In addition to appearing in three Bruce Lee classics, Tony Liu portrayed in four films a Chinese emperor who had a great impact on the way the martial arts evolved in China and around the world.
This blog post will test your knowledge of kung fu films, challenge your understanding of who’s had the greatest impact on the development of Chinese martial arts movies and maybe even cause you to examine your kung fu film “nerd quotient.” My first question is, What ever happened to Tony? Tony the Tiger? No, but he was g-r-reat! Tony Jaa? Too much of a suit-and-Thai guy to be linked to Chinese cinema. How about To Ni? Nah, he was a background actor often seen in old films but rarely credited. My question refers to the first actor to bear the brunt of Bruce Lee's iconic death blow: Tony Liu, aka Liu Yong.
Tony Liu in Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung, Courtesy of Celestial PicturesTony Liu co-starred in three Bruce Lee films, all of which scored big at the box office. In Enter the Dragon (1973), Liu wore a yellow gi and fought John Saxon in Han's martial arts tournament. In Return of the Dragon (1972), Liu played Tony, one of the Chinese waiters at the restaurant Bruce Lee was protecting from the Mafia. Liu’s most famous character — at least, in the minds of many Americans — was the son of the big boss in The Big Boss, aka Fists of Fury (1971).
Now available! “Bruce Lee Quotes on Philosophy: An Excerpt From the NEW Bruce Lee Biography and Your Guide to Four More Bruce Lee Books!” Click here to access this free download.That Tony Liu–Bruce Lee scene in The Big Boss turned out to be a defining moment in Lee's career. It unfolded as follows: It's nighttime at the ice factory, and Tony Liu and Bruce Lee are going at it. Liu lunges in with a desperate punch, but Lee blocks the blow — and then it happens. Lee unleashes a gut punch in what will become one of his signature moments. For the next 15 seconds, we see Lee's muscles tense as his outstretched arm is frozen in fury. Then he turns to the camera, his snarling lips and eye-growling face reflecting nothing but anger and the desire for revenge.
Bruce Lee in The Big BossAfter a run of look-how-handsome-he-is movies, Tony Liu signed with Shaw Brothers in 1975. The following year, he was selected to portray a real person, one who arguably had the greatest impact on the development of Chinese martial arts. Was that Ta Mo (Bodhidharma), Zhang San-Feng, Ip Man, Huo Yuan-Jia or even Bruce Lee? Nope. It was Emperor Chien Lung (1711-1799). Four films on the life and times of Chien Lung have been made, and Tony Liu played him in each one. They are Emperor Chien Lung (1976), The Adventures of Emperor Chien Lung (1977), Voyage of Emperor Chien Lung (1978) and Emperor Chien Lung and the Beauty (1980).
Emperor Chien LungEmperor Chien Lung’s contribution to martial arts filmdom is enormous though inadvertent. Recognizing that what his father had done to Shaolin Temple was tragic and wrong, he took it upon himself to rebuild the monastery and revitalize the Shaolin martial arts. He also commissioned the creation of Beijing opera schools, which became the training ground for Hong Kong's stunt performers. That group, of course, includes the likes of Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Ching Siu-tung. Back to Tony Liu: He’s now 63 years old and still living in Hong Kong. His career has spanned 45 years and 75 films, and it’s not over. For that, Mr. Liu deserves, ahem, a Tony Award. BRUCE LEE is a registered trademark of Bruce Lee Enterprises LLC. The Bruce Lee name, image and likeness are intellectual property of Bruce Lee Enterprises LLC. Go here to order Dr. Craig D. Reid’s book The Ultimate Guide to Martial Arts Movies of the 1970s: 500+ Films Loaded With Action, Weapons and Warriors.