The Wong Fei-hung saga is the longest-running movie series in the history of Hong Kong cinema. Over the course of its development in 60 years, stories of Wong Fei-hung on film have shared unique characteristics at different stages. The early titles in particular are marked by an exuberance that continues to touch viewers. The late actor Kwan Tak-hing made Master Wong a mythical figure with an exemplary manifestation of manhood and a superb balance of force and intelligence. Gordon Liu and Jet Li later interpreted the young Master Wong with their outstanding performances and gave the hero a facelift, while Alan Tam spoofed various aspects of the saga with visual gags in a fun-filled comedy.
As a contribution programme to the 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA)'s new retrospective "Once Upon a Hero: The Wong Fei-hung Saga" showcases the landmark Hong Kong cinema series and its long-held ethic of virtue with representative films from the 1940s to the 1990s together with an exhibition, seminars and a new monograph.
Sixteen works featuring Wong will be shown during the HKIFF from March 24 to April 4 at the Cinema of the HKFA, and 26 representative films and television works will be shown from April 6 to May 26. Tickets for all screenings are now available at all URBTIX outlets.
Films to be screened during the HKIFF include the inaugural series directed by Wu Pang: "The Story of Wong Fei-hung, Part One: Wong Fei-hung's Whip that Smacks the Candle" (1949), "The Story of Wong Fei-hung, Part Two: Wong Fei-hung Burns the Tyrants' Lair" (1949), "The Story of Wong Fei-hung, Part Three: The Battle of Lau Fa Bridge" (1950) and "The Story of Wong Fei-hung, Part Four: The Death of Leung Foon" (1950). Also showing with these initial works is "The Story of Wong Fei-hung: Grand Conclusion" (1951), directed by Law Chi-hung. In addition, there will be the representative work by director Wu, "Wong Fei-hung Subdues the Two Tigers" (1956); director Wong Fung's "Wong Fei-hung: The Incredible Success in Canton" (1968); "Wong Fei-hung: The Eight Bandits" (1968), which sees Master Wong fighting his nemeses in a temple while punch drunk; and the first Wong Fei-hung film shot in widescreen, "Wong Fei-hung's Combat with the Five Wolves" (1969). Showing too are director Lau Kar-leung's "Challenge of the Masters" (1976), starring Gordon Liu and Chan Koon-tai; director Yuen Woo-ping's "Dreadnaught" (1981), starring Kwan Tak-hing and Yuen Biao; and director Tsui Hark's "Once Upon a Time in China" (1991), starring Jet Li.
The retrospective will also feature three episodes of the television drama "Wong Fei-hung" (1976) - "Lion Dance Versus Golden Dragon", "Bloodshed in the Northeast, Part One" and "Bloodshed in the Northeast, Part Two" - and the documentary "Wong Fei-hung and I" (2012), which retraces the footsteps of Wu Pang, the director who helmed the first ever Wong Fei-hung films.
Other films that will be screened include director Wu Pang and producer Chow Sze-luk's "Wong Fei-hung Sets Fire to Dashatou" (1956), which culminates in a finale set at a brothel; "Wong Fei-hung Saves the Dragon's Mother Temple" (1956), with introductions to authentic customs in Guangdong; director Wong Tin-lam's "Wong Fei-hung Vanquishes the Ferocious Dog in Shamian" (1956); the first Wong Fei-hung film produced by Kwan Tak-hing, "Wong Fei-hung's Battle with the Five Tigers in the Boxing Ring" (1958); "Wong Fei-hung and Wife Eradicated the Three Rascals" (1958), a rare film in which the master's wife is featured; "Wong Fei-hung's Combat in the Boxing Ring" (1960), with the master having to contemplate the very meaning of victory in combat; director Wong Fung and scriptwriter Szeto On's "Wong Fei-hung: Duel for the Championship" (1968), featuring a United Nations of fighters; and "Wong Fei-hung in Sulphur Valley" (1969) showing an intense moral struggle. More recent works include director Lee Lik-chee's comedy "Once Upon a Time a Hero in China" (1992), starring Alan Tam, Tony Leung and Simon Yam, and "Once Upon a Time in China and America" (1997), which is producer Tsui Hark's rendition, with Sammo Hung as director and starring Jet Li and Rosamund Kwan.
