Today marks the anniversary of the death of one of China’s greatest and most celebrated martial artists.
Not Bruce Lee—his was in July. Nor Lee’s teacher, Ip Man, who passed away in a December. Meanwhile Jackie Chan remains alive and kicking Pierce Brosnan’s ass in cinemas later this year.
The man who passed away exactly 107 years ago today was Chinese folk hero Huo Yuanjia (霍元甲)—though some say that he died in September 1910.
Born in 1868 in a village that is now part of Tianjin, Huo was the middle of three sons. His father, Huo Endi, practiced Mizongyi (“Lost Track Skill”) and had initially refused to teach Huo due to his weak constitution.
However, this did not deter the young man and he secretly watched practice events. Later on, Huo displayed talent and, after promising not to fight in competition, Huo Endi took his son under his wing.
What followed blurs the border between fact and fiction, with Huo becoming a national hero due to his numerous high-profile victories against foreign martial artists.
To honor Huo and his martial prowess, TWOC presents a Huo Yuanjia movie binge for readers to indulge in.
The Chinese Connection (AKA Fist of Fury) 《精武门》, 1972—7.4 IMDB, 8.4 Douban
No list would be complete without an entry from the Master of Water, Bruce Lee. So kick off your Huo Yuanjia binge with Fist of Fury.
Unlike other movies on this list, Fist of Fury does not feature Huo himself. Instead, his death acts as the catalyst that drives the action. Lee plays Chen Zhen, a fictional student of Huo who, upon returning to find his master dead, aims to bring justice and bloody beat downs to the criminals responsible.
Legend of a Fighter 《霍元甲》, 1982—7.4 IMDB, 7.0 Douban
Bryan Leung may not be the most famous name in Chinese martial-art entertainment, but he has racked up an impressive filmography, and credibility in circles due to his lack of formal training growing up.
Legend of a Fighter sees Leung play Huo Yuanjia in his pre-fighting days, and culminates with a match against Japan’s best using the nation’s pride as stakes.
Fearless 《霍元甲》, 2006—7.7 IMDB, 6.6 Douban
Capping off this Huo Yuanjia binge is the most recent production, starring Jet Li as the titular (in the Chinese title) Huo Yuanjia.
Fearless retells the well-known legend of Huo as he learns to fight through numerous foreign opponents and into the hearts of the nation.
Unfortunately, several descendants of Huo filed a lawsuit against the film, due to its historically inaccurate details. The case was thrown out and Fearless contains some of the best choreographed fight scenes ever seen in wushu films.
Bonus: Huo Yuanjia 霍元甲, by Jay Chou 周杰伦
Listen to the theme song to Fearless, sung by Jay Chou, who would go on to play Kato in Seth Rogen’s The Green Hornet, a role originally made famous by Bruce Lee, and you’ve come full circle: “Huo, huo, huo huo, huo, huo huo, huo!”
Cover image from Mtime