On June 25, 2013, the martial arts film world lost a legend. Lau Kar-Leung, one of the biggest names in the world of Hong Kong action cinema, lost his battle with leukemia at the age of 76.
Born on July 28, 1936, Lau was the third child of Lau Cham, a martial artist and actor who has lineage to the real Wong Fei-Hung. Lau Cham’s teacher was Lam Sai-Wing, a pork butcher who also studied martial arts under Wong Fei-Hung. At a young age, Lau Kar-Leung began training in martial arts under his father.
Lau got his start appearing as an extra or working as a stunt coordinator in some of the classic Wong Fei-Hung films, in which his father even made appearances. In the 1960’s, Lau went to Shaw Brothers and joined forces with Tang Chia and together, they became one of the top action choreography teams for the late Chang Cheh. In fact, Lau is responsible for the design of the sword Jimmy Wang Yu wields in the finale of the classic ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN (1966). He would continue to work with Tang and Chang until 1974, when Lau left on the set of MARCO POLO due to clashing with Chang.
The move proved to be smart as Lau soon became one of the most prolific directors of martial arts cinema in Hong Kong. Lau is responsible for making the first kung fu film to include supernatural elements, THE SPIRITUAL BOXER (1975), starring the late Wong Yue. However, it was his films with his adopted brother Gordon Liu that made him a force to be reckoned with. These include CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS (1976), EXECUTIONERS FROM SHAOLIN (1977), and the classic 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978). He directed HEROES OF THE EAST (1979), a film that pitted Chinese martial arts and Japanese martial arts. However, unlike most films of that era, no one dies at the end. As a matter of fact, Lau gave his respect for both country’s martial arts in the film. He has even worked in some non-Shaw Brothers films such as choreographing the “four seasons” sequence in Jet Li’s debut, SHAOLIN TEMPLE (1981), and directing the third installment of that film’s series, MARTIAL ARTS OF SHAOLIN (1986).
As Hong Kong progressed from classic kung fu to modern day action, Lau smoothly took the transition in stride, directing TIGER ON THE BEAT (1988), which featured a dueling chainsaw battle between Conan Lee and Gordon Liu. He would also direct the last official installment of the ACES GO PLACES series in 1989 and even had the chance to work as a stunt coordinator on the Hollywood film TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III (1992).
In 1994, Lau teamed up with Jackie Chan for DRUNKEN MASTER II, hailed as one of Chan’s best films today. While Lau choreographed most of the film and is credited as the sole director, he had a falling out with Chan over the finale, which Chan himself took over. After making DRUNKEN MASTER III (1994), Lau went into retirement until 2003, when he made DRUNKEN MONKEY (2003), starring himself and Wu Jing. After 2005’s SEVEN SWORDS, Lau officially retired from the film industry.
Aside from working as an actor, director, and fight choreographer, Lau had also been a trainer of martial arts. He opened up the Lau Family Hung Gar Institute, which is run today by his nephew and former kung fu star Sammy Lau Kar-Yung. Some of his most popular students include the late Alexander Fu Sheng, Kara Hui, Gordon Liu, and Mark Houghton.
Lau Kar-Leung is survived by his wife of twenty-eight years, former actress turned solicitor Mary Jean Reimer; two daughters, Rosemary and Jeanne; brother Lau Kar-Wing; and adopted brother Gordon Liu.
R.I.P. Lau Kar-Leung…a true martial arts legend.
Check out the tribute video above courtesy of Youtube user “KingofKungFuAmp”.