Yang Luchan on the silver screen

During the late Qing dynasty, a young man from Hebei named Yang Yuqian leaves his village to seek out a kungfu master. After many travails and escapades, he ends up in Chen Family Village in Henan. Once there, he asks to become a student of the taiji master Chen Zhengying, but is refused, as the Chen family art is not taught to outsiders. However, eventually Chen accepts Yang as his disciple. Yang masters the art and brings it to Beijing, where he defeats allcomers and sets up his own school teaching the art.

Sound familiar?

That’s because this is the plot of the 1997 mainland series ‘Master of Tai Chi’, which, of all the various kungfu films and series over the years with the word Tai Chi in the title, cleaves closest to the actual story of tai chi. Of course, the directors Zhang Xinyan [1] and Yuen Woo-ping [2] have taken artistic liberties with the story: names have been changed (Yang Yuqian for Yang Luchan, Chen Zhengying for Chen Changxing), Yang becomes Chen’s disciple after saving him from poisoning (rather than working as an indentured servant like the real Yang Luchan), Yang falls in love with Chen’s daughter, and so on.

The most interesting departure from history is that Yang, in his quest for high-level kungfu, first goes to Beijing, where he meets Dong Hancheng (a thinly disguised Dong Haichuan) and asks to be accepted as his disciple. However, because Dong is on a mission to assassinate the emperor (coincidentally mirroring a real-life theory as to how Dong came to become a eunuch [3]), he refuses and it is only later that Yang finds his way to Chen Family Village.

Wu Jing

Wu Jing in a wushu-ised taiji posture

The fight between Dong and Yang is a standout of the entire series in that both Dong and Yang are (to a certain extent) shown to use recognisable techniques and principles from their respective styles. An excerpt of the final fight between Dong and Yang can be found here.

‘Master of Tai Chi’ is also rare in celluloid versions of the taiji story in that the main protagonist actually practices taiji. Wu Jing, the actor playing Yang Yuqian, performs a speeded-up version of the Chen 56 competition routine throughout the series.

In a 2006 interview, Wu revealed that he went to Chenjiagou to learn the routine from Wang Xi’an and is good friends with Wang’s second son, Wang Zhanjun. Even after the filming finished, he continues to visit Chenjiagou at sporadic intervals to learn taiji and relax from the stresses of his ‘day job’ as an actor.

Wu Jing pushing hands with Wang Zhanjun

Wang Zhanjun (L) pushing hands with Wu Jing (R)

[1] Zhang Xinyan was the director of 1984’s Shaolin Temple, the film which started Jet Li on his path to fame.

[2] Yuen Woo-ping is one of the most respected and successful martial arts choreographers in the world having worked  on such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Matrix series among others.

[3] Li Ziming, in his 1993 book “Dong Haichuan & Baguazhang”, put forward a theory that Dong came to Beijing and became a eunuch in order to assassinate the emperor. This theory was based on interviews with masters from the second and third generations of bagua.

About yosaku

Xingyiquan enthusiast
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3 Responses to Yang Luchan on the silver screen

  1. eastpaw says:

    Hm… I dunno. Too much Wushu posturing for my liking. Also, that flying clothesline at 2:01 was just silly.

    But I guess they have to film fight scenes that are understandable to the general audience.

  2. Marc says:

    Is it possible to buy this series of Master of Tai Chi?

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