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Huo Yuanjia
Master Huo Yuan-jia on cinema and on télévision Page 5
Author(s) : Yves Gendron
Date : 7/11/2004
Type(s) : Information
 Intext Links  
People :
Jackie Chan
Kwan Tak Hing
Jet Li
Gordon Liu Chia Hui
Movies :
Fist Of Fury
Legend Of A Fighter
Legendary Fok
The Master Of Kung Fu
Rivals Of Kung Fu
Companies :
Shaw Brothers
Lexic :
Kung Fu Pian
Wong Fei-hong
Wu Xia Pian
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Page 4 : Master Huo Yuan-jia and Jingwu Legacy

the other great master

Huo Yuanjia was nicknamed « northern  Wong Fei-hong ». It's a very adequate comparison. Indeed, the two masters lived at the same time and are exemplary figures of Chinese martial folklore occupying the same niche; the one of the wise, valiant and patriotic patriarch. Each one in his way trained disciples and assured the reputation and continuity of Chinese martial arts. Their origins, exploits, destinies and martial arts styles that each practised were however totally different.

After his death, Master Wong became a hero of serialized novels, radio shows and especially cinema. First with the famous film series started at the end of the 40s which lasted for 20 years with Master Wong remarkably played by Kwan Tak Hing. Then, Wong Fei-hung became a recurring character played by, apart from Kwan Tak-hing, Jackie Chan, Gordon Liu, and Jet Li. In all, almost 100 films and two TV series were made on the venerable master from Canton covering his life from childhood to old age.

Though he was as great a martial figure as him, Master Huo didn't experience the film notoriety of Wong Fei-hung, quite the contrary. Indeed, only two films were devoted to him. A fistful of other films did evoke his name but they dealt with the myth of his death. This difference would be partly explained by the fact that the kung-fu cinema originating from Hong Kong and closely linked to Cantonese martial folklore, Wong Fei-hung was thus a much more recognised and appropriate figure than the northerner Huo Yuan-jia. Hong Kong's Mandarin cinema (mostly composed of refugees from Shanghai and Beijing, so people from the north) had indeed its own martial folklore but this one essentially drew from the tradition of the wu xia stories and not from pugilist masters of a recent past (see kung fu pian, wu xia pian, Mandarin and Cantonese cinema). Master Huo's film prospects were therefore doubly handicapped.

Yet, in the early 70s Hong Kong 's Mandarin cinema counterpart had a total ascendancy over its Cantonese language and cultural counterpart. Wong Fei-hung and the southern martial folklore were therefore put on the back burner and just when a new fad for kung-fu was beginning. It's in this context that in only a few months a film clearly dealing with Master Huo and two others inspired by some aspects of his legend appeared. Among those was Fist of Fury.


A wasted opportunity with cinema

Yet the Mandarin cinema didn't really take advantage of its period of domination to impose Huo the master from the north as a great cinema hero the way the Cantonese cinema did with Wong Fei-hug in the 50s and 60s (1). One of the reasons behind this missed opportunity was that during the 70s masters characters weren't as important as before. It was the young avenging disciple who was now influential in kung-fu films and the master was mostly a pretext for the disciple to avenge his death as in Fist of Fury. This film knew how to praise master Huo's name and legend as never before but paradoxically it presented him in the most possible restrictive manner because limited to a mere funeral photograph.

Neither the name nor the legend of Master Huo appeared in a significant way until the early 80s. This long purgatory ended with a TV series, Legendary Fok followed by a film, Legend of a Fighter. Yet, each in their ways, those two productions were under the influence of Fist of Fury. In the 80s, Fist of Fury was again adapted for cinema and TV. So, in three decades, almost all the film and TV representations of Huo Yuan-jia, and of his myth, were made under the invading, essential and undoubtedly distorting shadow of a one and only film which never itself put the character into stage. This doesn't necessarily mean that Master Huo and his story were always represented in a shaky and limited manner.


(1) Some films were however made at the time around the figure of the master but it was Wong Fei-hung. The Shaw Brothers, Hong Kong 's biggest Mandarin studio, produced itself two films on the Canton master (Master of Kung Fu et Rivals of Kung Fu). Even those at SB judged Wong was a more relevant cinema martial hero than Huo Yuan-jia.

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Page 4 : Master Huo Yuan-jia and Jingwu Legacy

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