WTF ASIA 260: Once Upon a Time in China (1991)

Jet Li turns 60-years-old in a couple of weeks. So, here is Once Upon a Time in China.

Available in Francethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdom, and perhaps a few other countries…wait…NOT the United States? His 60th birthday is on the 26th of April. What is this nonsense? Approximately 135 minutes.




Liu Yongfu, commander of the Black Flag Army, is holding a lion dance on his ship, and he has invited his army’s chief trainer Wong Fei-hung on board to watch. The ceremony involves lighting firecrackers, which some troops on a nearby French ship take for being gunfire…aimed at them. So, they shoot at Liu’s ship, causing the lion dancers to fall and let go of the lion head. Wong Fei-hung leaps into action and…rescues the lion head. As the French soldiers realize that they were not being attacked and return to their business without apologizing, Wong Fei-hung resumes the lion dance with one of the dancers.

Liu comments to Fei-hung that there are even more foreign ships on their shores. Britain has taken Hong Kong. Portugal has taken Macau. Russia has taken Heilongjiang. And now Liu is being sent to Vietnam…to fight the French…even though they are here as well and just fired upon his ship. But, you know what, the director was born in Vietnam, so to Vietnam Liu goes. He wonders if the placard on his boat that says “our land and our people” will upset the Vietnamese, and orders his men to take it down. Oh, right. Sure, Vietnamese rulers have asked him to come fight their battles, but I am pretty sure that the Vietnamese have made it perfectly clear what they think about Chinese rule.

Fei-hung thinks that the government may change and order him back soon. Liu says that the government is factionalized, and has split his forces. He worries that the men who remain in China will be dismissed. He asks Fei-hung to organize the men into a local militia, so that they can defend the territory from any foreign attack. Liu gives Fei-hung a fan, with writing on it referring to the unequal treaties that the foreign powers have imposed upon China. He says that he hopes that the treaties will be erased upon his return.

And…erm…that is the last time that we see Liu Yongfu…and the French troops. But here is the militia training. 

Welcome to Foshan. Lots of foreigners there, including these Jesuits belting out Hallelujah in the streets. It is not exactly a monk chant, more like an attempt to drown out the local music by just shouting.

Fei-hung goes to see his Grand-uncle at a tea house. I guess that he has returned from England. And who is there with him? Yee Siu-kwan, Fei-hung’s 13th aunt. In a Western dress. Anyways…Siu-kwan hold out her hand, which confuses Fei-hung until she explains that that is how Westerners greet each other. Speaking of Westerners, Siu-kwan has brought her White friend Johanna. Fei-hung doesn’t…quite get how to greet her, but he gets close enough.

Grand-uncle wants to get his picture taken with Fei-hung. He is okay with that. So, Siu-kwan and a kid takes work the camera and…erm…the flash sets bird on fire. Too much powder in the flash? Well, Fei-hung is not particularly impressed by this technology, more like worried. Anyways, Grand-uncle tells Fei-hung that he is returning to England soon without Siu-kwan, and he asks Fei-hung to look after her for him.

A man Leung Foon arrives at Fei-hung’s pharmacy/training center, Po-chi-lam. He is looking for Master Wong, hoping to become a martial arts disciple. Instead, he finds Fei-hung’s disciple Bucktooth So, a bespectacled man with a severe stutter. It is so severe that, when Foon starts to assume that So is Master Wong, So is unable to articulate a simple denial. Anyways, Foon mentions that he had practiced Kung Fu with his cow and injured his arm. So, So wraps up his arm…and his leg. Okay…Foon asks “Master Wong” to teach him Kung Fu. When So says no, Foon assumes that it is because “Master Wong” thinks that he is not good enough, and tries to show what he can do even with the plaster. It is not until another disciple named Kai comes and reveals So’s identity that Foon realizes what is going on. So grins and calls him stupid. Well, screw it. Foon rushes back to the theater.

