Top 5 Gordon Liu Films

by Kung Fu Bob O'Brien on September 10, 2016 · 14 comments in Buddhist Blog

AGORDON- 36TH 2 SC36- Article Photosmong the many bright stars in the Hong Kong cinema universe, Gordon Liu shines as bright as the North Star. Recognized by most film-goers with even a passing interest in kung fu cinema, along with Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, Gordon Liu (Lau Kar-Fai, Liu Chia-Hui, “The Master Killer”, or however you may know him) is considered by many to be the most well-rounded genre performer of them all. With his atypical but handsome features, strong, but slender physique, extremely expressive face, and deep soulful eyes, his heartfelt performances draw viewers into the characters that he plays. His physical abilities, built on the rock-solid foundation of his Hung Kuen (Hung Gar Fist) kung fu skills, look absolutely spectacular on screen. He possesses the dancer-like ability to perform long sequences of memorized movements dictated by intricate action choreography while never looking stiff or rehearsed. His strikes, blocks and evasions flow naturally, and he appears to generate tremendous power through his actions. While many genre stars are known more for either their hand to hand or their weapons skills, Liu is an expert in both. Throughout his filmography are displays of his weapons’ mastery with the three-section staff, butterfly swords, steel whip, sword, spears, staff, and more (he flawlessly utilizes a dozen different weapons in 1978’s Heroes of the East alone). And he makes it all look easy… except when it’s not supposed to be, as in cases where we see his characters’ intense training sessions and feel their pain. It’s as though he were born a full-fledged kung fu master, and we were simply lucky that a cameraman was filming him while he fought heroically during his many adventures. But of course that is not the case at all. Liu’s skills were acquired over many years and through countless hours of hard work, with guidance from a very special source.

Okay, wrap your head around this… If you’re a kung fu movie fan it’s very likely you’ve seen the character Wong Fei-Hung in at least two fistfuls’ worth of movies. Wong was in fact a real-life martial arts master and healer, son of one of the famous “Ten Tigers of Kwangtung”, and has been played by many actors on TV and in the cinema. Kwan Tak-Hing memorably portrayed the character in over a hundred black and white films (and more, including 1981’s Dreadnaught, and ’74’s Skyhawk), Jackie Chan in Drunken Master 1 and 2 (1978, 1994), Jet Li in four Once Upon A Time In China features (1991, ’92, ’93, and ’97), and most recently Eddie Penn Yu-Yan gave his version of Wong in Rise of a Legend (2014). But there’s only one actor that has played the part who comes from the direct kung fu lineage of Master Wong himself, and that is Gordon Liu.

GORDON- WONG SC36- Article PhotosWong Sifu’s most famous student Lam Sai-Wing, or “Butcher Wing” (made famous when Sammo Hung played him in the seminal 1979 classic Magnificent Butcher), was the teacher of Lau Charn, who then entered the film industry as an actor, playing his own sifu in the original Wong Fei-Hung films opposite Kwan Tak-Hing. Lau Charn then passed on his kung fu skills to his children, Lau Kar-Leung (aka. Liu Chia-Liang) and (younger brother) Lau Kar-Wing (Liu Chia-Yung), who would both become martial arts actors, action choreographers, and directors. Into this mix comes a skinny kid named Sin Gum-Hei who started showing up at Lau Charn’s kwoon (kung fu school) to train (playing hooky from school) in the art of Hung Kuen. It wasn’t long before his winning personality and genuine passion for training in the style had endeared him to the Lau’s, and soon he was given the family surname, rechristened “Lau Kar-Fai”, and considered an adopted member of the clan. As Lau Kar-Leung became an important part of the Hong Kong film world, first playing small stunt rolls, then advancing to action choreographer/director (often alongside Tong Gaii), he eventually brought the young man to the set to play bit parts. Kar-Fai (who would later gain yet another name- Gordon Liu) already enjoyed performing, singing and play guitar, so transitioning to acting in front of the camera, especially when it involved him doing his beloved kung fu, was not a big stretch. It was quite a bit more exciting than his job as a shipping clerk, and he cherished the experiences. He played small roles in several films, and even these often left a big impression on audiences (see the later Executioners From Shaolin, 1977). But things changed for Liu considerably when his “older brother” gave him a huge opportunity, casting him as the lead in Shaw Brothers Studios’ Challenge of the Masters (1976). And who was he playing in the film? His very own great Grandmaster… Wong Fei-Hung!

