In 1991, the father of fant-Asia film, Tsui Hark, cast Jet Li as folk hero Huang Fei-hong in Once Upon a Time In China (OUTIC), the film in which Jet broke his leg and from then on welcomed the use of stunt doubles. Although the franchise had five sequels, Jet starred in OUTIC II (1992), OUTIC III (1993) and the final installment OUTIC and America (1997). Jet Li played a more comedic version of Huang in the Last Hero of China (1993).
All set in the late 19th century and nearing the end of the Ching Dynasty, Huang battles foreign forces in OUTIC, fights a foreigner killing cult and protects Sun Yat-sen in OUTIC II, tackles marriage, assassins and lion dance matches in OUTIC III (1993), and in OUTIC and America, faces Indians, racism and Chinese mobsters in America.
Jet pointed out to me 20 years ago, “In the ’50s and ’60s, Huang reflected the people of that era. Back in Huang’s days and in OUTIC films, when China opened its doors to Western culture, people learned things, good or bad. My Huang character focused on learning something good from the Westerner while keeping the good from our culture.
Huang Fei-hong films
Historically, Huang films represented the generations of Chinese at the time they were made. For me, Huang reflected on who I was when the films were made…a man battling to understand his own culture and open himself up to the West.”
Born in 1847, in Canton, Huang was the true reflection of the Confucian code. Apart from his phenomenal Hong chia kung fu, fei tuo (metal weight attached to rope) and iron wire skills, Huang was renowned for his chivalry, righteousness and devotion to running his father’s Bao Zhi Lin Chinese herb clinic.
He was also Canton’s top lion dancer (nicknamed Lion King) and renowned for his no shadow kick that was made famous by Tsui’s OUTIC films, where Jet Li would fly sideways through the air kicking his legs as if riding a bicycle.
It’s known as the Hong Kong kick in Hollywood. Nobody really knows what the no shadow kick looked like because it was so fast that it didn’t leave a shadow.
He later married teenage bride Muo Gui-lan that was bestowed to him in return for saving her father’s life. Deeply saddened by the destruction of his father’s clinic during the Republican Revolution, Huang slowly passed away and died in 1924 at age 77.