One of the premiere superstars of old school Shaolin-style martial arts cinema, Gordon Chia-hui Liu has been a household name in Asia for nearly thirty years. This bald-headed, sharp-featured Hong Kong legend broke into movies in the early 1970's, first as a stuntman, then as a martial-arts choreographer.
Born in Guangdong, China in 1955, Gordon Chia-hui Liu was adopted as an infant into the famed Liu clan - a family of acrobatic opera stars. Educated in English at some of Hong Kong's finest schools, Liu spent most the 1960's working as a file clerk. But with performing in his blood, the draw of show biz proved too powerful for Liu to ignore. Before long, Liu traded in his suit and tie and found himself doing stunt work on small martial arts pics.
Liu's first big break was in the legendary "Shaolin Martial Arts" (1974), directed by Chang Cheh. A golden age, chop-socky classic, the plot of "Shaolin Martial Arts" revolved around a group of kung fu students who are forced into a running conflict with a gang of ruling Manchurian thugs. To defend themselves, the students each set off to learn mysterious styles and innovative kung fu techniques in order to defeat the Manchu villains. As Fu Sheng, one of the underdog students who is determined to stand his ground, Liu had a number of amazing fight scenes. Although Liu's character was ultimately killed in the movie, Liu turned in a star-making performance that would be remembered for years to come.
Perhaps more important than the film itself, however, were the professional relationships that Liu forged during this time. While shooting "Shaolin Martial Arts", Chang Chei's longtime fight choreographer (and Liu's adoptive brother), Liu Chia-liang, decided to pursue his own career as a director. Once established, Chia-liang cast his brother Gordon as his leading man in several films starting in 1976. Thus would begin a long-standing professional association between the two brothers, which endures to this day. Collaborating with Liu Chia-liang, Gordon Liu turned in some of his most acclaimed performances toward the end of the decade in such action classics as "The Challenge of the Masters"(1976), and "Shaolin Challenges Ninja" (1978).
In addition to his martial arts prowess and intimidating on-screen charisma, Gordon Liu proved himself also to be a deft and highly gifted comedic actor. As evident by his performance in the amusingly titled "Dirty Ho" (also directed by Liu Chia-liang), Liu combined physical comedy with high-octane martial arts - a variation of the genre that would subsequently be popularized by fellow acrobats-turned-actors Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung among others. In addition to "Dirty Ho" (1979), Liu starred in the historical comedy "Return to the 36th Chamber" (1980), which many regard as Gordon Liu's finest comedic performance to date.
In the early 1980s, Liu graduated to directing his own film. Making his helming debut in "Shaolin and Wutang" (1981), Liu proved himself up to the challenge, having watched and worked with the best directors in Hong Kong throughout his career. While the plot of "Shaolin & Wutang" was admittedly formulaic, the overall film is hailed even today as a masterpiece of the genre. Packed with breathtaking martial arts sequences, strong performances and a genuinely heartfelt script, "Shaolin & Wutang" scored big in Asia. Ironically, despite all its critical and financial success, Liu found the day-to-day task of directing while simultaneously acting to be a chore. As a result, Liu has since stepped away from the director's chair and has focused his energies back into full-time acting.
Liu has continued to work regularly in Hong Kong cinema. In 2002, Gordon reunited with his brother, Chia-liang, to film "Drunken Monkey" -- the first new period martial arts film to be produced by the legendary Shaw Brothers in over twenty years. In 2003, director Quentin Tarantino, a long-time fan of Liu's, lobbied aggressively -- and won -- the right to cast Liu in his retro-kitsch martial arts epic "Kill Bill, Vol. 1." In it, Liu played a small, but memorable role as Johnny Mo, the masked general of O-Ren Ishii's army, the "Crazy 88". The following summer, Liu returned for the sequel, "Kill Bill, Vol.2" (2004). This time, Liu had a more substantial role as the Kung Fu master Pei Mei (aka "The White Eyebrow") - mentor of Uma Thurman's ass-kicking character, The Bride.