GORDON- CHALLENGE SC36- Article PhotosLiu certainly gave a respectful, nuanced, and unforgettable portrayal of the young Wong; quite unique among the many different cinematic portrayals of the historic character. Of course there was also the added bonus that Liu was a real life practitioner of Wong’s famous martial arts style, adding tremendous resonance to his representation. But this was just the beginning, with Liu starring or appearing in no less than thirteen bona fide kung fu cinema classics over the next seven years (along with several other notable genre pictures). Though he also worked at other studios during his career, he is best known for the films he made at Shaw Brothers, specifically the ones directed by Lau Kar-Leung. These two were the perfect match of director and star; the kung fu version of the Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro team-ups (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas…), and their collaborations typically culminated in master works. But it wasn’t easy to achieve these results. The pressure was extremely high for Liu, as his director was also his kung fu master, and a perfectionist as well. Lau Sifu wanted to be sure to present the Hung Style properly, and would require take after take of action sequences until he was completely satisfied. He also insisted on the use of real weapons for the sake of authenticity, not only visually, but to elevate the emotional level of his performers. Liu endured his director’s constant scrutiny, relentless demands for precision, the oppressive heat (no air conditioning in the studio), and constant injuries while giving his all on each project. Along with endless bumps, bruises and abrasions Liu also lost consciousness from heat exhaustion, had his face gashed by a three-section staff, and was even stabbed in the wrist with a spear (by Lau Sifu) all for the sake of his audience. Once he shaved his head for what may be his ultimate role in The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Liu became identified with the look, often being cast as monks and staying bald for a lot of his life. During his long career he has acted in over a hundred films, and made his international debut in no less than Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga (2003-2004) in which he played two powerful, and distinctly different roles. Liu has also produced a film, been action director on several, and directed two, including the thrilling Shaolin and Wu-Tang (1983).

GORDON- MANTIS SC36- Article PhotosIn addition to all of his accomplishments on film, Liu’s fans have been thrilled worldwide upon meeting him, and discovering the man to be not unlike his best heroic roles- a wonderfully warm, friendly individual. In recent years Mr. Liu has suffered from some serious medical problems (respect and love to Amy Fan for her dedication to helping him), but once again he has dazzled us with his shining example of how to best face adversity: through willpower, positive thinking, perseverance, and with his years of kung fu training stoking the fires within him. But most of all, and surely his most remarkable attribute, he possesses the undying spirit of a true hero. And that’s much more impressive than anything he’s ever done on film.

Everyone here at Shaolin Chamber 36 is a huge fan of Gordon Liu (as if the name of the website itself wasn’t a huge hint) and we decided to celebrate Mr. Liu’s recent 65th birthday* by finding out what everyone’s favorite film of his is. We hope all our kung fu brothers and sisters enjoy reading the thoughts and opinions of the many guest contributors to this article, and we would like to thank them for taking the time to write up their lists and comments.

Mr. Liu, please never forget that your fans all over the world love you very much. You have not only entertained us (which would have been wonderful enough), but also inspired us in so many ways, and helped us to feel passionate about the Chinese arts you depict. In fact, my three-section staff and the print of my art that you were kind enough to autograph for me, hang on the wall of the very office where I am typing these words (and framed posters for several of your classic films decorate walls elsewhere in my home). You and your work are the main reason for my interest in classical kung fu, and I know I am definitely not alone in this. Thank you so much for everything that you have given us fans over the years- literally your blood, sweat and tears. So from me, and on behalf of the staff at SC36, and all of your grateful fans, I’d like to wish you a very Happy Birthday, and may Buddha bless you!

What follows are mine, and the Top 5 Gordon Liu Films lists of many other fans. After these you will see the tallied results of the votes, and the ultimate list of the top 5 titles. Enjoy!

Kung Fu Bob O'Brien

 Artist, SC36 writer/editor, admin of Kung Fu Fandom Forum, nunchakubeast
  • 1. Heroes of the East (1978)

    Not only is this my favorite of Gordon Liu’s, this is probably my number one Shaw Brothers film, and also belongs in my top favorite movies of all time in any genre. I absolutely love that the story tells so much about the differences and similarities between not only a husband and wife, but also the contrasting cultures of China and Japan. If it has a fault, it’s that the role of the wife’s assertive character is sidelined, and doesn’t get as developed in the second half of the film as it could have been. The plot goes from a tale of him and her, to predominantly being a “boy’s club” once the Japanese martial artists arrive, mistakenly believing their arts and honor have been questioned. On the plus side you have some of the greatest martial artists ever committed to film doing their thing with a wide variety of styles, techniques and weapons, all against Gordon Liu holding center stage as a true hero of kung fu cinema. No CGI nor wires are required to make this man look like a master. No matter which weapon or style he is using, nor which opponent he is up against, Liu is top-notch from start to finish in this positively thrilling, funny, charming, and ultimately moving film about honor among martial artists and in matrimony.