Foon has come to Foshan to act in the theater, but the owner has him fixing the roof. I am not sure if he is doing a good job, but he manages to fall off of the roof and land on Siu-kwan’s camera. At least they get a good look at each other before the bucket full of whatever Foon was using to fix the roof falls on his head and the substance in the bucket falls on hers.

Foon is changing into his theater clothes when he hears that the owner has been cleaning Siu-kwan’s clothes and that she has been washing up nearby. The owner is not particularly pleased by a Chinese person pretending to be a foreigner, but he makes nice because she looks rich and she was the victim in this scenario. Foon gets creepy peepy on Siu-kwan in her underclothes. She catches him…and he is naked.

This movie is 135 minutes long, folks.

It is raining when Siu-kwan leaves the theater, so Foon runs after her in an attempt to give her an umbrella…only to see that she has one attached to the bicycle that she is riding. Well, whatever. Bye-bye, Johanna. But then Foon sees a man breaking a pair of spears with…his chin? Audience members toss coins at his feet. Foon walks past the man as he bends down to pick up the coins. They look at each other with ambiguous ambivalence.

A group of Chinese men are moving stuff off of a foreign ship…or onto a foreign ship. And this troop shoots at one of them for something or other.

“Porky” Wing, a disciple of Master Wong, arrives at Po-chi-lam with a cart of dead pigs, he bursts inside for…no reason. Fei-hung is busy treating the injuries of the man who got shot. So is helping out, but Wing snatches the bottles of medicine that So was carrying to Fei-hung and insults So for being unable to speak Chinese. Fei-hung asks Wing for the Magic Healer. Wing looks at the bottles and…well, he cannot read. Fei-hung scolds Wing for mocking So’s grasp of Chinese when he himself cannot read Chinese. Meanwhile, So learned medicine in America, and is much more useful to Fei-hung at this moment than Wing is with his clumsiness.

Fei-hung says that there are so many foreign ships in the harbor. This man accidentally boarded the wrong one and got shot. Wing gets furious. Will the Chinese survive? The Manchurians took over their land and are now selling out the country to the foreigners. He grabs a trident and calls for action. So dumps water on Wing and tells him to calm down. He doesn’t…until Fei-hung tells him to stay out of this. Fei-hung says that he himself must work this out with the authorities.

Sidenote: I may have mentioned this in a previous write-up, but my father grew up in Hong Kong in the 1950s and…well…he said that everyone hated the Indians and South Asians. Thought that they were smelly lackeys of the British…other xenophobic things. I mean, he knows that that was wrong NOW, but…

ANYWAYS, Fei-hung, So, and Kai, goes to a restaurant in the forbidden area, where Chinese are not allowed without permission. So, with a grasp of English that Fei-hung will never achieve, explains to the host that they are here to meet Mr. Jackson of the Sino-Pacific Corporation and General Wickens of the British Forces. Fei-hung is impressed at So’s fluency and Kai is shocked that So does not stutter when speaking ludicrously proper English. B-dm-psh.

Foon returns to the theater in hopes of acting. But the owner tells him to just collect tickets, as everyone else has left to mine gold in America. He says that he would go too had he not had to run the theater.

The owner notices a group of men coming their way. He tells Foon that they are here for protection money. Foon thought that he paid; he did, but these men are from Shaho. Well, Foon reasons, they are outside of their territory and not owed money. Well, the owner figures that Foon can say that to their faces, as he locks the gate, leaving Foon to show off his Kung Fu.

Foon tries to climb the fence to escape, but he gets pulled down. Hung, the leader of the gang (or is his name Tong?) says that they heard that Foon wants to show off his Kung Fu…and threatens to chop off one of his hands. Foon tries to fight his way out and escape…but there are a lot of those guys.

