When the name Lau Kar Leung is mentioned we, as kung fu film fans, get a vivid picture in our heads and it is usually from one of his movies. Whether it’s the 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Mad Monkey Kung Fu, Martial Club or Eight Diagram Pole Fighter we marvel at the great kung fu and the message the movie conveys. If you are like me, then you also wonder what it would be like to be his student. Master Mark Houghton, a veteran of the Hong Kong film industry, knows intimately what it is like to be the great Grandmaster’s student. A meeting with Grandmaster Lau forever changed his life and his life’s mission. Of course, the road was paved with challenges, roadblocks and bumps but as a dedicated kung fu practitioner hard work and time were two things he had in abundance. Like all good stories they are better told by the participants (and this small portion is a GREAT story). With great honor and pleasure Film Fan Dojo presents a small interview with Master Mark Houghton, disciple of Grandmaster Lau Kar Leung.
*all photos are the property of Master Mark Houghton and are used with his permission
Q: Mark Houghton Sifu, what led you to the study of martial arts?
A: Like most people I was amazed at martial arts and the thought how you could defend yourself so at the age of 14 I took up Judo and Karate. It was a little later I got to see my first Bruce Lee movie and liked Chinese Martial Arts.
Q: What kung fu movies influenced your early study of the martial arts?
A: At first it was Bruce Lee movies that influenced me this was until I saw Shaw Brothers movies made by Lau Kar Leung, he then became my Hero over Bruce Lee. I will always respect Bruce Lee has he is the one who really showed the West Chinese Martial Arts, but the way Lau Kar Leung portrayed Chinese Martial Arts and Chinese Culture on screen was second to none.
Q: What led to the decision to move to Hong Kong?
A: It was 1988 and I had a chance to meet my hero Lau Kar Leung in person I flew to Hong Kong and met him in the offices of Cinema City in Prince Edward, Kowloon. I thought I would take some photos with him and put in my Kung fu school in the UK, however when we met he asked me why I learnt Kung fu.
I told him because I saw a Bruce Lee movie I liked Chinese Kung Fu but it was not until I saw his movie I fell in love with Chinese Kung Fu and he was my hero and that I learnt Hung Gar because of him.
He then asked me to demonstrate some Hung Gar, I demonstrated what I knew and he was impressed but what was really funny after he said that he got up and walked out of the office leaving me alone. Seconds later he returned and ask why I was not following him and that he was treating me to dinner, while at dinner he told me he was getting ready to make a new film “Aces Go Places part 5” and asked if I was interested in being in the film.
Wow! A chance to work with my hero! The answer was of course…YES!!
I thought that after that movie I would return back to the UK to teach as I had a full time Kung Fu school in Birmingham at that time.
Half way into filming Lau Kar Leung asked me what I had planned after the movie had finished, I told him go back to the UK. He then advised me to think about staying in HK and working in the film industry and with him. It took me seconds to decide. I picked up a phone and called back to the UK telling them to close my school I was never coming back.
Q: What was his reaction to you, a Westerner, wanting to study Kung Fu with him?
A: Lau Kar Leung only saw my heart which was the love and dedication to Hung Gar and Chinese Kung Fu so he enjoyed teaching me more and showing me traditional Chinese Kung Fu which a big part is Mo Duc (武德) or Martial Virtue and of course movie fighting and how to adapt the Kung Fu for screen. He always said that now days the Chinese had no love for Kung fu or tradition and that in 20 or 30 years time Chinese would have to go the Westerners to learn their own art.
Q: Can you describe the training you received under Grandmaster Lau Kar Leung?
A: At first it was more of how to adapt your Kung fu for movies and most important reactions, it did not matter how good you were but how your reactions could make the stars look good. So, my first training with him was on set in between filming he would call me over and teach me something new then ask me to go away and perfect it.
It was not until we filmed Drunken Master part 2 in Shanghai that he took me as his real disciple in which I did the Bai See ceremony with him, once we finished filming we came back to Hong Kong and he arranged for me to do another Bai See to his wife.
