Lau Kar-Leung, the Hog Kong martial arts master and film director who helmed the genre-defining The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) starring Gordon Liu and one of Jackie Chan’s early career hits Drunken Master II (1994), has died earlier this morning in Hong Kong following a two-decade battle with cancer. He was 76.
Lau, a fourth-generation direct disciple of martial arts legend Wong Fei-Hung, started his film career in 1950 providing stunts for a number of movies based on Wong Fei-Hung’s legendary exploits. In the 1960s, he formed Lau’s Stunt Team at Shaw Brothers Studio, the biggest film studio in Hong Kong. Quickly establishing himself as one of the studio’s leading action choreographers, Lau found himself working one of the studio’s top directors, Chang Cheh, on a number of films that would become considered classics of the era including The One-Armed Swordsman (1967) and The Boxer From Shantung (1972).
In 1975, Lau became the first action choreographer at Shaw Brothers to transition to directing with The Spiritual Boxer. The film would become the seventh-biggest Hong Kong box office hit of the year. This would be just the first in a string of hits for Lau as director including his first collaboration with Liu Dirty Ho (1976), Executioners From Shaolin (1977), Heroes Of The East (1978), Mad Monkey Kung Fu (1979), My Young Auntie (1981) and Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984).
Beyond the Shaw Brothers Studios confines Lau continued to work, and many of film such as Tiger On Beat (1988) with Chow Yun Fat, Pedicab Driver (1989) starring Sammo Hung and Drunken Master 2 (1994) with Jackie Chan helped launch the careers of a generation of Hong Kong action stars.
Lau’s final credit was as an actor and fight choreographer in Tsui Hark’s 2005 Seven Swords.