Foon tries to run into the teashop, but the men there notice that he is fleeing a fight and force him out in order to prevent the fight spill in there. However, Wing is nearby, and he calls the nearby militia members to protect whom he sees as an innocent man targeted by gangsters. Hung says that he will back off out of respect for Master Wong, but he will come back for Foon’s hand.

Foon takes Shaho’s backing off as a sign that he fears Wong and his disciples. Perhaps rightly. In lieu of a hand, Foon throws a pig leg at the Shaho leader. Well, Hung doesn’t want to look like a punk in front of his men. So, it is fighting time. And it is mayhem. Foon actually does manage to hold his own against the leader. While some properties get wrecked, people not affected sit around to watch the show, sometime adding a little to the chaos just for fun.

Fei-hung’s meeting with the Whites is almost over. The governor of Foshan has called the Whites very generous for refraining to press charges…for…what? For accidentally getting on the wrong ship and getting shot? Fei-hung claims that the people are outraged, but the Governor retorts that Fei-hung is merely a civilian with no authority, only the means of upsetting the peace. Fei-hung argues that deferring to the West will destroy the Chinese people’s ability to do anything. The Governor brings up Fei-hung’s friendship with Liu of the Black Flag Army…or Lau? Anyways, he claims that the Black Flag Army stopped following orders from the Central Government. The Governor says that he has been tasked with keeping an eye on Fei-hung himself, to make sure that he does not cause any mischief.

And with expert timing, the street brawl spills into the forbidden area and bursts into the restaurant. Fei-hung tries to break up the brawl as best he can…through physically subduing everyone. That includes fighting Foon, whom he does not recognize. Jackson and Wickham are furious at this violation of the forbidden area. Mr. Jackson’s sidekick Tiger even engage in some combat with Fei-hung and Kai before leaving.  

The Governor brings in troops and tells them to shoot anyone who resists. The Shaho gang flees, so only Fei-hong and the militia remain. Either misinterpreting Fei-hung’s actions, holding him responsible for his subordinates, or just seeing an opportunity to get rid of Fei-hung, the Governor blames him for the violence and destruction. He orders Fei-hung to pay for the damages and declares that the local militia (full of military rejects) is now under the government. Militia members are to report to City Hall or get arrested. Without time to learn what the brawl was actually about, Fei-hung is unable to defend himself or the militia.

At dinner, Kai says that he had heard that the Shaho Gang had started the fight. Are the gangsters being told to report to City Hall? Will militia members be detained even if they do report to City Hall? Fei-hung tells them to trust in City Hall. And if this is their last meal together, then it will be their last meals together. He tells them to eat, but none of them seem to be in the mood. At Siu-kwan’s whispering suggestion, Fei-hung orders them to eat.

Fei-hung is reading the unequal treaties on Liu’s fan when Siu-kwan comes in. She wants to take his measurement for a Western Suit for if he goes abroad. In the middle of the night? Well, I guess that he is busy during the day. Fei-hung asks her if the West is so wonderful. Why should they learn from the West? Siu-kwan says that the West is scientifically and technologically superior. If the Chinese do not learn from the West, then they will get left behind. Fei-hung asks her to tell him about the greatness of the West when she gets the chance. As she is taking his measurements, she…erm…looks at their shadows on the wall and mimes stroking his head…?

Seemingly not noticing 13th Aunt being a weird, Fei-hung asks her why she returned to China if the West is so great. She says that her heart was still in China during the two years that she was away, that there were people here that she wanted to see. She says that Fei-hung was in her thoughts all of the time. He says that that is swee-uh oh, he just noticed her being weird with the shadows. Whoa whoa whoa. Siu-kwan reminds Fei-hung that they are related by name, not blood. Apparently, his grandfather was a “sworn brother” of her father. Siu-kwan and Fei-hung were raised together, so she asks him to stop calling her 13th Aunt. Fei-hung is confused. She is his senior, and it is custom to call their seniors by their relational position. I dunno; I would feel weird if my younger brother kept calling me older brother or any variant of that. Well, Fei-hung has had enough; Chinese people should not wear Western suits. Western is Western and Chinese is Chinese. Siu-kwan disagrees. The train and the telegram will arrive soon. The “Westernizing Movement” cannot simply be kept away. China will change. Fei-hung acknowledges that, while opening the fan. The Western ships and guns are changing China. But what will China change into? He says that he will wear a Western suit when all Chinese wear Western suits.

