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 three 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 (IIII, VI)
Vincent Zhao (IVV)
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
Edited by Marco Mak
Angie Lam
Distributed by Golden Harvest
China Star Entertainment
Win's Entertainment
Release dates
Running time
657 minutes
Country Hong Kong
Language Cantonese

Once Upon a Time in China is a Hong Kong film franchise directed, written, and produced by Tsui Hark. The stories are based on the life of Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung, who is portrayed by Jet Li in the first three films and Vincent Zhao in the fourth and fifth films. The first two films in the franchise were among the most popular of the Golden Age of Hong Kong cinema (usually dated from 1986 to 1993) and were known for their depiction of Chinese nationalism as well as action choreography. The Once Upon a Time in China films were among Jet Li's best known hits at that time.


With Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung as the main character, the films deal with the negative effects of Western imperialism in China during the late Qing Dynasty. The second film features as a supporting character Sun Yat-sen, a revolutionary leader and founding father of the Chinese republic. Unlike the majority of Hong Kong action films, the Once Upon a Time in China series is clearly politicised. However, even with its clear showcase of Chinese nationalism, it also displays the inevitable nature of accepting western cultures, and the progression of China into the "modern" century. This theme is repeated through various actions of the characters, but prominently displayed through the character Master Yim in the first movie. He is a Kung-Fu master, but the likes of him are dwindling and barely making a livelihood. Once, he boasts that his Kung-Fu can even withstand bullets. In irony, he is killed by the onslaught of bullets fired by American soldiers. In his last words, he tells Wong Fei-Hung, "Martial arts cannot win against guns..." His character represents the dying of old traditions, and the begrudging abandonment of hand-to-hand combat.


The six films in the series are:



Character Film
Name Nickname I II III IV V China & America
Wong Fei-hung Jet Li Vincent Zhao Jet Li
Siu-kwan "13th Aunt" Rosamund Kwan Rosamund Kwan
Leung Foon Yuen Biao Max Mok
"Clubfoot Seven" Hung Yan-yan
Lam Sai-wing "Porky Wing" Kent Cheng Kent Cheng
"Bucktooth So" Jacky Cheung Roger Kwok Power Chan
"14th Aunt" Jean Wang
Wong Kei-ying Lau Shun

Home media

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.


As imitation was relatively common in the Hong Kong film industry, Once Upon a Time in China quickly gained mimics. Whilst these films also focused on Wong Fei-hung, they were not part of the series, and had different cast members 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 parody 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 comedy.


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