The Story of Wong Fei Hong
starring Kwan Tak Hing, Lee Lan, Walter Tso Tat Wah, Yuen Siu Tin, Ma Siu Ying, Lau Cham, Tse Chi Wai
Directed by Wu Pang
It is with great pleasure that the Film Fan Dojo get a chance to review a true Kung Fu Classic. Before you go on you may want to get a little background on these truly old school Kung Fu movies. Although many film critics and historians cite Jimmy Wang Yu’s The Chinese Boxer as the first film to feature “real Kung Fu” I think these Wong Fei Hong black and white serials are truly the first depictions of “real” Kung Fu to the screen. To me “real” Kung Fu is about the authenticity of the movements,those who practice the movements, and the spirit of the movements. With the prescience of authentic martial artists such as Kwan Tak Hing, Chan Hon Chung, Lau Cham, and Simon Yuen Siu Tin The Story of Wong Fei Hong (part 1) is, in my opinion, the film which presents authentic Chinese Martial Arts on the silver screen.
Plot: Wong Fei Hong ( Kwan Tak Hing) treats a patient who has been beaten up by the evil Tai Nan Hung who kidnaps the patient’s wife, Wong rescues her from Tai Nan Hung, tries to keep Leung Foon (Walter Tso Tat Wha) out of trouble, and begins a showdown with Wong Pei Yau.
Although the Kung Fu sequences in this 1949 classic could be considered rudimentary by today’s standards(or the 1970’s and 80’s), I think they show the basis for what we know as the classic Kung Fu era of the 1970’s and 1980’s. As I stated before the authenticity of the Kung Fu Kuens (forms) performed by real life Hung Gar practitioners make the film stand out. I read many commentaries on this film and I have to disagree that they didn’t show “real” Kung fu. As fans we are accustomed to sound effects accompanying the movements and tightly edited fight scenes but the Kung Fu in this movie has a certain appeal to me due to its raw nature.Case in point, at 24:27, a multiple weapons duel showcases some great staff work by Kwan Tak Hing, and some very (in the future) famous stuntmen. The fight scene looks like a multiple person set but it really showcases the skill of the characters and the beginnings of what we would see in Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest films of the 70’s and 80’s. Wong Fei Hong ( Kwan Tak Hing) then takes a broadsword and handles the same multiple opponents! we also get Kung Fu ground fighting as well! Additionally, Kwan Tak Hing as Wong Fei Hong has a regal quality to him and the inclusion of Martial Virtue ( Wu De) into the plot reminds me of Lau Kar Leung movies such as Challenge of the Masters and Martial Club (both concerning the character Wong Fei Hong). We also get excellent displays of bare-hand and spear play! This movie has it all!!! ( Good Kung Fu)
The Story of Wong Fei Hong aka Wong Fei Hong’s Whip That Smakcs the Candle is a historically relevant piece of the martial arts movie puzzle. The thought of a Kung Fu film in 1949 ( and there were much earlier Wu Xia movies in China) showcasing authentic Hung Gar is a must watch. Although many movie fans will be a little dizzied by the plot(s) the martial culture presented in this movie is beyond measure. Kwan Tak Hing ( a true legend) is in his prime and carries himself as the prototype Sifu full of Confucian virtue and martial morality. Many of the stuntmen in the movie would go on to become some major players in the Hong Kong film industry and give us some great screen Kung Fu in the 1970’s and 80’s. In my opinion, this movie should be watched by every martial art movie fan.
* A special thanks to fellow Wong Fei Hong fan and Hung Gar Sifu Frank Bolte. His You Tube channel is the source of the material for this review and the subsequent Wong Fei Hong black and white serial reviews. I hope to have Sifu Frank on the Dojo Podcast to discuss these films and more. Also go visit Sifu Frank’s Facebook Page Wong Fei Hung the movies.