The Shaho Gang struts down the street, shoving the Jesuits to the side. They go into the tea shop to shake down the owner, implying that they had killed the other guy who had been shaking him down. Hung decides to take the entire money box.

Unbeknownst to Hung, Wong Fei-hung is also in the tea shop, with a snazzy pair of sunglasses, a cute hat, and an umbrella. An umbrella that he uses to hit Hung, snatch the money box, and hit Hung again. He scolds Hung for taking advantage of people during difficult times. Noting that they are members of the Shaho Gang, Fei-hung demands that they accompany him to City Hall.

Of course, that does not happen. Instead, this happens. A lot of this.

Hung tries to run away like a coward, but Fei-hung catches up to Hung, subdues him rather easily, and humiliates him. The crowd is impressed and grateful that such a horrid gangster is getting his…until Fei-hung asks for a witness to accompany them to City Hall. Everyone turns and walks away, as if nothing had happened. Not wanting to live his life in fear like the theater owner, the tea shop owner even claims that he saw no fight, only people practicing Kung Fu. Well, at least Fei-hung would not face charges for that, right?

That evening, Fei-hung watches a Chinese huckster scamming a bunch of poor saps into buying their way to the Gold Mountain of America. He is about to leave when the head priest approaches him, giving him some Jesuit literature and speaking to him in Chinese. Fei-hung asks if he is also promoting America. He dismisses the huckster’s appeal to greed and says that only Jesus is the truth. Fei-hung tells the priest that he had arrested a criminal today. The priest probably knows that, as he was outside of the tea shop when it happened. Fei-hung asks if Jesus will be his witness. The priest hesitates, and Fei-hung walks away.

If Hung really did get arrested, then it didn’t stick, since here he is with some gang members getting ready to raid someone. The priest sees them as he walks down the street and even sees Hung’s face, but continues walking.

Back at Po-chi-lam, Fei-hong tells Siu-kwan and the disciples that the militia members are all detained and will remain so until a witness can come forward to vouch for them. A witness who is not their master. The governor even released Hung. Wing asks if Foon could act as a witness. Foon? The guy who attacked Fei-hung in the restaurant? The guy at the center of all of this? Fei-hung accuses Wing of hiding something.

Wing tries to explain himself when So notices smoke at the entrance. He goes to check when OH SHIT!

Fire arrows come flying over the rooftop, trapping So at the entrance. Fei-hung goes to rescue So, telling Wing to get the water pots. Wing…is so clumsy that he breaks two pots before they get anywhere close to the flames.

Fei-hung chases away the gang, but Po-chi-lam is still on fire. Siu-kwan grabs the fan, but drops it when So tells her to grab the camera. She tries to take a photograph of the place…for…posterity? For evidence? Wouldn’t taking a picture just add more to the fire?

Fei-hung finds the fan in the wreckage the next morning. Siu-kwan tells him that she thought that she had the fan, but was taking pictures of Po-chi-lam. This turns out to be the exact wrong thing for her to have said. Fei-hung says that she is like a trivia-obsessed foreign hag, and threatens to throw the camera away if she brings it around again.

Oh, here comes the Governor to act as a dick. He accuses Fei-hung and his martial arts school to be nothing more than triad gangsters, with this arson being part of a gang war that Fei-hung’s gang provoked. Fei-hung warns that outlawing martial arts will leave the Chinese people defenseless. The Governor mocks him, saying that he could not defend his own school building. Fei-hung demands that the Governor investigate the fire. The Governor asks him who did it. Fei-hung doesn’t know. The Governor accuses the man whose property was destroyed of hiding something. This guy is the worst. Wing shows himself to be the second worst by almost provoking a fight until Fei-hung stops him.

