Huo Yuanjia was nicknamed « northern Wong Fei-hong ». It's a very adequate comparison. Indeed, the two masters lived at the same time and are exemplary figures of Chinese martial folklore occupying the same niche; the one of the wise, valiant and patriotic patriarch. Each one in his way trained disciples and assured the reputation and continuity of Chinese martial arts. Their origins, exploits, destinies and martial arts styles that each practised were however totally different.
After his death, Master Wong became a hero of serialized novels, radio shows and especially cinema. First with the famous film series started at the end of the 40s which lasted for 20 years with Master Wong remarkably played by
Kwan Tak Hing.
Then, Wong Fei-hung became a recurring character played by, apart from Kwan Tak-hing, Jackie Chan, Gordon Liu, and Jet Li. In all, almost 100 films and two TV series were made on the venerable master from Canton covering his life from childhood to old age.
Though he was as great a martial figure as him, Master Huo didn't experience the film notoriety of Wong Fei-hung, quite the contrary. Indeed, only two films were devoted to him. A fistful of other films did evoke his name but they dealt with the myth of his death. This difference would be partly explained by the fact that the kung-fu cinema originating from Hong Kong and closely linked to Cantonese martial folklore, Wong Fei-hung was thus a much more recognised and appropriate figure than the northerner Huo Yuan-jia. Hong Kong's Mandarin cinema (mostly composed of refugees from Shanghai and Beijing, so people from the north) had indeed its own martial folklore but this one essentially drew from the tradition of the wu xia stories and not from pugilist masters of a recent past (see kung fu pian, wu xia pian, Mandarin and Cantonese cinema). Master Huo's film prospects were therefore doubly handicapped.
Yet, in the early 70s Hong Kong 's Mandarin cinema counterpart had a total ascendancy over its Cantonese language and cultural counterpart. Wong Fei-hung and the southern martial folklore were therefore put on the back burner and just when a new fad for kung-fu was beginning. It's in this context that in only a few months a film clearly dealing with Master Huo and two others inspired by some aspects of his legend appeared. Among those was
Fist of Fury.