Once Upon a Time in China

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Once Upon a Time in China
Onceuponatimeinchina.jpg
Traditional 黃飛鴻
Simplified 黄飞鸿
Mandarin Huáng Fēihóng
Cantonese Wong4 Fei1-hung4
Directed by Tsui Hark
Produced by Tsui Hark
Written by Tsui Hark
Yuen Kai-chi
Leung Yiu-ming
Dang Bik-min
Starring Jet Li
Yuen Biao
Jacky Cheung
Rosamund Kwan
Kent Cheng
Music by James Wong
George Lam (theme song)
Cinematography David Chung
Bill Wong
Chan Tung-cheun
Angy Lam
Tung Cheun
Wilson Chan
Edited by Mak Chi-sin
Release dates
  • 15 August 1991 (1991-08-15)
Running time 134 minutes
Country Hong Kong
Language Cantonese
Box office HK$29,672,278.00

Once Upon a Time in China (traditional Chinese: 黃飛鴻; simplified Chinese: 黄飞鸿; pinyin: Huáng Fēihóng; Jyutping: Wong4 Fei1hung4) is a 1991 Hong Kong martial arts film written and directed by Tsui Hark, and starring Jet Li as Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung. It is the first film in the Once Upon a Time in China series.

Plot[edit]

Locals are concerned with the growing influence and presence of Westerners and foreigners in Foshan. General Liu Yongfu of the Black Flag Army approaches Wong Fei-hung and requests that the latter help him muster and train a militia to assist in defending the town. Among those recruited by Wong are the butcher Porky Wing and an American-educated Chinese called Bucktooth So.

Wong meets Siu-kwan, who is around the same age as him, and whom he addresses respectfully as "13th Aunt". Although they are not direct blood relations, her father was a sworn brother of Wong's grandfather so she is considered to be Wong's elder. They develop romantic feelings for each other but their relationship is often restrained as it is considered taboo in traditional culture.

Leung Foon arrives in town with an opera troupe to stage performances. He runs into some trouble with the Shaho Gang, which terrorises local businesses by demanding "protection money" from them. He accidentally runs into 13th Aunt and falls in love with her. After being fired from the team, Leung meets a martial artist called "Iron Vest" Yim and becomes the latter's student. Yim wants to make his name and establish a martial arts school in Foshan, but he knows that he must first defeat Wong, the best fighter in town.

Meanwhile, the Shaho Gang sets fire to Wong's clinic Po-chi-lam as a warning after Wong interfered when they caused trouble in town. The gangsters later seek shelter under the Americans from the Sino-Pacific Company after the governor issued orders for their arrests. In return for protection from the authorities, the thugs aid foreigners in human trafficking by kidnapping local women to be sold to distant lands as prostitutes. The Shaho Gang's boss meets Yim and agrees to help him if the latter allies with his gang and the Americans.

The Shaho Gang abduct 13th Aunt while she is assisting an escaped labourer from America to avoid the local government's inspection. Wong and his followers are thrown into prison for fighting with soldiers sent by the authorities while buying time for 13th Aunt and the labourer to flee. The guards release Wong and his companions out of respect for them. Just then, Bucktooth So reports to Wong that 13th Aunt has been captured by the Shaho Gang.

Wong and his men disguise themselves and infiltrate the Americans' base and defeat the foreigners and gangsters after a battle. Wong faces Yim in a man-on-man fight and overcomes the latter. Yim is killed by gunfire from the Americans, who were actually targeting Wong. Wong and his companions eventually succeed in rescuing 13th Aunt and the kidnapped women, and Wong kills the American leader Jackson by hurling an unused bullet into the latter's forehead with his fingers. At the end of the film, Leung Foon is seen being accepted by Wong as a student.

Cast[edit]

  • Jet Li as Wong Fei-hung (doubled by Hung Yan-yan)
  • Yuen Biao as Leung Foon
  • Jacky Cheung as "Bucktooth" So
  • Rosamund Kwan as "13th Aunt" Siu-kwan
  • Kent Cheng as "Porky" Wing
  • Yuen Kam-fai as Ling Wan-Kai
  • Yen Shi-kwan as "Iron Vest" Yim Chun-Tung
  • Jonathan Isgar as Jackson
  • Steve Tartalia as Tiger
  • Mark King as General Wickens
  • Lau Shun as Lau Wing-fuk
  • Yau Kin-kwok as Shaho gang leader
  • Bruce Fontaine as policeman
  • Wong Chi-yeung as Governor
  • Yuen Cheung-yan as Yim's opponent
  • Yuen Shun-yee as honourable Manchu guard
  • Jimmy Wang Yu as slave from America
  • Hung Yan-yan as Shaho gang member
  • Wu Ma as Granduncle Cheung (cameo)
  • Shih Kien as old man who gives advice (cameo)
  • Simon Yam (cameo)
  • Colin George as Jesuit priest
  • Leung Gam-san as opera troupe boss
  • Joanna Peijiffers as Joanna
  • San Sin as lion dance drummer
  • To Wai-wo as local militia
  • Ling Chi-hung as local militia
  • Fei Gin as local militia
  • Lam Foo-wai as local militia
  • Cho Yuen-daat as local militia
  • Lung Biu as Shaho gang member
  • Tong Pau-chung as Shaho gang member
  • Kong Chuen as Shaho gang member
  • Hui Si-man as hawker
  • Chan Siu-wah as thug
  • Sham Chin-bo as thug
  • Wong Wai-leung as thug
  • Anthony Carpio as thug (extra)
  • Chun Kwai-bo as thug
  • Sham Tsim-po
  • Sin Ka-fai
  • Marcus Fox
  • Neil Preen as soldier

Release[edit]

Once Upon a Time in China was released in Hong Kong on 15 August 1991.[1]

Reception[edit]

Once Upon a Time in China was given highly favorable reviews from film critics.[2] Rotten Tomatoes reported a score of 89%.[3]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Awards
Ceremony Category Name Outcome
11th Hong Kong Film Awards[4]
Best Film Nominated
Best Director Tsui Hark Won
Best Supporting Actor Jacky Cheung Nominated
Best Film Editing Marco Mak Won
Best Cinematographer Zhong Zhiwen, Wong Chung standard, Arthur, Lin Guohua, Chen Village, Chen Peijia Nominated
Best Art Direction Yee Chung Man Nominated
Best Action Choreography Yuanxiang Ren, Yuan Xinyi, Liu Rong Won
Best Film Music James Wong Won

Box office[edit]

Once Upon a Time in China is largely credited with starting the period martial arts craze of the early to mid 1990s. It was a box office hit. The film ran for almost two months, the longest duration for any of the series, and grossed $29,672,278 HKD in Hong Kong.[1]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]