A kick is a physical strike using the foot, leg or knee. Kicks play a very important role in many forms of martial arts. But in classic kung fu films there were a few fighters that defined the art of kicking. While Chuck Norris showcased his powerful kicks in his films and Bruce Lee used his powerful fists and flying kicks these superkickers revolutionized with great success their specialized kicking in classic kung fu films. They are John Liu, Hwang Jang Lee and Tan Tao-Liang.
Born in Taiwan in 1944, John Liu ranks as one of the superkickers in classic kung fu films. Before his film career began, Liu trained in Tae kwon do under another well known Hong Kong star Tan Tao-Liang . This rigorous training gave Liu incredible flexibility. With his trademark overhead axe kick, his good looks, and smooth persona, John Liu was noticed in the 1976 classic Secret Rivals playing the northern kick stylist out to avenge his parents deaths. Liu was able to showcase his amazing kicking skills particularly in the final fight against another superkicker Hwang Jang Lee aka Silverfox. Liu would return for the sequel a year later.
Liu would go on to appear in many more kung fu films with his axe kick such as Death Duel of Kung fu (1979) and Mars Villa (1979). After retiring from film, Liu relocated to Paris where he was teaching Zen Zwon Do, a martial art form that he created.
Known for his flashy kicking, Tan Tao- Liang, a Korean- born Chinese martial artist is another superkicker in this genre. Tan was born in 1947 in Pusan, Korea. As a youth Tan studied Tae kwon do. Tan would compete in numerous competitions and developed his flashy style of kicking. He developed what he called “the hop kick” by utilizing his left leg and chasing the opponent with his kicks. That would be his signature kick in his films.
In 1973, Tan made his. film debut in The Hero of Chiu Chow. In 1976, “Flash legs” Tan received his breakthrough role when he appeared opposite James Tien and a young Jackie Chan in Hand of Death directed by a young John Woo. The Leg Fighters (1980) is considered one of Tan’s best films. The cast is made up of a bunch of kickers with Tan being the vet of the bunch.
Tan retired from films in 1984. Tan relocated to Monterey Park, California where he would open a Tae kwon do school and changed his name to Delon Tan.
The man who defined the art of kicking nicknamed Silverfox as well as Thunder leg or Thunder foot is none other than Hwang Jang Lee. Hwang was born in 1944 to Korean parents in Aomori, Honshu Island, Japan. His family moved back to Korea when he was a baby. Against his parents wishes, Hwang began studying Tae kwon do at age 14.
Later he joined the Korean Army, where he became a Tae kwon do instructor. During this time Hwang defended himself against a Vietnamese knife expert and killed him with a round house kick to the temple. In 1975, impressed by Hwang’s kicking abilities, producer Ng See Yuen casted Hwang as the treacherous Silver Fox in the Secret Rivals. Hwang fought against Wang Tao who played the southern fist counterpart and another superkicker, John Liu as the northern kick counterpart. The film was a hit and Hwang returned for the sequel as the twin brother of the original film’s villain. Hwang would go on to appear in many Hong Kong films as the villain.
Hwang is perhaps best known as Sheng Kuan and Thunder leg in two breakthrough films for Jackie Chan Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master released both in 1978. His impeccable kicking skills earned him genuine fame among martial arts aficionados earning him names such as names as “King of the Legfighters”.
In 1996 Hwang retired from films. In January 2003, Hwang was awarded his 9th Dan black belt in Tae kwon do and is now a Grandmaster. In 2010, Hwang gave his most in depth interview to date in the film The Anonymous King.