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Gordon Liu Jia-hui (Lau Kar-fai in his native Cantonese) is one of the most recognizable and popular stars of Old School, Shaolin-style kung fu movies. He was a mainstay for over a decade at Hong Kong's legendary Shaw Brothers studio, where he established his close-shaven image as a populist martial monk from the legendary Shaolin Monastery, defending the downtrodden from imperialistic Manchu oppressors and helping to disseminate knowledge of the martial arts throughout China. He assumed this role for the first time when his older “godbrother” Liu Chia-liang (Lau Kar-leung) cast him in the international hit The 36 th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), known in its dubbed American version as The Master Killer .
Liu was born in Guangdong (Canton) China in 1955. His real name is Xian Qixi, which he Anglicizes as Louis Sin. When his family moved to Hong Kong they lived for several years near the martial arts school run by the legendary Hong Gar style kung fu instructor Lau Charn, who traced his martial pedigree back to turn-of-century master (and frequent film subject) Wong Fei-hong. The future star began studying with Lau sifu at the age of seven, at first unbeknownst to his parents. The actor has been incorrectly identified as either a blood relative or the ”adopted son” of his teacher Lau Charn. In fact, Lau became his favorite student's godfather in a private religious ceremony, and like many other martial arts and Peking opera performers, the performer later adopted his teacher's surname as his stage name. Gordon is thus both “god brother” and “martial brother” to Lau Charn's biological offspring, director/choreographer Lau Kar-leung and performers Lau Kar-wing and Lau Kar-ying.
The name he performs under has added to the confusion: Although the Cantonese form of his name, Lau Kar-fai, is more correct, Gordon has continued to use the Mandarin transliteration that appeared in the credits of his most successful films: Liu Jia-hui. He acquired the additional given name Gordon during his student days at English elementary and high schools in Hong Kong in the 1960s.
After graduation from high school Liu worked for a time in an office as a file clerk before following elder godbrother Lau Kar-leung into the movie industry in the 1960s. He made his film debut as a leading in 1973 in director Chang Cheh's Shaolin Martial Arts , which enjoyed only limited success. He then spent several years playing small roles and working behind the scenes for the quasi-independent production company Chang Cheh had established in Taiwan under the Shaw Brothers banner. Liu was re-introduced as a leading man in 1976 when Lau Kar-leung returned to Hong Kong to launch his career as a director: Liu played the legendary turn-of-the-century martial arts master Wong Fei-hong in Lau's Challenge of the Masters (1976), and finally became a star when he shaved his head to portray martial monk San Te in The 36 th Chamber of Shaolin (1978).
Gordon Liu appeared in such Old School classics as Lau Kar-leung's Shaolin Challenges Ninja (1978) and Legendary Weapons of China (1981). Liu is also a very deft and gifted comic actor, as witness his performances in Lau's landmark kung fu comedies Dirty Ho (1979) and Return to the 36 th Chamber (1980). He also directed the highly regarded Shaolin and Wutang (1984), a revisionist look at one of the bitterest rivalries in all of martial arts.
Liu has continued to work regularly in Hong Kong cinema, in films such as Peacock King (1988), Tiger on the Beat (1988), Last Hero in China (1993), Drunken Master III (1994), and Generation Pendragon (1999). He has won a whole new generation of fans in Asia in recent years for his comedy and action roles in several successful television series, most recently in the 18-hour 2003 mini-series Shaolin Dizi (S haolin Disciples ).
Gordon Liu appeared last year in the first new period martial arts film produced by Shaw Brothers in over two decades, Drunken Monkey , with “big brother” Lau Kar-leung back in action behind the camera. His Shaw Brothers classics are in the process of becoming widely available again for the first time in decades, as re-mastered Hong Kong-market DVDs.
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