Dojo Tribute: The Classic Wong Fei Hong movies

In martial arts movie circles the name Wong Fei Hong can conjure up many images, performances, and themes. There have been many great articles on the real life Kung Fu Master, Herbal Doctor, fighter, and all around upright symbol of traditional Chinese manhood. Wong Sifu has become one of the most enduring movie characters in martial arts and kung fu cinema. He has been portrayed by Jet Li, Gordon Liu, Jackie Chan, Vincent Zhao, and new star Eddie Peng will try to re-establish the Wong Fei Hong character in the upcoming year. But where did it all start? And who were the key players in making Wong Fei Hong such an enduring character in the martial arts and kung fu movie genres? Let’s take a brief look at some of the many players

 

Enter Kwan Tak Hing

WongFeiHungBravelyCrushingtheFireFormation+1970-1-b

(image courtesy of Hong Kong Movie Database)

No one has been as associated with Wong Fei Hong quite like Kwan Tak Hing (1905-1996). This great Cantonese Opera performer and Kung Fu Master is synonymous with Wong Fei Hong due to his prolific work as the Chinese folk hero and Kung Fu legend. Kwan Tak Hing himself was a very interesting man. In addition to Cantonese Opera and Kung Fu Kwan was a generous person and even opened Herbal Medicine shops in the 1950’s to help alleviate the medical ills of his people. In terms of martial arts he was known to be adept at Shaolin Ten Animal Kung Fu, the whip, and an expert Lion Dancer. He has portrayed Wong Fei Hong more than anyone else in the movie world and is said to have embodied the necessary qualities to handle bringing the great Kung Fu Master and folk hero to life on the screen.

Every Hero Needs a Villain

shek kin

(image courtesy of Hong Kong Movie Database)

Shek Kin, known to most as Mr. Han from Enter The Dragon, made his acting debut in 1940, was an competent Kung Fu Master(practicing various styles), and portrayed the tough guy role very well. He appeared in Wong Fei Hong movies alongside Kwan Tak Hing as the main villain (usually never the same person) and was the perfect foil to the good guy. Shek Kin was a tremendous talent and was a believable bad guy and great actor. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hong Kong Film Critics Association in 1996. Shek Kin passed away in 2009.

The Director

WuPang-2-t

(courtesy of Hong Kong Movie Database)

Wu Pang was a prolific director who got his start in 1936 and directed his first film in 1938. He would go on to direct 58 Wong Fei Hong movies and is the director responsible for the first Wong Fei Hong movie-The Story of Wong Fei Hong in 1949. It is said that Wu got the idea about doing a Wong Fei Hong movie from reading the Wuxia stories written by an alleged student of Wong’s that appeared in the newspaper.

The Real Hung Gar Connection

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( image courtesy of Hong Kong Movie Database)

Lau Cham, the student of famed Hung Gar Master (and Wong Fei Hong standout disciple) Lam Sai Wing, ironically portrayed his Master in the classic Wong Fei Hong movies. Lau is the father of the greats Lau Kar Leung and Lau Kar Wing ( whom can be seen in some of the Wong Fei Hong serials as stunt players).  His connection to the series gave real credibility as he was known for his skill in Hung Gar and had a real connection to Wong Fei Hong via his spectacular Kung Fu lineage.

The stage was set for an ambitious series of movies that would have positive repercussions in the martial arts film genre. In the next several posts we will examine what I believe to be the era when Real Kung Fu and Real Kung Fu artists shaped the landscape of martial arts movies and created some great cinema moments that have been imitated throughout the world of martial arts films.

Further Information and Useful links

I also want to give a shout out to Sifu Frank Bolte and his informative Facebook page dedicated to the Classic Black and white Wong Fei Hong Movies. Please visit the page and “like” it. I will be using information and media from this page and his You Tube account (with permission from Sifu Frank of course)

Check out Bey Logan’s visit with the great Kwan Tak Hing at reeleastmag.com.

For great E-books and articles dealing with Hung Kyun ( Hung Gar), Wong Fei Hong, and Southern Chinese Martial Arts visit the Sifu Pavel at Practical Hung Kyun.

Wong Fei Hong traditional theme

 

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