The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to the Movies

 A little bit of a lighter topic, but an interesting topic none the less…

I just finished re-watching the movie Fearless (starring Jet Li as Huo Yuanjia)

Great film. 

If you are into foreign martial arts movies I highly suggest that you check it out.

But…

I digress…

After re-watching the movie, I found myself wanting to learn more about the character portrayed by Jet Li.  So with that thought in mind I headed to the computer to conduct some research on the man known as Huo Yuanjia (if you have not seen the movie MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!).

Movie: In the movie Huo Yuanjia is portrayed a single parent, and only fathered one daughter.  His daughter is later murdered.  Given that the film concludes with Yuanjia’s death the viewer is left to assume that that is the end of his bloodline. 

Reality: In actuality Yuanjia has 7 grandsons and 11 great grandsons that are currently alive and well (I must admit that I am only assuming that they are “well”, as I have not had the opportunity to complete a complete physical on any of them!).  Impressive feat for a man that only fathered one deceased daughter! 

Movie: In the movie after returning from a self imposed exile, Yuanjia returns home to see this culture in ruins.  Additionally, it is brought to Yuanjin’s attention that a Western fighter in China is making claims that the Chinese are weak, and has issued an open challenge to any fighter will to accept.  In the film the man’s name is Hercules O’Brien.  Yuanjia accepts O’Brien’s challenge, and after a dramatic (and well choreographed) fight Yuanjia is victorious!

Reality: According to my research Yuanjia did in fact participate in pubic fights/matches, but the above match did not happen at all as outlined above.  In fact, depending on whom you choose to believe this match may have never even happened!    

Many different versions of what happened in the “match” between Yuanjia and O’Brien are floating around.  The 2 most common are as follows:

1)      Apparently, Yuanjia twice traveled to Shanghai to accept the open challenge that had been put forth by British boxer Hercules O’Brien (O’Brien was not a strong man, but an amateur boxer).  After much discourse, set of rules was finally agreed upon, and a match date/time where set.  However the match never actually took place as O’Brien skipped town before the match actually happened.     

2)      After much discourse regarding the rules of the match (O’ Brien requesting traditional boxing rules with punches being the only types of strikes allowed and Yuanjia requesting a more free style match allowing for a variety of different strikes), it was agreed that the 1st individual to knock out his opponent would be the victor (the rules that where actually used are never made clear).   Yuanjia won the match.  However, little is actually known about O’Brien’s skill level (all that is known is that he was some form of amateur boxer) and he was definitely not the monstrous strong man as portrayed in the movie. 

Movie: The final act of the movie revolves around a match between Yuanjia and 4 other martial arts masters.  Yuanjia must defeat each master in a single day in order to be declared victorious.  After 4 grueling battles, Yuanjia defeats each master and is declared the victor. 

Reality: My research indicates that this epic match never took place.  The battle seems to be an embellished amalgamation of several other matches/encounters that Yuanjia had during the course of this life.

Movie: In the film Yuanjia is poisoned during his last match (against the 4 different masters in a single day).  The film indicts that the Japanese/Westerns are responsible for the poising and subsequent death of Yuanjia.

Reality: It is not known how Yuanjia actually died.  It has been discovered that Yuanjia did in fact die of lethal dose of arsenic, but is not know exactly how the arsenic got into his system.  Some speculate that he was poisoned by a Japanese organization as revenge for a defeat at the hands of Yuanjia during a Wushu/Judo competition.  Others theorize that he was prescribed the wrong medication/dose by his new Chinese doctor/herbalist (as arsenic was an ingredient in some types of Chinese medicine at the time).

So let us put on our skeptical thinking caps shall we…

What have we learned from all of the above info…

Just because a movie is billed as “based on a true story”, does not mean that the characters/events/etc. contained within are actually true…

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One Response to “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to the Movies”

  1. Ive learned it is almost always the case when a movie says “based on a true story” that maybe 10% is true at best and even that is a high percentage at times.

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