  • 2. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

    Yes, of course this is hailed as one of the greatest training films of all time, and rightfully so. But there’s so much more to it. It is the story of a young student, just another one of the many people in the village, seemingly no one special. But this is a youth with deep moral conviction, and when he sees what the Manchus are doing to his, the Han people, he knows that something needs to be done. The transformations that he makes from student to secret rebel, to injured and hunted outlaw, and back to student again are engaging and powerful. As he rises through the ranks of the Shaolin Temple, it is not just through feats of strength, but also due in large part to his good heart, strong mind, extreme determination, and his deep-seated motivation to help his fellow man. Add to that story an excellent cast, and training and kung fu action sequences that are among the best ever filmed, and you have a stone-cold classic. This movie is responsible for inspiring people to make and practice all sorts of art, including filmmakers, musicians, painters, and many a martial arts student. Simply one of the greatest.

  • 3. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    As many people know, this film was originally supposed to star Alexander Fu Sheng, but the film was put on hiatus and eventually rewritten to cast Liu in the lead after Sheng’s untimely death. Other than the fact that Fu Sheng’s character disappears midway through the film and is never mentioned again, it’s hard now to imagine that the movie is not exactly what it was always meant to be. Liu unquestionably dominates the role of the shattered young soldier forcing his way into Shaolin to learn the skills he needs to avenge his destroyed family. There are so many unforgettable bits here: the “defanging the wolves” technique, which is put to good use on the attacking Manchu soldiers, the raging young man burning his own scalp with giant incense sticks as he demands entry into the temple, fighting his enemies in front of a stack of coffins with his injured sister strapped to his back … But for me, the ultimate moment comes after he decides to leave the temple before his training is complete in order to save his captured sister and seek his vengeance. His monk superior tells him that he must not leave the temple, and in the classic English dub he responds ” Even you my Holy Father, have a weapon in your hand. Look up at Buddha, and down at home.” The abbot responds “Buddha’s name be praised. May the stick defend you!” Then Liu commences to battle his teacher (Philip Ko) with a ferocity matched only by his skill with the staff, creating one of the greatest kung fu scenes ever committed to film. A bleak but potent viewing experience (every time).

  • 4. Challenge of the Masters (1976)

    This movie categorically had to be on my list. I think it is one of the most important kung fu films ever made, primarily due to its depiction of the student-teacher relationship and the martial lessons that are conveyed throughout. It tells the story of young Wong Fei-Hung as he learns kung fu, however, not from his formidably skilled father Wong Kei-Ying, but from another trusted teacher. The sifu role here is played by Chen Kuan-Tai who is actually only seven years older than Liu, but who still successfully delivers a character of wizened seniority. This is a film that I often show or lend to young people that are interested in studying martial arts. Not only is it a very entertaining film with exciting action, but it also educates those that may think kung fu is only for fighting or injuring others. The strong moral sense of a real martial artist whose heart is in the right place is perfectly illustrated here, and the lesson that compassion is just as powerful as (if not more so) a deadly strike, is an important one. Director Lau Kar-Leung (also portrays the steel-toed villain) has managed to create a film that embodies the tenants of brotherhood and honor without seeming pretentious or preachy. Not only one of Mr. Liu’s best, but in my opinion, one of the very best the genre has to offer.

  • 5. Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)

    Like many other fans of the original film, when I first saw this I was disappointed. Gordon Liu is not playing the character of Shaolin fighting monk San-Te that he made his own in the first film. In addition, this movie features much more comedy, eschewing the original’s largely serious tone. Yet upon a second viewing I quickly fell under this title’s charm. Here Liu plays a simple con artist named Chou that pretends to be San-Te in order to help workers that are being mistreated at a fabric dyeing factory by a cruel foreman and his Manchu associates. The plan works initially, but once the deception is discovered Chou is beaten and ridiculed. He decides to sneak into the Shaolin Temple to learn kung fu for real so that he can get his revenge and prove his worth. But the man that he pretended to be (here played by King Lee King-Chu) punishes him for sneaking in, and he is ordered to erect scaffolding around the temple for repair work. Once he completes the enormous job he is then promptly ordered to dismantle everything that he has just erected. “What?! You want me to break it down?” What the young man doesn’t realize is that he is indirectly being taught “Scaffolding Kung Fu”. Soon after he returns to his village, thinking himself a failure, he accidentally discovers his secret skills. I really love that this film has a message of honesty, being the best you can be while being true to yourself, overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and teaching bullies a lesson. Oh yeah, and the training sequences and stunning fight action don’t hurt either!

