Once Upon a Time in China (film series)

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Once Upon a Time in China film series
Once Upon a Time in China Trilogy.jpg
Once Upon a Time in China DVD box set for the first three films
MandarinWǔ Zhuàngyuán Huáng Fēihǒng Xì Liè
CantoneseMou5 Zong6 Jyun4 Wong4 Fei1 Hung4 Hai6 Lit6
Directed byTsui Hark (I, II, III, V)
Yuen Bun (IV)
Sammo Hung (VI)
Produced byTsui Hark
Raymond Chow (II)
Ng See-Yuen (II-V)
Dick Tso (VI)
Written byTsui Hark
Leung Yiu Ming (I)
Tang Pik Yin (I)
Yun Kai Chi (I)
Chan Tin-suen (II)
Cheung Tan (II)
Elsa Tang (IV)
StarringJet Li (I-III, VI)
Vincent Zhao (IV-V)
Music byJames Wong
Romeo Díaz
Richard Yuen
Johnny Njo
Wu Wai Lap
Lowell Lo
CinematographyChan Tung-Chuen
Wilson Chan
David Chung
Andy Lam
Arthur Wong
Bill Wong
Andrew Lau
Sammo Hung
Edited byMarco Mak
Angie Lam
Distributed byGolden Harvest
China Star Entertainment
Win's Entertainment
Release date
Running time
657 minutes
CountryHong Kong
LanguageCantonese (I-VI)
Mandarin (I-VI)
English (I-VI)
French (I)
Russian (III)
German (IV)

Once Upon a Time in China is a Hong Kong–Chinese film franchise directed, written, and produced by Tsui Hark. The stories are based on the life of Chinese martial arts master and folk hero of Cantonese ethnicity, 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)[citation needed] and were known for their depiction of Chinese nationalism as well as action choreography.[citation needed] The Once Upon a Time in China films were among Jet Li's best known hits at that time.[citation needed]


With Chinese folk hero of Cantonese ethnicity, Wong Fei-hung, as the main character, the films deal with the positive and 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.[citation needed] 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:


  • The theme song of the Once Upon a Time in China series is based on the Ming Dynasty folk song "Under the General's Orders"; the version used in the films is titled "A Man of Determination" and was written by Wong Jim.
  • The Cantonese version of the theme song is sung by George Lam and the Mandarin version is performed by Jackie Chan.
  • The theme song 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 film Drunken Master, starring Jackie Chan, which also had Wong Fei-hung as the main character. It also was notably used in the 1983 film Winners and Sinners, starring Sammo Hung. It was played in a market scene whilst the Five Lucky Stars are watching two men demonstrating the beneficial effects of their medicines and their martial arts stances, obviously in reference to Wong Fei-hung.
  • The theme song was also sampled by Ninja Tune artist Quincy for a track titled "Bruce Lee MC", which can be found on the Xen Cuts compilation album. The track also contains samples of Bruce Lee's fight vocalisations.


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
Kwai Geuk-Chat "Seven" Hung Yan-yan
Lam Sai-wing "Porky Wing" Kent Cheng Kent Cheng
So Sai-man "Bucktooth So" Jacky Cheung Roger Kwok Power Chan
Aunt May "14th Aunt" Jean Wang
Wong Kei-ying Lau Shun

Home media[edit]

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 two-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 three disc version of the box set.
  • On 7 April 2003, the films 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 remastered 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]


As imitation was relatively common in the Hong Kong film industry,[citation needed] 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.


External links[edit]