- Iron Yim (Yam Sam-Kwoon) to Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li)
"If we fight each other rather than them, soon we'll lose the flour to make our rolls."
- Wong Fei Hung
"If they really have gold, why do they come here' Maybe we're standing on gold now."
- Wong Fei Hung to his student
New York Times - 05/21/1992
"...Balletic displays of martial arts prowess....A witty, extravagantly picturesque homage to Sergio Leone..."
Entertainment Weekly - 01/12/2001
"...A thrilling example of what results when muscle meets grace." -- Rating: A- - Editor's Choice
In one of the recurring gags of ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA, attempts to take Wong Fei Hung's picture always fail. The failure to capture the image of Wong (Jet Li) serves as an appropriate metaphor for the place of the Ching Dynasty folk hero in Chinese cultural memory. A legendary master of a variety of kung fu styles, Wong has been subject to numerous interpretations in dime novels and films since the 1930s. In the late 1970s an irreverent portrait of the young Wong Fei Hung emerged in DRUNKEN MASTER. In director Tsui Hark's hand, the beloved historical figure is given the full lionized treatment as he fights for dignity and self-determination against Western imperialists. A revisionist drama that recalls the struggle of the small-property owner fighting for her land in Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, Hark's epic is both a tragic and heroic examination of China's transition to modernity. Like the best of Hark's films (ZU: WARRIORS OF THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN), ONCE UPON A TIME contains imaginative fight sequences, including "no-shadow" kicks and a thrilling battle using bamboo ladders.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA is a grandiose, epic retelling of the adventures of Ching Dynasty folk hero Wong Fei Hung, whose legendary mastery of a variety of kung fu styles and resistance to Westernization have made him the subject of dime novels and popular lore in China since the 1930s. The subject of a slew of films, Wong Fei-Hung's popularity declined in the 1980s in favor of "Americanized" western-style gunslingers, making this film a throwback of sorts, with a strong pro-unification political subtext, plus plenty of brilliant martial arts action.
Big Battles |
Martial Arts |
Period Piece |
Born in Lingnan, Canton, in 1847, Wong Fei Hung is one of southern China's most popular folk heroes. He was a master of the Hung Kuen (or Hung Gar) style of fighting, and he inherited an herbal medicine clinic from his father. One of his students actually was a pork butcher named Lam Sai-Wing. Wong died in 1924. No pictures exist of Wong.
The title of the theme song in ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA tranlates as "A man should support himself."
Nearly 300 shots were used for the bamboo ladder fight sequence alone.