Later he would then talk to me about Hung Gar ask me to perform Tiger and Crane then he would change parts of the form tell me how to perfect it and apply it.
He never taught me like you would teach a beginner, he said my Kung fu was already a high level so he expected me to learn at that level.
He would demonstrate a sequence of moves about 3 times and ask me to watch, once finished he would talk about a good Kung fu fighter needs to have a fast mind and sharp eyes and that’s what separates a master from a student.
He would then ask me to perform what he had just done, I was always able to remember 97% of the time and he would smile and say “now go and perfect it.”
When I opened my Kung fu school in Fanling in 2005 he gave me the school name which was “Ling Lam Wong Fei Hung Hung Kuen Descendants Association Lau Kwoon.”
He would sometime come there to teach me and other times he would ask me to go to the clubhouse where he lived to teach me.
Q: You have appeared in over 40 Hong Kong films. What was the atmosphere like for Westerners in Hong Kong film during this time?
A: Actually, I have done over 60 movies at the beginning many did not give me a credit, a lot of the people working in these movies did not respect the Western fighters, we were treated lower than extras. But the money was good and we slowly earned the respect from everyone but it was hard and sometimes frustrating the way we were treated. But for me it was a little easier because of the relationship I had with Lau Kar Leung and I also knew some very influential people in the industry that looked after me.
Q: Did Grandmaster Lau offer any advice to you in regards to your Hong Kong film career?
A: He was always teaching me to perfect my reactions which is the most important thing in movie fighting, a real fighter learns to hide his emotions and not let people know when he is hurt. But for movie you have to show pain and your movements had to be bigger for the camera to pick up clearly.
He always said when making Action movies you have to think of 3 things:
First was “Look”
Could the stars act with your eyes and that they were not ugly.
Second was “Action”
Could they fight and most important could they do reactions?
Third was “facial reactions”
Could they act and express themselves?
This is what he looked for in every star or action actor.
Q: You retired from Hong Kong films in 2000. Did you immediately go back to teaching Hung Gar?
A: I retired because of injuries, mostly because of the stunts that I was doing and on top of that the extreme training. So, I took some time off and went into scuba diving. I stayed on a small island in Malaysia called Mabul next to Sipadan a very famous dive destination and worked there for a few years teaching Tech Diving. Later I returned to Hong Kong and opened a Kung fu school in Fanling and started teaching again, the school name was given by my Sifu Lau Kar Leung and I still use it today in the Foshan China school.
Q: Grandmaster Lau Kar Leung asked you to teach his system and spread it in 2005. What was your initial reaction?
A: Before the opening of the school in Fanling I saw my Sifu and asked him why he never taught openly or opened a school. To me his Hung Gar was the best in the world. His reply was this:
“First if people want to think my Hung Gar is the best that’s up to them but myself I WOULD NEVER MAKE THAT STATEMENT MY KUNG FU IS FOR MYSELF NOT TO SHOW OFF TO OTHERS. I love Kung fu and want to share with the world and I can do that with the help of film, I can show people what is real Chinese Martial Arts and culture and what is martial virtue. People get the wrong idea about Kung fu; it is more than just a means to fight it teaches so much more; it’s not about violence and in my films it’s not about killing but at the end forgiveness. If I make a good film millions around the world will watch it and then want to learn Chinese Kung Fu. I can influence so many, but if I open a school how many can I teach a few hundred or a thousand? Also I am a very famous Director Actor and Martial Arts Director do you know how much I get paid per film? How would I charge to take students? If I charge on the basis of my movies no one could afford my price! if I charge the same as the other Sifu’s out there I have no face so I only teach selected people and money does not come into it.” He then said why don’t you teach again? You could open a school and teach in my name. I found a place in Fanling and along with my student Wayne Husbands from the UK who was staying in Hong Kong with me, we built a bamboo school together. This school my Sifu named for me, but my injuries slowly got worse and I had to have both my hips replaced and my knee so I closed the school and went back to Scuba Diving.
