The era of the ultimate and real gung fu was about 1975 to 1985, give or take a few years. Of course, the time period could probably include the time period of 1985 to 1995, because that is when those movies hit the late night TV circuit. And, of course, chop sockies forever, because we can now get them on Amazon, though we should make sure it is a clean copy and that we have a good DVD player.
One could make argument that Bruce Lee provided the first chop sockie, and they wouldn’t be wrong, for his movies started the flood of kung fu flicks in America. The first real chop sockie, however, would have to be Five Fingers of Death, with the incredible Lo Lieh. Lo Lieh, who jammed his broken fingers into cauldrons of red hot iron filings until he could have his revenge.
The main chop sockie movie maker, though there were hundreds, would be the Shaw Brothers. They churned out hundreds of the things, and they convinced the world that if you had an idea and dedicated yourself, you could learn gung fu. The main man of Shaw Brothers was a fellow name of Gordon Liu.
Gordon Liu knew real gung fu, and I believe he was adopted into a family of movie makers. One brother was the director of these magnificent masterpieces, and the other brother was involved with stunt work. I think that was the situation.
Among his masterpieces, and I will name three here, was The Master Killer, also known as Thirty Six Chambers of Death. Mr. Liu always played endearing fools, tilting at windmills, who, through Kung Fu, came out on top. The Master Killer was his entry into the field, and it shoved him right to the top.
One of his gems was Return to the 36th Chamber, where he plays, surprise of surprises, an endearing fool. The plot is silly, the acting is farcical, but the idea that one can learn kung fu from the common tasks of life is incredible. And, when our bumbling fool returns to his village, entirely disillusioned, only to find out what those nefarious monks have done to him…well, the phrase ‘I Do Know Kung Fu’ becomes a clarion call and inspiration to all kung fu students everywhere.
My favorite of Gordon Liu’s movies is called Fists of the White Lotus. Our endearing fool is betrayed, practices for ten years so he can have revenge, only to find out that the bad guy has also had ten years to practice. This movie inspired Bak Mei of Kill Bill fame (played by Gordon Liu) and far outshadows such well meaning epics as Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger and that ilk.
The originals, you see, provide innocence and inspiration that are undeniable. You want to learn real Shaolin gung fu? Go find these movies, be inspired, and live life the way it was meant to be lived.