Moose

Asian film lover, master movie memorabilia collector, martial artist, poet, artistic craftsman extraordinaire
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The 36 Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

  • 2. Heroes of the East (1978)

  • 3. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

  • 4. Disciples of the 36th Chambers (1985)

  • 5. Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

In compiling this list I realized that Gordon Liu was in tons of Martial arts movies that I haven’t seen. I fear that he may have many other remarkable performances. Hopefully I will eventually see them all.

Elliott Lebron

Old school expert, collector, mega-fan, Bronx Bull, Admin for Facebook group Fu Flicks & Martial Arts Fanatics
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    A Masterpiece…..Lau Kar-Leung’s best work!

  • 2. Heroes of the East (1978)

    This has the best story with a fantastic end fight.

  • 3. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

  • 4. Martial Club (1981)

    The end fight with Johnny and Gordon is the stuff of legends.

  • 5. Clan Of The White Lotus (1980)

    Great fights, great story, and Lo Lieh as Pai Mei’s twin brother.

Brandon Wenzel

Super fan, martial arts student, gamer
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Martial Club (1981)

    What can I say? That end fight though!

  • 2. Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)

    I know most people prefer the first film, but for me the concept and execution of the second is simply superb.

  • 3. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

    Regarding the first film… still one of the greatest classics of all time.

  • 4. Dirty Ho (1979)

    The only reason this one doesn’t rank higher is because Gordon isn’t exactly the main character, per say.

  • 5. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    A phenomenal film, and a near masterpiece with an incredible cast from start to finish.

Artist DB-3

aka. David Barnes, film fan, artist
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Heroes of the East (1978)

  • 2. Shaolin And Wu Tang (1983)

  • 3. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

  • 4. Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)

  • 5. Fists And Guts (1979)

Mike Leeder

Hong Kong based writer, casting director, producer and occasional actor, film journalist
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

    Master Killer, the film that rightly made Gordon a star…classic!

  • 2. Fists and Guts (1979)

    The Lau brothers indie where, after sporting hair for the length of the movie, Gordon reveals he is really a Shaolin monk in the extended finale and removes his wig.

  • 3. Heroes of the East (1978)

    Shaolin Challenges Ninja!

  • 4. Treasure Hunters (1981)

    Gordon as a mischievous, modern day monk.

  • 5. Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair (2003-2004)

    As both Johnny Mo and Pal Mei, Gordon makes a great international debut.

Mhat

Former member of the original HKFlix team, hero to countless kung fu cinema fans
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Heroes Of The East (1978)

    A full on buffet of martial arts performed by the world’s single greatest onscreen martial artist, this film is like a compilation of all your favorite scenes from a dozen kung fu movies–all in one movie! Only Gordon Liu has the charisma and the martial chops to pull off such a dizzying and spellbinding tour de force.

  • 2. The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin (1978)

  • 3. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

  • 4. Return To The 36th Chamber (1980)

  • 5. Shaolin Mantis (1978)

Demetrius Stinson

Gentleman of the martial arts fan community, veteran, admin for Facebook group Fu Flicks & Martial Arts Fanatics
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Dirty Ho (1979)

  • 2. The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin (1978)

  • 3. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

  • 4. Martial Club (1981)

  • 5. Legendary Weapons of China (1982)

Kevin Lewis

Super solid dude, old school fan when it was still new, admin for Facebook group Asian Action Cinema Association
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Heroes of the East (1978)

    My all time favorite Shaw Brothers film… Gordon at his best with a GREAT supporting cast including Kurata’s most famous scene “The Japanese Crab technique”.

  • 2. Clan of The White Lotus (1980)

    Another great performance by Gordon, and Lo Lieh gives a legendary performance as priest Pai Mei (and also his brother).

  • 3. Treasure Hunters (1981)

    Shaw Brothers’ funniest kung fu comedy, action packed, with a superb cast. Stand-out performances by Gordon, Fu Sheng, his brother (Cheung Chin-Pang), the female swords fighter (Yeung Jing-Jing), and Johnny Wang as Lord Mo.