The Jesuit priest arrives and asks to come in. Wing almost attacks this elderly man in front of the governor and Fei-hung has to threaten to kick him out of the school to get him to stop. Damnit, Wing. The Governor smugly assumes that the priest has come to provide some evidence against Master Wong. Wrong. The priest tells Fei-hung that he knows who set fire to Po-chi-lam and offers to be his witness. Well, well, well. Now that a White man is siding with Master Wong, perhaps the Governor will be forced to actually do some good.

Indeed, the government troops search all day for members of the Shaho gang. I don’t know if they do a particularly good job, as these five manage to stay hidden as the troops walk past them. Hung suspects that that priest bore witness against them. Good reasoning. He did see the priest see him before the attack. And why else would City Hall give a crap about Wong Fei-hung’s burned out school? One mook asks if they should flee back to Shaho. Hung has a better idea. They may fear City Hall, but City Hall fears the foreigners. So, they should ally with an influential foreigner.

Oh, well, sure. Is this why the movie is not legally streaming in the United States?




First off, this movie is a classic. One could go into details as to why it is, but it is. 

The English title of this movie is, obviously, Once Upon a Time in China. It was most likely titled that to remind English-language audiences of movies like Once Upon a Time in the West. The actual title is Wong Fei-hung. And that is because Wong Fei-hung is a folk hero to China’s South. His name alone would bring in audiences. Wong was born in…maybe 1847 and died in 1925. Like his father, he was both a martial arts teacher and a physician. He started a martial arts school in the 1860s. While his students were initially metal laborers and street vendors, it is said that Liu Yongfu of the Black Flag Army had recruited him to be the medical officer and martial arts instructor for the regular soldiers and the local militia. And a bunch of other things.

There have been…well over a hundred films made about Wong Fei-hung. The vast majority of them starred Kwan Tak-hing, who played him between 1949…let’s say 1981. Kwan was around 44 when that first movie came out, so others stepped in to cover his younger years. Jackie Chan, for example, played Wong Fei-hung in 1978’s Drunken Master when he was around 23 or 24. And 1993’s Iron Monkey featured a 15-year-old…Angie Tsang as a very young Wong Fei-hung. Perhaps Bruce Lee would have played Wong Fei-hung at some point had he lived longer. So, Hong Kong audiences were quite familiar with the character of Wong Fei-hung during this time. Then what made this movie stand out?

Erm…I dunno.

I think that I say this pretty much every time I feature a martial arts movie here that I am not a martial arts movie buff. So, if someone says that this movie brings in a new style of presenting martial arts through its editing or that the style was accurate to the real-life character…sure, why not? 

Like a lot of Hong Kong movies made in this era, the chaos and the social upheaval seems to represent anxiety over the impending inevitability of change. In just a few years, the United Kingdom would have to hand over Hong Kong back to Mainland China, now under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. Of course, there is a bit of irony in presenting this anxiety in the context of a China under the domination of malicious Europeans and apathetic Manchurians. The story was not even set in Hong Kong, but in Foshan a city about 70 km to the northwest.

Surely a strong Chinese government should do a better job at governing Hong Kong, right? Well, maybe…but Hong Kong had gotten used to British rule for better or worse. Culturally, Hong Kong had developed differently from the Mainland over the decades. As Mandarin had become the mainstream language in the PRC, Hong Kong held onto the local Cantonese language. The Mainlanders who migrated to Hong Kong were testaments to how bad the Mainland was. British rule had its own issues, but things had sort of settled into a status quo that was about to be overturned. Looking to this era of the past was, perhaps, a way to present examples of how to live with honor and carve out one’s identity during a time of chaos. In a way, perhaps it calmed some of the audience’s socio-political anxieties. Thirty years later, director Tsui Hark has been making movies valorizing the Chinese armed forces in their war against America in the Korean peninsula, so that must mean that everything is great.

