Ten Essential Films From Lau Kar Leung

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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With word breaking early this morning that iconic martial arts performer, fight choreographer and director Lau Kar Leung has passed away now seems the perfect time to cast an eye back over his career. With his professional life beginning in 1950 with an appearance in Brave Lad Of Guangong, his filmography spans decades and scores upon scores of titles so this is not even remotely a comprehensive list but rather meant as a quick primer. If you want an entry point into the life and work of Lau Kar Leung, these are the titles we would turn to.

The One-Armed Swordsman

Chang Cheh's 1967 effort remains one of the most enduring favorites of the entire Shaw Brothers canon and clearly represents the high point of star Jimmy Wang Yu's career. And a major factor in why is the sterling fight choreography provided by Lau. Energetic and inventive this represents some of his finest collaborative work with one of the greatest directors ever to work the genre along with one of its most brash stars. It also served as the original starting point for recent Donnie Yen star vehicle Wuxia (aka Dragon).

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QinlongJune 25, 2013 3:48 PM

I would add WARRIORS OF THE EAST, for its staggering series of fights pitting Chinese martial arts against Japanese martial arts, and the unexpected 'couples therapy' spin it puts on the proceedings.

Todd BrownJune 25, 2013 4:08 PM

I've never seen that one, sounds like I should.

Peter MartinJune 25, 2013 4:23 PM

Great picks. PEDICAB DRIVER is one of my all-time Top 10 movies, a stunning, intoxicating mixture of multiple fighting styles and techniques, combined with great action work and wonderfully broad comedy. Not to mention the nod to STAR WARS.

American Cinematheque secured a fine-looking 35mm print for a screening / tribute at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, with Sammo Hung in attendance, some years ago. It's a huge shame that it remains out of circulation.

QinlongJune 25, 2013 4:31 PM

Sorry, the actual title is HEROES OF THE EAST, not warriors...

chillybillyJune 25, 2013 5:00 PM

THE LADY IS THE BOSS is another brilliant Lau Kar Leung + Kara Hui team-up, like a modern-day MY YOUNG AUNTIE, highly recommended.

HeijoshinJune 25, 2013 5:54 PM

Heros of the East is a great movie. The fact that Yasuaki Kurata is in it is a HUGE bonus.
It's hard to pick his ten best when he's filled so many different roles
however I would say that I would not have included Seven Swords in the
essentials list. That's just my opinion.

Also I'd like to point out to anyone who may be looking to this list for examples of Lau's work to please note that while the original version of Drunken Master II is much better (as is the original language versions of all Martial Arts films if you ask me) you should take into account that Lau only worked on the choreography for the first half of the film.

He and Chan had a disagreement and decided to part ways on the movie. I believe that everything past the last scene that Lau's character has in the film was all done by Chan and his team. While I don't hate the latter part of the movie, I have always preferred the first half.

HeijoshinJune 25, 2013 6:07 PM

One final bit. After the split with Chan Lau Kar Leung, still wanting to do the things that he had in mind for Drunken Master 2 that Chan didn't agree with, hooked up with Andy Lau to make Drunken Master 3 (AKA Drunken Master Killer). The film was just okay but had a few neat little things using Drunken Kung Fu in it. I note this because I love Drunken Kung Fu movies and they are fairly rare and also rarely well done.

Also, neither Drunken Master 2 or Drunken Master 3 have anything to do with each other or with the first Drunken Master movie. The only similarity that 1 and 2 had were Jackie Chan and the fact that he played Wong Fei-Hung in both films.

The actual real sequel to Drunken Master was Dance of the Drunk Mantis. That however has nothing to do with Lau Kar Leung. BUT to anyone that has not seen that movie. I HIGHLY recommend it. Much better than DM2 or DM3.

Steve AustinJune 25, 2013 7:03 PM

I would also recommend: Challenge of the Masters, Legendary Weapons of China,Executioners of Shaolin,Fist of the White Lotus,Mad Monkey Kung Fu,Shaolin Mantis. and on and on we go.

Dave BaxterJune 25, 2013 10:04 PM

I second the LADY IS THE BOSS recommendation, which the last in a loose "trilogy" of Lau Kar Leung films "...exploring tradition, the change in social attitudes over time and female liberation", the first being MY YOUNG AUNTIE and the second being HEROES OF THE EAST.

I also heartily recommend EVIL CAT for a fantastically fun and wild LKL performance. It's not "Essential", nor does LKL direct or even action direct that one, but it's definitely worth it and way off most LKL fans' radars.

Lastly, SECRET OF THE SHAOLIN POLES features early LKL action choreography, with Yasuaki Kurata from Heroes of the East in one of the leads. Super awesome flick if you can find it. Widescreen bootlegs do exist.

DariousJune 26, 2013 2:36 AM

Really? We're going with Drunken Monkey over Legendary Weapons of China/Heroes of the East/Martial Club/Challenge of the Masters/Any Other Lau Directed Work?

Todd BrownJune 26, 2013 9:47 AM

As his final directed work and the final film (at least I believe that's still the case) from Shaw Brothers, yes. It holds a particular historical significance.

CannibalFeroxJune 26, 2013 9:33 PM

Man, I just read this. A part of my youth just died as well. Some great films here.