  • 4. Martial Club (1981)

    Featuring one of the greatest fights ever put on film, the Gordon Lui vs. Johnny Wang alley fight!

  • 5. Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    Features the superbly choreographed Gordon vs. Philip Ko pole fight.

Scott Blasingame

Author, kung fu practitioner, film fanatic, family man, SC36 writer/reviewer
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Heroes of the East (1978)

    In my opinion, this is probably the best old school Martial Arts film ever made. It is a clash of Chinese and Japanese combative cultures involving a series of duels that present a wealth of weaponry and fighting styles on display. This is a movie about honor and how a true martial artist takes the opportunity to learn from and develop respect for other systems of combat. The choreography is superb, and nothing beats the final battle between Liu and Kurata Yasuaki, who plays the ninja Takeno, which evolves through multiple stages. 

  • 2. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

    This is just a classic. San Te is an adored character. The training sequences are fun and inventive, and there are so many great fight moments, especially the training duels between Liu and Lee Hoi Sang.

  • 3. Martial Club (1981)

    A great story complete with killer choreography, topped off with Liu’s duel against Johnny Wang Lung-Wei.

  • 4. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    One of the most memorable end fights ever filmed, capturing some outstanding staff work.

  • 5. Challenge of the Masters (1976)

    Contains a wonderful dynamic between Liu and Chen Kuan-Tai (as his sifu), including some great training segments.

Jay Lee

Film fanatic, martial artist, writer
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

  • 2. Heroes of the East (1978)

  • 3. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

  • 4. Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

  • 5. Martial Club (1980)

Koray

SC36 staff writer, student, Asian film lover
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Heroes of the East (1978)

    One of the best martial arts films of all time showcases both Chinese and Japanese martial arts while avoiding “Evil Japanese” stereotyping. Gordon Liu is very charismatic here and seeing him try different styles is great (he has an awesome wig too).

  • 2. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    Lau Kar-Leung’s darkest film features what is possibly Gordon Liu’s most intense performance and amazing pole fighting.

  • 3. Clan Of The White Lotus (1980)

    A Gordon Liu film that is so good you’d think Lau Kar-Leung directed it when it was actually Lo Lieh. Pulling double duty, Lo also rules as Pai Mei (and twin brother),  and the film is filled with inventive training sequences and fights.

  • 4. My Young Auntie (1981)

    This is my favorite Shaw Brothers movie, so for it to not make it on this list would feel wrong. I acknowledge that it might not be the best film to showcase Gordon Liu’s talents, but it is an amazing film and it needs to be included.

  • 5. Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)

    Maybe its blasphemous to not pick the original 36th Chamber film, a film so beloved it named the website itself. I acknowledge what a well-crafted film The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin is, and I know that it put Gordon Liu on the map and made him synonymous with San Te. But, I simply get more enjoyment from the sequel, with its more lighthearted tone, brilliant fight scenes, and the entertaining tribute/parody it manages to be to the first film. “Scaffolding Kung Fu” rules.

Keith DiCristina

Kung fu film, sports, hip hop, gaming fanatic
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin (1978)

  • 2. Return To The 36th Chamber (1980)

  • 3. Disciples Of The 36th Chamber (1985)

  • 4. The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

  • 5. Challenge Of The Masters (1976)

Andy Gorham

Kung fu/action film and comic-book fanatic,  jujutsu master, full-time cool dad
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin (1978)

  • 2. The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

  • 3. Heroes of the East (1978)

  • 4. Return To The 36th Chamber (1980)

  • 5. Martial Club (1981)

Daniel Mah

Asian action film maniac, martial artist, actor, team member of Martial Club
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Martial Club (1981)

    This is the movie that inspired my Team’s namesake! It’s important for a hero to be great, but it’s even more important for a hero to be relatable. As a student making my own journey in a martial club, I find Liu’s experience hits very close to home: having rivals, testing our skills as we advance in gung fu, and ultimately striving to reach a high level of refinement in the martial arts as well as in life. Gordon Liu has definitely cemented himself as a hero and a role model in my book!

  • 2. Heroes of the East (1978)

    Everyone knows Gordon Liu as the monk San Te but it was nice to see him with hair for once! I loved him in this movie because he represented the Chinese Martial Arts with absolute pride. It was great seeing him perform all kinds of gung fu, even styles that he isn’t generally known for, and to me, that’s the mark of a great martial artist!

