Golden Harvest, BROKEN OATH, in 1977. Leung starred as an undercover agent who teams up with Angela Mao. Leung showcased some of his best kicking skills here against Han Ying-Chieh (THE BIG BOSS). Leung continued to make films such as MY KUNG FU 12 KICKS (1979) and RUTHLESS REVENGE (1979) until the early 80′s when he switched to television.
In the mid-80′s, he began to work with younger brother and student Tony Leung Siu-Hung behind the scenes as an action director. Some of Leung’s action can be seen in RICH AND FAMOUS, a heroic bloodshed film starring Chow Yun-Fat and Andy Lau. In the late-80′s, Leung left the industry to concentrate on another business but returned to one more film in 1992, LIKE HOLY EIGHT DIVINE CANE, a Mainland China martial arts film where Leung played a monk. After that film, Leung left the industry for good…or so one would think.
In 2004, Leung made his comeback known as lead villain The Beast in Stephen Chow’s blockbuster phenomenon, KUNG FU HUSTLE. Personally a fan of Leung’s, Chow originally wanted Leung in his comedy FIST OF FURY 1991 (1991), but Leung had refused. Deciding he owed Chow a favor, he took the role of number one killer The Beast. The two engage in a CGI/wirefest/hand-to-hand combat-filled finale courtesy of the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping. The film became a hit and Leung has officially returned to films, appearing in KUNG FU FIGHTER (2007) and SHAMO (2008) to name a few.
Japanese-born Yasuaki Kurata is a karate expert who has become one of the most respected Japanese action stars of the genre, not including Sonny Chiba and Etsuko Shihomi. Kurata was born in 1946 in Japan. He is a practicioner of karate (6th-dan), judo (3rd-dan), and aikido (2nd-dan).
Kurata went to Hong Kong in the early 1970′s, where he started out as a stuntman for the famous Shaw Brothers studio. According to Kurata, in 1971, a visit to Golden Harvest studios led him to meet the most famous martial arts hero, Bruce Lee. Lee and Kurata discusses their passion of the martial arts and Kurata would give Lee a gift, a pair of nunchakus. According to Kurata, it is he who taught Lee how to use the nunchakus.
Kurata was discovered by Ng See-Yuen and was soon upgraded from stuntman to villain actor, usually pairing him in battles with the likes of Chan Sing and Leung Siu-Lung. According to an interview with Leung, he helped Kurata kick higher and their fight scenes show that these two could go toe-to-toe in combat. Kurata would also make films in his native Japan, from teaming up with Sonny Chiba in THE EXECUTIONER (1974) to teaming up with Etsuko Shihomi in RETURN OF THE SISTER STREET FIGHTER (1975) and DRAGON PRINCESS (1981).
In 1979, Shaw Brothers director Lau Kar-Leung was looking for a Japanese martial artist to star in his tribute to both the Japanese and Chinese martial arts, HEROES OF THE EAST. Kurata was cast as the teacher and former boyfriend of a Japanese bride, married to a Chinese kung fu expert, played by Gordon Liu. Kurata’s character uses the art of ninjitsu and engages in some excellent fight scenes with kung fu veteran Liu. This is the ultimate film that shows that there is no superior martial art, but more of a respectful nature to the both sides, which have been depicted as rivals for the longest time.
Kurata continued to work in both Hong Kong and Japan during the 1980′s. Some of his memorable appearances during this were taking on Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung in TWINKLE TWINKLE LUCKY STARS (1986) and starring as a samurai warrior alongside Hwang Jang-Lee and Yukari Oshima in the all-star comedy action film SHANGHAI EXPRESS. Kurata also formed his own production company, Kurata Promotions. In 1989, Kurata produced the film BLOODFIGHT in Hong Kong. The English-language film was a very well-made clone of BLOODSPORT (1987) and featured Kurata as a retired tournament champ who goes back to the ring to avenge his student’s murder. The film co-starred Bolo Yeung as the evil fighter and Simon Yam (PTU).
In 1994, Kurata was paired with the legend Jet Li in FIST OF LEGEND. Kurata played the uncle of Jet’s girlfriend in the movie and the two engaged in an amazing sparring duel in the wind. Kurata even got to star in a French martial arts film, SAMOURAIS, in 2002. Today, Kurata continues to work in films, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Kurata’s production company can be seen online at http://www.kurata-pro.com.
The last of the eight kickers in classic kung fu cinema is one of the veterans from Chang Cheh’s legendary Venoms crew. Known to many as “The Scorpion”, Taiwanese-born Sun Chien has been known as the lethal kicker of the team. While fellow Venoms Philip Kwok, the late Chiang Sheng, and Lu Feng were highly skilled in acrobatics and Lo Meng was a Mantis fist stylist whose brawn proved worthy, Sun unleashed some pretty lethal kicks during his career. Whether he played a traitor or a true hero, it was Sun’s bootmastery skills that caught the attention of fans worldwide.
Sun Chien was born Suen Jian-Yang in 1955 in Taipei, Taiwan. His parents died when he was young and was raised by his sisters. Training in taekwondo, Sun became a champion fighter with a nice display of kicking. In 1976, he was discovered by legendary director Chang Cheh, who casted Sun in his first film role, the lead co-starring role opposite the late Alexander Fu Sheng in CHINATOWN KID. Sun played a college student who ends up dependent on drugs and then helps our hero fight the villains.
In 1978, THE FIVE VENOMS put Sun and his co-stars on the map. He would become the answer to the biggest mystery in the film. Unleashing his kicking specialty, Sun would go on to join his fellow Venoms in a series of films. He was usually cast as the traitor, but have made good on playing heroes on some occasions, such as CRIPPLED AVENGERS (1979), where his character has his legs cut off only to get steel legs crafted for him; and DAREDEVILS (1980).
As the Shaw Brothers era was coming to an end in the mid-80′s, Sun didn’t have much to do. So, like many others, he turned to television for a while. In 1991, he played the lead villain in ANGRY RANGER, an action thriller directed by fellow Shaw Brothers co-star Johnny Wang Lung-Wei and produced by Jackie Chan. The film featured prominent members of Jackie Chan’s Stuntman Association in lead roles, led by Ben Lam (LEGEND OF THE WOLF). A year later, Sun did some action choreography on the wuxia film MEGAFORCE FROM HIGHLAND, which starred Kara Hui, Dick Wei, and Bolo Yeung, before officially retiring from films and pretty much disappearing.
While many other kickers have graced the screen during this period, it is these eight men who have showcased the art of kicking to a tee in their films. Whether it is the power of a Hwang Jang-Lee, the flashiness of a Tan Tao-Liang, the flexibility of a John Liu, or the consistency of Casanova Wong, these eight kickers will forever hold a reputation as the greatest kickers in classic kung fu cinema.
Casanova Wong • hapkido • Hwang In-Shik • Hwang Jang-Lee • John Liu • karate • kicking • Leung Siu-Lung • martial arts • Sun Chien • tae kwon do • Tan Tao-Liang • Yasuaki Kurata