One person who probably did not have such anxieties was the star of this movie: Jet Li. Though Jet Li had gotten his start in the Hong Kong movie scene a little under ten years earlier with Shaolin Temple, he is actually from Beijing, the heart of the PRC. Could the people of Hong Kong accept this Northerner as a Southern hero? Apparently, yes. Actually, it seems like the complaints were more about his age than his grasp of Cantonese. Despite being older than Jackie Chan was in Drunken Master, I guess that Jet Li’s Wong Fei-hung was meant to be older. Maybe? 

I don’t know if this is 100% true, but I have read that Tsui Hark had tried to get Jackie Chan to play Wong Fei-hung in this movie. He also wanted Sammo Hung to play the character of Wing and Yuen Biao to play Foon, as the two had in 1979’s The Magnificent Butcher, one of Kwan Tak-hing’s movies. Only Yuen Biao showed up, so I guess that Tsui Hark turned to Jet Li, whom he had directed in 1989’s The Master. Sure, Jet Li was almost six years younger than Yuen Biao, about two years younger than Bucktooth So’s Jacky Cheung, seven months younger than 13th Aunt’s Rosamund Kwan, and almost twelve years younger than Wing’s Kent Cheng. Young and Northern. Audiences would just have to accept Jet Li as Master Wong or not. And…I guess that his mastery of the martial arts won over the audiences.

I mentioned that Jet Li may not have experienced the same anxieties as Hong Kongers did regarding the impending handover due to his having been born and raised in the Mainland. Perhaps that is just me pulling stuff out of thin air. Yet, this version of Wong Fei-hung seems to have a centered serenity about him. Sure, he can be uncomfortable around Western things that are alien to him, he is not above a little playful mischief at times, and he can sometimes unfairly react angrily to things. But his default position appears to be calm graceful discipline. I am not sure if Jackie Chan could effectively pull that off; even in his serious roles, he gave off an intensity that could explode into anarchic chaos at any time. Perhaps that could have been in early drafts of the movie, but Tsui changed it when Jet Li came on board…or not. I don’t know.

What I do know is that this movie is long for a martial arts movie. No, not anywhere near as long as A Touch of Zen, but still pretty long. I think that it was meant to be treated as an epic, to show that martial arts were not just cheap slapdash fare, but that they could be art while still being entertaining as opposed to up their own asses. Unlike rather airy A Touch of Zen, this movie is stuffed with content. Maybe a little overstuffed. Quite a bit of this movie is dedicated to Leung Foon. And, fair, he was one of Wong’s more notable students, but Leung Foon does not spend maybe as much if more time in opposition to Wong as he is under his tutelage. Upon first watch, I felt that quite a bit of his storyline could have been trimmed. After all, he came across more as a lecherous troublemaking oaf whose storyline was only tangential to Wong’s. Why not focus more on the people who were Wong’s students at the time? Well…maybe not Wing, but the other two.

Eventually, the significance of Foon’s storyline started to form. While Wong Fei-hung was a martial arts master (or grandmaster) trying to find a place for him in this changing world, Foon was a man in search of a martial arts teacher, acting like the world was still as it had been in tales. For certain, Wong is not the only martial artist in Foshan. There are other fighters starting fights, as well as gangs. And…Foon foolishly gets dropped into that world and brings that world to Master Wong’s doorstep. But with the foreign occupiers and the accommodating authorities, Wong and his militia are treated as menaces, no better than the rest. They want to shut everything down. There is no place for Chinese who fight.

