Philip Ko in 2003’s To Catch Thieves

If you have seen and are a fan of the classic kung fu era, chances are you saw Philip Ko, who was known for usually playing villains in the genre with the occasional hero film. Sad news has arrived today that Ko passed away at the age of 67 from a terminal illness.

The news was announced from former Hong Kong film star and current martial arts instructor Mark Houghton, a longtime friend of Ko’s.

Philip Ko Fei was born on June 19, 1949 in Hong Kong. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Mainland China and studied Choy Li Fut Kung Fu as a kid. He would go on to attend the University of China but would return to Hong Kong to spend his final years of university there.  It was during his time as a waiter that he met a friend who worked at Shaw Brothers.

In 1970, Ko joined the Shaw Brothers and made his film debut as a stuntman in The Heroic Ones. He would work as both a stuntman and bit part actor in many of Shaw Brothers’ early martial arts action films as well as other films, including a small role in Enter the Dragon. He would work for other film companies to play more supporting roles, including Seasonal Films’ The Secret Rivals Part II and Lai Wah’s The Invincible Armour.

Alex Gouw‘s Goldig Films gave Ko the chance to shine as both the hero and the villain. In the former, he would take on the superkicking Hwang Jung-Lee in Tiger Over Wall, considered by fans to be one of the best kung fu film fights of the late 70s while the latter saw him play a Japanese karate expert whose attempt to show the superiority of karate over kung fu caused the defeated masters to train a retired fighter their moves to face Ko in Duel of the Seven Tigers.

Ko would continue well into transitioning from the classic kung fu era to the modern day martial arts action film, where he can be seen taking on the likes of Jackie Chan, On the Run, and many of Joseph Lai‘s IFD Films and Arts’ “cut-and-paste” Ninja epics, in which Ko would at times not only appear as an evil ninja, but also serve as action director.

In the mid-1990’s, Ko relocated to the Philippines where he continued to make Hong Kong films, including those starring his ex-wife, Japanese action starlet Yukari Oshima. Ko had become a “jack-of-all-trades” in the action film industry and will be missed by many of his colleagues as well as his fans, who have loved his work over the years.

As a final tribute to this kung fu legend, we present the final fight from the 1979 Goldig Films Tiger Over Wall, where Ko takes on legendary superkicker Hwang Jung-Lee in an amazing fight scene, courtesy of YouTube user Guts Uppercut

Rest in Peace, Philip Ko Fei