Wong Fei-hung: The Whip That Smacks the Candle

dir. Wu Pang

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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This groundbreaking Hong Kong kung-fu film marked the first screen incarnation of the revered Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung, who would later be played by martial-arts icons Jackie Chan and Jet Li.


One of the most revered of Chinese folk heroes, the legendary martial artist Wong Fei-hung (1847-1924) is also one of the most popular and enduring screen characters in cinema history. A tried and true symbol of Chinese tradition and patriotism standing tall against Western influence and foreign incursion, Wong was portrayed at various ages and in numerous incarnations, from the comic to the ultra-serious, in over one hundred feature films — most famously by Jackie Chan (in 1978’s Drunken Master and its absolutely awesome 1994 sequel) and Jet Li (in the Once Upon a Time in China series, the first two parts of which screen August 4). But Wu Pang’s 1949 The Whip That Smacks the Candle started it all: not only did it bring Wong to the screen for the first time in the person of Chinese opera star Kwan Tak-hing (who would go on to play the role in over 70 features, serials and TV episodes), it set the template for the modern kung-fu genre by eschewing the fantasy elements of the silent-era wuxia films in favour of realistic action choreography and a focus on the importance of martial-arts discipline and technique. Come see where it all began!