Old Masters of Classic Kungfu Cinema

The old master role is a staple of the kungfu movie genre.  This wise sensei or sifu embodies the qualities of wisdom, experience and restraint, tempering the young hero’s reckless energy and guiding them in their fight against injustice.

Some of the actors portraying old-school masters were trained only in movie-fu—the art of looking good on camera—but others were accomplished martial artists and opera performers in their own right.  Those in the latter category executed difficult fight choreography with speed and grace; like fine wines, they grow more impressive with age.

Here are some of my favorite old movie masters:

Kwan Tak-Hing Kwan Tak-Hing [IMDB]
During his long and distinguished career, Kwan played the Hung Gar master Wong Fei-Hung in over 70 different films. 

Notable work includes:

Scene from Magnificent Butcher, starring Sammo Hung and Kwan Tak-Hing
Directed by Yuen Woo-Ping

Yuen Wah Yuen Wah [IMDB]
Yuen Wah studied at the same Beijing Opera school that produced stars Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao.  His movies include:

Yasuaki Kurata Yasuaki Kurata [IMDB]
Kurata is often cast as the sympathetic Japanese character in Chinese martial arts films.  He holds black belts in the arts of karate, judo and aikido, and has appeared in:

Legend of a Fighter original trailer
with Yasuaki Kurata, and Leung Kar-Yan as Huo Yuanjia

Who are your favorite old masters?


  1. Thanks for this list! IMDB had jack!

    How about putting together a list of top films?

    Here are a few classics:

    * Clan of the White Lotus
    * Fearless Hyena
    * Five Deadly Venoms
    * Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow
    * A Touch of Zen
    * Master Killer (The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin)
    * Prodigal Son
    * The Crippled Masters
    * The Legend of the Drunken Master

    I hope your kung-fu is good…

  2. “Touch of Zen” is a terrible translation of the original name which is more like “Gallant Lady”… not to be pedantic, but … well, I guess that is pedantry.

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