Q: Unfortunately, we lost Grandmaster Lau Kar Leung in 2013. How would you like your teacher to be remembered by his fans and kung fu enthusiasts?
A: At this time I really had given up on Kung Fu I put it right out of my head, but on the 8th March 2013 my Sifu called me and asked me to go to the club house where he lived for lunch. He wanted to buy me noodles to eat for my Birthday as noodle represent long life. When I saw him he was so thin, my eyes filled with water, he just slapped my on the shoulder and wished me a happy birthday.
During lunch he told me how much pain he was in and that if he died the next day he would be happy. He then asked me to promise him two things, of course I said yes, anything he wanted. He then made me promise two things: the first was to go back to the film industry work behind the camera as a fight coordinator, director or producer and to keep his film action going. The second was to teach Hung Gar again. I made those two promises to him. He then told me he has no more power, his Kung fu had gone and his time was short.
My response was NO Sifu you are going to live till 90 something, he laughed and slapped me again on the shoulder and knocked me off the chair and sent me crashing to the floor. I looked up and smiled and said Sifu I thought you said you had no power, he laughed. That was the last time I saw him alive. 3 months later on the 25th of June 2013 he passed and that was one of the hardest times in my life. I want his fans around the world to keep watching his movies and keep his memory alive inside their hearts in that way he will live forever never to be forgotten.
Q: The short documentary “The Hands of Lau” was produced in 2014. Do you have any current projects in production?
A: In with keeping my promise with did a production called “Hands of Lau.” This was me teaching a new group of young martial artist to become the next generation Lau family stuntmen. Our aim was to use this to get funding for another project I don’t want to go into detail because the talks are still ongoing and I don’t want anyone to steal my idea and film it first.
After we finished Hands of Lau I met a business man in China who funded a documentary about me called “I am the White Tiger.” So far this documentary has won 23 Awards. The same business man also helped me keep my second promise and helped me open the new Lau Family Kung Fu School in Foshan China, the home of Wong Fei Hung. I now have another 4 projects I want to do before I will produce my Sifu’s last script he wrote, but I have to wait until I can be sure of making it a success. I don’t want to hurt my Sifu’s name so there is a lot of pressure so I am not in a hurry to make it. I need to work on other projects first and find a team that respects him and wants the best for his last script.
Q: When will “I am the White Tiger” be available for purchase?
A: My documentary “I am the White Tiger” will be released early 2019 we have just signed a distribution contract.
Q: Sifu, your daughter Charlene Houghton is active in the Hong Kong film industry. What project or projects does she have happening now?
A: Yes my daughter Charlene has been working in both Hands of Lau and I am the White Tiger, she has also worked on Kung Fu Quest and on TV has a children’s presenter. She wants to be an action actor and is doing well. She just starred in her first leading role in China in a movie called “Dragon Gate.”
The company who filmed this are now writing the script for part 2 and want her to star in that too. The projects I want to do will also have her in the lead female role I want to help her follow her dreams and reach the stars.
Q: Grandmaster Lau’s daughter Jeanne Lau is a Hung Gar practitioner as well. Are there any plans for Sifu Charlene and Miss Jeanne to star in a film together?
A: My Sifu’s daughter Jeanne Lau is now in LA working on movies there. She studied acting in New York and worked on Broadway for a while. I would love for them both to work together in a movie, I am thinking of a female cop film to be made in China.
Q: Sifu, if someone is interested in studying Hung Gar with you how would they contact you?
A: I have a website www.laufamily.hk they can go to this or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Thank you Master Mark Houghton for taking the time to talk with us! We wish you the best in your health, current and future projects!
A: Thank you so much for taking the interest and wanting to know more about me.
Film Fan Dojo wishes to thank Master Mark Houghton for taking the time to talk with us! We are very moved by his respect and devotion to his Master, Lau Family Hung Gar and martial arts cinema. We hope to talk with him again soon!