  • 3. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

    Very few people can lay claim to the title of “icon”, but because of this film, Gordon Liu is one of them. His portrayal in this film was instrumental towards the establishment of the gung fu movie as a legitimate film genre. Because of the 36th Chamber movies, Gordon Liu has earned his place in the Pantheon of Kung Fu Stars!

  • 4. Dirty Ho (1979)

    I enjoy this film largely because it is a departure from Gordon Liu’s typical characterization. He is usually the quintessential student who must learn the ropes of the martial arts world, but in this film he is a master, and a suave one at that. It’s refreshing to see him schooling others rather than being schooled himself.

  • 5. Legendary Weapons of China (1982)

    Although he wasn’t the main character in this movie, Gordon Liu shows that he has presence and charisma no matter what context you view him in. I love this movie because it’s action is off the beaten path and, in my opinion, incredibly innovative. I would not be able to say that with as much gusto if Liu were not a part of the cast.

Toby Russell

Hong Kong cinema expert, writer, actor, director, kung fu practitioner
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Carry On Wiseguy (1980)

  • 2. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

  • 3. The 36 Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

  • 4. Heroes of the East (1978)

  • 5. Dirty Ho (1979)

Brian Burkart

Movie expert, former Movies Unlimited employee, writer
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

    Could it be any other title? I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see this classic in the theater a few years ago and it was spectacular. Sure beat the old poorly dubbed, pan & scanned VHS tape I would rent from the local video store.

  • 2. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    More proof that everything I know about Chinese history comes from martial arts films. I think this film includes some of Liu’s best acting scenes.  

  • 3. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

    In many ways the role of Pai Mei feels like the culmination of Liu’s career.

  • 4. Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

    Some of the most beautiful fight choreography along with well placed comedy.

  • 5. Shaolin vs. Vampire (1988)

    I have fond memories of this one from the old Kung Fu Theater days on UHF.

TVP- The Vengeance Pack

German distributors of the excellent Shaw Brothers DVD/Blu-ray mediabook releases and all around kung fu cinema experts
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

  • 2. Drunken Monkey (2003)

  • 3. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

  • 4. The Young Vagabond (1985)

  • 5. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

Tosh

Kung fu and samurai cinema madman, diver, illustrator/sculptor/photographer/musician, top-notch teacher
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    Best KF movie ever made!

  • 2. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

  • 3. Heroes of the East (1978)

  • 4. Challenge of the Masters (1976)

  • 5. Legendary Weapons of China (1982)

Karlos Newton

Film and comic-book lover, author, SC36 writer/reviewer, soaring eagle
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

    What else could it possibly be? A game changer, and one of the most important, influential, and just downright incredible kung fu films ever made, by Shaw Brothers or any other company. This one has it all: action, story, heart, humor, and a star-making turn from Gordon. His performance as the legendary Shaolin monk San Te, from naïve student trying to master the Shaolin martial arts to wise Sifu, is nothing short of magnificent.

  • 2. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    The untimely death of co-star Alexander Fu Sheng makes this already dark tale of families torn apart by warfare and the dual-edged nature of revenge even bleaker.

  • 3. Heroes of the East (1978)

    A masterpiece of martial arts cinema, with a distinctly sweet tone, thanks to a lightness of touch from incomparable director Lau Kar-Leung, and game performances from Gordon and a spirited cast. Gordon a young Kung Fu student, who, thanks to a bunch of misunderstandings with his new Japanese wife, has to fight for the honor of his country’s martial arts. With weapons and hand-to-hand fights galore, Gordon faces off against Japanese exponents of a variety of styles, including shuriken vs. needle, sai vs. sword, and tonfa vs. staff. Unusual for the time, the Japanese characters are treated not as stereotypical baddies, but as fully rounded people. Just pure, grin-on-your-face all the way through, fun.

  • 4. Dirty Ho (1979)

    Gordon and the ever underrated Hsiao Hou are chalk and cheese in this lovable adventure. Fast and funny, this was one of Shaw’s first, real buddy comedies, and the two stars shine. The last moments show just what the rich really think of the poor…

  • 5. Legendary Weapons of China (1982)

    Lau Kar-Leung brings us a crazy, non-stop barrage of duels and duality, as many people are not what they seem, in this action-packed-to-the-gills tale of a clan trying to kill an errant master. Another immortal Shaw Brothers film, and one that has, like 36th Chamber, transcended the genre. With one of the very best casts ever assembled, and everyone at the height of their powers. Unmissable.

