Once Upon a Time in China (film series)

Once Upon a Time in China (film series)
Once Upon a Time in China film series

Once Upon a Time in China DVD box set for the first 3 films
Traditional 武狀元黃飛鴻
Simplified 武状元黄飞鸿
Mandarin Wǔ Zhuàngyuán Huáng Fēihǒng Xì Liè
Cantonese Mou5 Zong6 Jyun4 Wong4 Fei1 Hung4 Hai6 Lit6
Directed by Tsui Hark (I, II, III, V)
Yuen Bun (IV)
Sammo Hung (VI)
Produced by Tsui Hark (all)
Raymond Chow (II)
Ng See-Yuen (II, III, IV, V)
Dick Tso (VI)
Written by Tsui Hark (all)
Leung Yiu Ming (I)
Tang Pik Yin (I)
Yun Kai Chi (I)
Chan Tin-suen (II)
Cheung Tan (II)
Elsa Tang (IV)
Starring Jet Li (I–III, VI)
Vincent Zhao (IV–V)
Music by James Wong
Romeo Díaz
Richard Yuen
Johnny Njo
Wu Wai Lap
Lowell Lo
Cinematography Chan Tung-Chuen
Wilson Chan
David Chung
Andy Lam
Arthur Wong
Bill Wong
Andrew Lau
Sammo Hung
Editing by Marco Mak
Angie Lam
Studio Golden Harvest
Film Workshop
Distributed by Golden Harvest
China Star Entertainment
Win's Entertainment
Release date(s) 1991–1997
Running time 657 min.
Country  Hong Kong
Language Cantonese

Once Upon a Time in China (Traditional Chinese: 武狀元黃飛鴻; literally Martial Arts Champion Wong Fei-hung) is a Hong Kong martial arts action/adventure film franchise directed, written, and produced by Tsui Hark. The stories are based on the life of the legendary kung fu master, Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, and Chinese folk hero, Wong Fei Hung. Jet Li portrayed the hero in films I, II, and III, with Vincent Zhao replacing Li in films IV and V.

The first two films of the franchise were among the most popular of the Golden Age of Hong Kong cinema (usually dated from 1986 to 1993) and were well known for their depiction of Chinese nationalism as well as fighting choreography. Once Upon a Time in China was Jet Li's largest hit at the time.


General outline

Using the renowned kung fu master and doctor as the main character, the films deal with the negative effects of Western imperialism in China. The second film has Dr. Sun Yat-sen a revolutionary leader and the founding father of the Chinese republic, as a character. Unlike the majority of Hong Kong action films, the Once Upon a Time in China series is clearly politicised. However, as they were regarded foremost as commercial entertainment films, the political implications seem to have had less impact. Moreover, the main thrust is non-partisan nationalism, and because Sun Yat-sen is highly regarded by both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China (on Taiwan), the films are not as politically divisive as they may seem.


The films are:

  • Last Hero in China (黃飛鴻之鐵雞鬥蜈) (1993) - a derivative of the original film that differs in tone from the rest of the series, containing stronger elements of violence and broader, more slapstick, comedy.

DVD collections

In addition to the various individual DVD releases, the first three films in the series have been released in a number of collection box sets.

  • On 17 July, 2001, Columbia Tri-Star / Sony released the films in the US in a 2-disc box set, with the second disc being double-sided, containing Once Upon a Time in China II on one side and Once Upon a Time in China III on the other. In creating the discs, Colombia took a non-anamorphic master and interpolated it to make it anamorphic. The films in this release feature Cantonese and Mandarin soundtracks, with English, Spanish and French subtitle options.
  • Columbia Tri-Star later re-released the "trilogy" in a 3 disc version of the box set.
  • On 7 April, 2003, they were released by Hong Kong Legends. This release contained extras including interviews. The first film featured an audio commentary by Bey Logan and Mark King. The second and third films featured commentaries by Logan on his own. The films are presented in their original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, with Cantonese audio and English subtitles, as well as English dub tracks.
  • In 2004, the trilogy was released in re-mastered version in Hong Kong by Joy Sales / Fortune Star's under their "Legendary Collection" banner.
  • Hong Kong based company Kam & Ronson Enterprise have announced that they will release the first three films on Blu-ray Disc in June 2009. The first film was released on 18 September 2009. [1]

Theme Music

  • The theme song to the Once Upon a Time in China series is taken from the Ming Dynasty folk song "Under the General's Orders"; the version used for the films is entitled "A Man Should Better Himself" and was written by Wong Jim.
  • The theme has long been associated with the Wong Fei Hung legend, appearing in some form in many early films about him. It was used in the 1978 Jackie Chan film Drunken Master, which was also about Wong Fei Hung. It also was notably used in the 1983 Sammo Hung film Winners and Sinners. It played during a market scene whilst the Five Lucky Stars are watching two men demonstrating the beneficial effects of their medicines and their Kung Fu stances, obviously in reference to Wong Fei Hung.
  • The theme was also sampled by Ninja Tune artist, Quincy, for a track entitled "Bruce Lee MC", which can be found on the Xen Cuts compilation album. The track also contains samples of Bruce Lee's fight vocalisations.

Principal cast

Character Film
Wong Fei-hung Jet Li Vincent Zhao Jet Li
13th Aunt Rosamund Kwan Rosamund Kwan
Leung Foon Yuen Biao Max Mok
Clubfoot Hung Yan-yan
Porky Wing Kent Cheng Kent Cheng
Bucktooth So Jacky Cheung Roger Kwok Power Chan
14th Aunt Jean Wang
Wong Kei-ying Lau Shun


As was relatively common in the Hong Kong film industry, the successful Once Upon a Time in China series quickly gained imitators. Whilst these films also focussed on Wong Fei Hung, they were not part of the series, and had different stars and directors. They include:

However, one imitator had more direct links with the original series, Last Hero in China (黃飛鴻之鐵雞鬥蜈蚣). This film was released in 1993 after the original Once Upon a Time in China trilogy. It is derivative of these films, and unlike other imitation films, it can be considered a spin-off or spoof to some extent. It was directed by Wong Jing in place of Tsui Hark. The film's action director was Yuen Woo-ping and once again it starred Jet Li as Wong Fei Hung. However, it differs greatly in tone from the Once Upon a Time in China series, containing stronger elements of violence and broader slapstick.

  • A VideoAsia DVD


External links

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