Tang Tao-Liang

A martial arts performer, gifted with spectacular and superlative kicking abilities, and certainly one of the greatest to this day, is Tang Tao Liang. Throughout the seventies astonished the viewers, with his amazing dexterity, power and versatility of his kicking techniques, while most of the time he didn't make any use of his hands at all.

Tang was born in Korea from Chinese parents who had immigrated there to escape the trouble of their war-torn native land during the Japanese invasion of the thirties and forties. At the age of seven he began training in the country’s national martial art of Taekwondo and eventually he would become one of the great world masters of this art.

During his competitive days, he developed his trademark prodigious leg dexterity as well as his “hopping” manoeuvre, a spectacular move where he would hop towards an opponent in between powerful kicking strikes up in the air. Eventually Tang became a great champion, winning countless national tournament events consecutively.

Besides Taekwondo, Tang was also taught a peculiar brand of martial art called Gecko, not a fighting art but a climbing technique to scale walls using both legs which would be featured later in some of his films.

In 1971, Bruce Lee with his Hong Kong martial film debut, The Big Boss had revealed the stunning screen power of the Taekwondo like kicks. This led to a search by movie producers for equally proficient “leg-fighters” with Tang becoming one of the first if not the first outright of such a new kind of martial screen performer. His debut was with the hero of Chiu Chow on January 1973.

For the next couple of years Tang would make occasional appearances in kung fu movies including: Tornado of Pearl river (1974), Dynasty (1975), and Young hero of Shaolin. In 1975 however, Golden Harvest, the studio that had “discovered” Bruce Lee at the dawn of the seventies, hired Tang. He made two movies for them: Hand of death, whose aim seemed to be to make a big league martial star out of Tang, but is now a film more famous for the uniqueness of bringing together John Woo, Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung than for it’s involvement with Tang. Then the same year he did The Himalayan, co-starring Harvest female martial star Angela Mao, which is considered to have one of his finest fighting displays.

Disappointed by the films unsatisfactory box-office results, Golden Harvest did not retain Tang’s services for any more movies. However the films were good enough to make Tang one of the lead players in the low budget independent martial art movie market.

For the next five years Tang appeared in nearly 30 or so low-budget kung fu movies, many of which would become appreciated as cult favourites such as The hot the cool and the vicious (76) pairing him with southern stylist Don Wong. Other names he was occasionally paired with were: Lo Lieh, Meng Fei, Angela Mao and even Jim Kelly for the Tattoo dragon (78).

One of the highlights of his career was with The legs fighter, where besides his usual kicking feats he also played a stern no-nonsense teacher to his mischievous undisciplined co-star the wonderfully leggy and flexible Hsia Kwan Lee. Another fateful encounter was in Sea dragon goddess starring kung fu female wonder Polly Shangkwan Ling-feng where he played the typical white haired villain, the same sort he had fought himself as the hero in many previous movies.

In between films Tang Tao Liang spent time teaching. One of his students John Liu followed in his master’s footsteps and he too became a favourite “bootmaster” performer in such kung fu films as Secret rivals (76) and The snuff bottle connection (77). He also came up with his own kicking techniques, which he named “Zen Kwan-do”. Another of Tang?s students was Yuen Biao.

As martial art cinema was declining at the dawn of the eighties, Tang left movies, his last appearance being in Godfather of fury (82). Since then he has relocated to California and opened his own school.