This week’s photo theme is Unsung Heroes of Kung Fu — we’re shouting out lesser-known legends of kung fu cinema to expand your mind beyond Jackie, Jet, and Bruce.
Yesterday we started this week’s series off with the Shaw Brothers. Today, we’re going to smoothly segue into one of the studio’s most iconic stars: Gordon Liu.
Liu was born in Guangdong, and studied Hung Gar style kung fu under master Lau Cham. He managed to star in a couple pretty significant films, but it wasn’t until his signature role as the monk San Te in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin that Liu became a household name.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is widely considered to be one of the greatest kung fu films in history, and marked a career turning point for Liu and the film’s directors. It’s the reason Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album was called Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Please admire some of the raw beauty we’re talking about here:
Western, non-cult kung fu fandom audiences would recognize Liu from a different franchise: Kill Bill, Vol. 1 and 2. In Kill Bill Vol. 1, Liu played Johnny Mo, leader of the Crazy88 yakuza gang.
Later, in Vol. 2, Liu played the infamous kung fu assassin of legend, Master Pai Mei.
The latter was a special role for Liu — Pai Mei is a recurring character throughout Shaw Brothers lore, and Liu has been on the receiving end of some serious Pai Mei beatdowns, in films from Executioners from Shaolin to Fists of the White Lotus.
Gordon Liu left his mark on kung fu cinema – especially through his style and timing in fight choreography – across continents, cultures, and generations. Today we shout him out, and rightfully so.
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