Ariel Jade

Fu film enthusiast /writer, mother of future kung fu master
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Heroes of the East (1978)

    By far my favorite Gordon Liu film, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

  • 2. Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

    Classic.

  • 3. Dirty Ho (1979)

    A fun movie.

  • 4. Five Shaolin Masters (1974)

    Epic movie.

  • 5. Executioners of Shaolin (1977)

    SPOILER ALERT” One of the best,  most moving death scenes.

Mpm74

Film lover, Webmaster/writer/creator of cityonfire.com, supreme graphic designer, suspected former Bruce Lee-alike
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

    Classic!!!!!! 🙂 My favorite Pai Mei-themed film, also my favorite Liu film.

  • 2. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

    The one, the only MASTER KILLER! One the best “training” films ever.

  • 3. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    Dark, brutal and sad. Liu takes over the duties of Fu Sheng with grace.

  • 4. Heroes of the East (1978)

    War of the Roses meets gung fu. Light hearted classic!

  • 5. Kill Bill Vol.1/Vol. 2 (2003/2004)

    Quentin Tarantino and Liu teaming up back-to-back, how can this not be on EVERYONE’s top 5 list?

SMK

Founder/designer/Abbot of SC36 and 36 Styles Apparel, admin of Kung Fu Fandom Forum, writer, web designer, DJ, kung fu film enthusiast
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

  • 2. Heroes of the East (1978)

  • 3. Shaolin and Wu Tang (1983)

  • 4. The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

  • 5. Dirty Ho (1979)

Jeff Goodhartz

Serious genre TV and cinema fan, writer for Weng’s Chop
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Legendary Weapons of China (1982)

    Ironic that the great Gordon Liu has less screen time here than in my other selections AND he plays a bad guy (sort of) to boot. But he really made the most of it, and this film (along with Sammo Hung’s Prodigal Son) I consider to be the finest kung fu movie ever made, though not one for beginners.

  • 2. Heroes of the East (1978)

    A unique twist on the “good” Chinese vs. “bad” Japanese rivalry that offers up not one casualty, and reveals the baddies to be not so bad after all. One of the most important as well as most purely entertaining films in the genre. And Gordon has a full head of hair, too…

  • 3. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

    aka. “The Training Film” as I like to call it. The mesmerizing middle hour of this two hour epic is the apex of classic martial arts cinema and gave Gordon his signature role, one which he will forever be identified with.

  • 4. Dirty Ho (1979)

    Fantastic character driven martial arts film with one of the great mismatched pairings to be found in any action film, martial arts or otherwise.

  • 5. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    Perhaps not the film it could have been due to the untimely death of Fu Sheng, but what we’re left with is one of the most visceral kung fu movies of all time. Gordon’s angst filled monk role here is as intense as it gets. I wanted to include some of the great man’s later, non-Shaw work, but his films with “The Pops” Liu Chia-Liang are simply too great for me to have left any of my choices off.

Ken Hashibe

Student, SC36 staff writer, die-hard kung fu film fan
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

    One of the absolute quintessential kung fu movies. Inventive training scenes and an exceptional story highlight this fantastic film.

  • 2. Heroes of the East (1978)

    This is a fun and fascinating fight fest that explores an array of Chinese and Japanese styles and weapons.

  • 3. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

    The fight towards the end between Gordon Liu and Philip Ko is probably one of my favorite scenes in any movie ever. The movie is incredible all in all.

  • 4. Dirty Ho (1979)

    One of my all time favorite kung fu comedies. The pairing of Gordon Liu and Wong Yue is great, and the fight scenes are top notch and creative.

  • 5. Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

    Despite being a revenge flick, this movie is an absurd amount of fun. Seeing Gordon Liu learning the three obscure kung fu styles that he uses to get his revenge is both hilarious and exciting.

Rainer Czech

Asian cinema expert, Hung Gar kung fu man, he founded the Grand Master Chiu Chi-ling International Movie Fan Page on Facebook
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

    My all time favorite of him. Never forget this incredible Martial Arts classic movie.

  • 2. Challenge of the Masters (1976)

    Gordon in a great cast, presenting Hung Gar in excellent training and fights as “the people’s hero” Wong Fei-Hung.

  • 3. Legendary Weapons of China (1982)

    The history of Shaolin weapons featured in one fantastic epic.

  • 4. Martial Club (1981)

    Again as Wong Fei Hung, the famous historical man, in lineage to director Liu Chia-Liang.

