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Hong Kongmarker film director Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China ( ; Jyutping: Mou5 zong6jyun4 Wong4 Fei1hong6) film series is about the kung fu master, practioner of Traditional Chinese medicine and Chinesemarker folk hero, Wong Fei Hung. He is portrayed by Jet Li in parts 1, 2, 3, and 6 and by Vincent Zhao in parts 4 and 5.

The films were released in 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1997, respectively. The first two films of the series are among the most popular of the Golden Age of Hong Kong cinema (usually dated from 1986 to 1993) and are well known for their depiction of Chinese nationalism as well as their choreography. Once Upon a Time in China was Jet Li's largest hit at the time.

General outline

Using the renowned kung fu master and doctor as the main character, the films deal with the negative effects of Western imperialism in China. The second film has Dr. Sun Yat-sen a revolutionary leader and the founding father of the Chinese republic, as a character. Unlike the majority of Hong Kong action films, the Once Upon a Time in China series is clearly politicised. However, as they were regarded foremost as commercial entertainment films, the political implications seem to have had less impact. Moreover, the main thrust is non-partisan nationalism, and because Sun Yat-sen is highly regarded by both the People's Republic of Chinamarker and the Republic of Chinamarker (on Taiwanmarker), the films are not as politically divisive as they may seem.


The films are:

DVD collections

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 2-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 3 disc version of the box set.

  • On 7 April, 2003, they 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 re-mastered 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.

Theme Music

  • The theme song to the Once Upon a Time in China series is taken from the Ming Dynastymarker folk song "Under the General's Orders"; the version used for the films is entitled "A Man Should Better Himself" and was written by Wong Jim.

  • The theme 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 Jackie Chan film Drunken Master, which was also about Wong Fei Hung. It also was notably used in the 1983 Sammo Hung film Winners and Sinners. It played during a market scene whilst the Five Lucky Stars are watching two men demonstrating the beneficial effects of their medicines and their Kung Fu stances, obviously in reference to Wong Fei Hung.

  • The theme was also sampled by Ninja Tune artist, Quincey, for a track entitled "Bruce Lee MC", which can be found on the Xen Cuts compilation album. The track also contains samples of Bruce Lee's fight vocalisations.


As was relatively common in the Hong Kong film industry, the successful Once Upon a Time in China series quickly gained imitators. Whilst these films also focussed on Wong Fei Hung, they were not part of the series, and had different stars 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 spoof 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.

  • A VideoAsia DVD release entitled Once Upon a Time in China: Next Chapters Collection was released in 2007. The box set featured four films - Fist From Shaolin, Kickboxer (Once Upon a Chinese Hero), documentary film Shaolin Styles and a completely unrelated film In Sword We Trust.


  1. YESASIA: Once Upon A Time In China (Blu-ray) (Hong Kong Version)

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