Master Wong Fei-hung (1847-1924) acquired his martial arts skills from his father, Wong Kei-ying, who was known as one of the "Ten Tigers of Canton". Wong Fei-hung taught martial arts in the army and operated a clinic, named Po Chi Lam, in Guangzhou.
The Master Wong saga started in 1949 when director Wu Pang and scriptwriter Ng Yat-siu produced the inaugural film "The Story of Wong Fei-hung, Part One: Wong Fei-hung's Whip that Smacks the Candle". Starring Kwan Tak-hing, the first five films show the master heavily loaded with forcefulness, a character different from the powerful hero the world has come to know. In the late 1960s, director Wong Fung and scriptwriter Szeto On produced several outstanding works, taking the series to magnificent new heights.
In the 1970s, with Bruce Lee having become the icon of kung fu movies, the Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest studios produced different styles of Wong Fei-hung films. Director Lau Kar-leung, who in real life is a third-generation student of Wong, produced "Challenge of the Masters", showing Wong (played by Gordon Liu) as a youth and tracing the master's martial arts lineage to another Guangdong legend. With a completely different presentation and masterful choreography, director Tsui Hark's "Once Upon a Time in China" in the 1990s revived the hero with Jet Li's commanding performance, delivering a Master Wong who is at once youthful and stoic and taking the story to international reach.
To complement the screenings, an exhibition entitled "Benevolence and Loftiness: The Cinematic Legend of Wong Fei-hung" will be held from March 30 to July 22 at the Exhibition Hall of the HKFA. A setting based on Master Wong's famous Po Chi Lam clinic, precious film stills, videos, oral history interviews and more will be on display.
The HKFA's new publication "Mastering Virtue: The Cinematic Legend of a Martial Artist", with English edition on CD-ROM, will be released in late March. The first-of-its-kind monograph examines the cinema of Wong Fei-hung from a historical background and considers artistic characteristics and film genres. It also includes comments by Wong's disciples analysing the Hung fist, a martial art featured in different Wong Fei-hung films.
Two seminars, to be conducted in Cantonese, will be held at the HKFA. "The Wong Fei-hung Mystique", hosted by the HKFA's Research Officer, Mr Po Fung, will be held at 2.30pm on March 25. The speakers will be renowned scriptwriter Mr Szeto On and the Film/TV Professor of the Hong Kong Baptist University, Mr Ng Ho. The other seminar, entitled "The Kung Fu Saga of Wong Fei-hung", will be held at 4.30pm on May 12. Master Wong's students from different generations, Mr Pang Chi-ming, Mr Lau Kar-yung and Mr Li Chan-wo, will be the speakers. Admission for the exhibition and seminars is free. There will also be post-screening talks with film critics to share their thoughts with the audience in Cantonese.
"Challenge of the Masters" is in Mandarin. "Once Upon a Time in China and America" is in Cantonese and English. "Wong Fei-hung's Combat with the Five Wolves" is in Cantonese and Mandarin. Other films are in Cantonese. "The Story of Wong Fei-hung, Part One: Wong Fei-hung's Whip that Smacks the Candle", "The Story of Wong Fei-hung, Part Two: Wong Fei Hung Burns the Tyrants' Lair", "Wong Fei-hung: The Incredible Success in Canton", "Wong Fei-hung's Combat with the Five Wolves", "Challenge of the Masters", "Dreadnaught", "Once Upon a Time in China", "Once Upon a Time a Hero in China", "Once Upon a Time in China and America" and "Wong Fei-hung and I" have Chinese and English subtitles.
Tickets for all screenings are priced at $40. Half-price tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Credit card bookings can be made on 2111 5999, or on the Internet at www.urbtix.hk.
Further information and details of various discounts can be obtained in "ProFolio 62" or in the 36th HKIFF booking folder distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For programme enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900 or browse the website: www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/filmprog/english/2012wfh/2012wfh_index.html.
Ends/Tuesday, March 13, 2012
A film still from "The Story of Wong Fei-hung, Part One: Wong Fei-hung's Whip that Smacks the Candle" (1949).
A film still from "Wong Fei-hung Vanquishes the Ferocious Dog in Shamian" (1956).
A film still from "Wong Fei-hung's Battle with the Five Tigers in the Boxing Ring" (1958).
A film still from "Wong Fei-hung: The Eight Bandits" (1968).
A film still from "Dreadnaught" (1981).
A film still from "Once Upon a Time in China" (1991).
A film still from "Once Upon a Time a Hero in China" (1992).