And…more importantly, the foreigners have guns. And their shots are deadly. Yeah, sometimes they miss. But they don’t always miss. And even when they miss their intended target, there can be some fatal collateral damage. The strongest fastest most disciplined martial artist cannot beat back gunfire. How does one fight that? The movie treats guns seriously and does not manufacture scenarios where Wong’s adversaries get disarmed so that he can fight them through martial arts; either people have guns or they don’t. And even martial arts grandmasters have to give way to the power of firepower. They are not top dogs. To be the best fighter or have the best school in the city is fine, but a few guys with guns can destroy it all in a few moments. It is a new world and a new dynamic. The prestige of martial arts is not what it once was. One has to adapt or get trampled underfoot. Wong had already been struggling with this issue when the movie began, really trying to navigate this new world. Foon arrived in Foshan with no idea of how different things were, and his rude awakening was an important counterbalance to Wong’s story. To an extent, it was a deconstruction of the martial arts story while still being a somewhat straightforward martial arts story. That is pretty impressive.

Foreigners, particularly the British and Americans, are portrayed pretty badly in this movie. Yet, the patriotism in the movie does not necessarily translate to anti-foreignness. After all, it is not as if gangsters did not exist before the arrival of the Westerners or even the Manchu conquerors. Additionally, there are…a couple of good foreigners, or at least not actively bad ones. But more importantly, there are the Westernized Chinese people. There is Bucktooth So, whose grasp of Chinese is treated like a joke, with the punchline being that he speaks English perfectly. And then there is Wong’s 13th Aunt Yee Siu-kwan. Apparently, this character was created specifically for this movie, though she has turned up in future unrelated Wong Fei-hung. Speaking of unrelated, Yee and Wong are not blood relatives, but are considered such because her father was the “sworn brother” of his grandfather. I guess that this was done to keep them from getting together immediately while allowing a sliver of possibility later on. What was I talking about? Oh, right, Siu-kwan’s foreignness.

Anyways, Siu-kwan had spent two (three?) years in Great Britain, she returned to China with a White friend (who disappears fairly early in the movie), a penchant for Western dress, and a love for photography among other things. There is a bit of reverse culture-shock on her end, not just because she has to readjust to Foshan, but her ability to adjust only on her own terms makes the Chinese people (men) in her life react to her differently. It is a little odd that Fei-hung and the other Chinese people act so nervously and sometimes with hostility towards Siu-kwan’s camera when this is a MOTION PICTURE, but the irony was most likely deliberate…and hardly the only example of a movie featuring this. It is a knowing wink, acknowledging that not all things Western is bad and that China has already adopted many things from the West. Just as Fei-hung is authentically himself, Siu-kwan is authentically herself. Their shared journey and individual journeys to work out living authentically in this uncertain world is part of this story, something that Hong Kongers probably related to at the time.        

This journey continues in…several sequels to this movie. There are like five sequels, even though Jet Li didn’t take part in a couple of them after his contract with the company expired. I am not sure why they had to be sequels, since Wong Fei-hung is not a character exclusive to this series. There were other unrelated movies about him made during this time, including one starring Jet Li. Still, I guess that Tsui Hark wanted to include his specific version of Wong Fei-hung in as many historical events in this era of Chinese history as he could, and, unlike with Forrest Gump, this required making multiple movies. The second movie, released eight months later, is really good. It is good as a standalone piece, but is also a nice companion to the first movie. It approaches this issue of Chinese identity from a very different angle while being much more streamlined in terms of plot and runtime. The third one is…fine…and the rest…erm…they are there. And…I guess that there is something resembling character evolution throughout the series regarding Wong Fei-hung’s attitude towards various matters…I guess?

Anyways, watch this one and watch the second one…if you can find either of them.





WTF ASIA 261: The Fortress (South Korea: 2017, approx. 139 minutes)


Available in AustraliaCanadaFrancethe Netherlandsthe United Kingdomthe United States, and perhaps a few other countries.


WTF ASIA 262: Rihaee (India: 1988, approx. 142 minutes)


Available erm…on Einthusan. And if this Youtube video works for you.