  • 5. Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)

    Too much comedy, but good martial arts parts. So I did consider choosing The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter as my number five. Please notice that there are many great movies with Gordon Liu Chia-Hui to like, but this list is limited to only five…

    Happy Birthday to the great and fantastic Liu Chia-Hui. Hope he wins his fight against a strong power.

    Dear Gordon, I wish you a wonderful and fantastic Happy Birthday. Take all your power to have a great day. My power to you, and all the best wishes for the upcoming years. Rainer Czech send you many greetings from Germany.

Erick Kwon

Film, anime, and comic-book nut, and the main guy that turned Kung Fu Bob on to Hong Kong cinema
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Heroes of the East (1978)

    Tied with Iron Monkey as perhaps my favorite kung-fu movie of all time.

  • 2. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

  • 3. Legendary Weapons of China (1982)

  • 4. Challenge of the Masters (1976)

  • 5. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)

James Valentino Santi

Kung fu instructor, traditional Chinese herbalist,  Shaw Brothers super fan
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. Heroes of the East (1978)

  • 2. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

  • 3. Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)

  • 4. Martial Club (1981)

  • 5. Shaolin and Wu Tang (1983)

Tom Fardy

Shaw Brothers expert, lover of retro films, TV, toys & memorabilia
Click For Top 5 List
  • 1. 中華丈夫 Heroes of the East (1978)

  • 2. 武館 Martial Club (1981)

  • 3. 洪文定三破白蓮教 Clan of the White Lotus (1980)

  • 4. 少林卅六房 The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

  • 5. 少林搭棚大師 Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)

    These were the first 5 films I saw Liu Chia-Hui in 35 years ago that I have re-watched countless times over the years with the same amount of enthusiasm!

MORE GORDON

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TOP 5 GORDON LIU FILMS

after all the votes were tallied up, and according to the fans are...

1. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
2. Heroes of the East (1978)
3. The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)
4. Clan of the White Lotus (1980)
5. Martial Club (1981)

(and for those that are curious…)

6. Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)
7. Legendary Weapons of China (1982)
8. Challenge of the Masters (1976)
9. Shaolin and Wu Tang (1983)    
10. Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair (2003-2004)     

To all the people that took time out of their busy schedules to write and send in their lists, a great big thank you for contributing to this article. You all helped make it something special,  and we really appreciate it. Congratulations to Andy Gorham– you won our “Contributor’s Drawing” and will receive a free 36 Styles 36th Chamber of Shaolin T-shirt!

* Yes, 65, not 61. Mr. Liu  just celebrated his 65th birthday on August 22nd, 2016, despite the erroneous birthday and year listed on many sites. This information was confirmed by Gordon Liu himself.

Acknowledgements to the following sites, programs, books and articles:

http://www.hkcinemagic.com/en/people.asp?id=105

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wong_Fei-hung

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Liu

http://www.hkmdb.com/

“Elegant Trails: Gordon Liu Chia-Hui”, Celestial Pictures Ltd, 2005

“Shaolin: A Hero Birthplace”, Celestial Pictures Ltd, 2003

“Interview With Star Gordon Liu”, The Weinstein Company, 2007

Mastering Virtue: The Cinematic Legend of a Martial Artist, Published by The Hong Kong Film Archive in March 2012. Co-edited by Po Fung and Lau Yam. ISBN 978-962-8050-61-1 https://www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/HKFA/en_US/web/hkfa/publications_souvenirs/pub/topicalvolumes/topicalvolumes_detail24.html

The Shaw Screen: A Preliminary Study, Published by The Hong Kong Film Archive in 2003. Edited by Wong Ain-ling. English edition: ISBN 962-8050-21-4 https://www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/HKFA/en_US/web/hkfa/publications_souvenirs/pub/englishbooks/englishbooks_detail06.html

The Making of Martial Arts Films, Published by The Hong Kong Film Archive in 1999. Edited by Winnie Fu. ISBN 962-8050-06-0 https://www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/HKFA/en_US/web/hkfa/publications_souvenirs/pub/topicalvolumes/topicalvolumes_detail09.html

A Tribute To Action Choreographers, Published by The Hong Kong Film Archive in 2006. Edited by Li Cheuk-to. ISBN 9889796678 9789889796679 https://www.hkiff.org.hk/en/shop_publications_d01.html


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mpm74 September 22, 2016

GREAT job KFB. An awesomely researched, fitting tribute to one of the heavy hitters of the kung fu film industry. You seriously know your stuff.

Reply

Kung Fu Bob October 12, 2016

Thanks a lot Mpm74, I appreciate that.

Reply

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