‘Fearless’ Is Based on a True Story — but Some Say It’s Inaccurate

Kate Brierley - Author

Aug. 7 2020, Updated 2:48 p.m. ET

The Martial Arts Movie ‘Fearless’ With Jet Li is a True Story
Source: Getty Images

If you never caught the movie Fearless, you’re missing out on a piece of history. The 2006 martial arts movie stars the legendary Jet Li and is directed by Ronny Yu. At the time of its release, it received special attention as Jet Li said it would be his last-ever martial arts film.

The plot centers on a martial artist who takes solace in a remote village to rebuild strength and perspective following tragedy. He returns to find himself involved in a duel to the death in defense of China. 

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'Fearless' is based on a true story.

Yes, really! Many believe it to be a work of fiction, but Jet Li’s character in Fearless is that of Chinese Martial Arts Master and Wushu legend Huo Yuanjia. Huo Yuanjia founded the Jin Wu Sports Federation and is called one of China's historical sports heroes, and lived from 1868 to 1910. He also co-founded the Shanghai martial arts school known as Chin Woo Athletic Association.

Source: Getty Images
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Today, the Huo Yuanjia Memorial is a major attraction in Beijing to commemorate his honor. It features 42 "Wu" characters, representing Huo Yuanjia’s 42 years of martial arts study.

The "World Chin Woo" exhibition is home to many trophies, medals, and accolades, “showing us how well Chin Woo Athletic Association developed after Huo Yuanjia passed away.” He lived until the age of 96.

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But some of Huo Yuanjia’s family are unhappy with ‘Fearless.’

Though Jet Li expresses his desire to pay homage to Huo Yuanjia, he missed the mark with some of the legendary martial artist’s family, resulting in a public battle over his image.

Members of Huo Yuanjia’s family were angered to the point of filing lawsuits and demanding apologies from Jet Li, including Huo Shoujin (Huo Yuanjia’s grandson), and Huo Zizheng (Huo Yuanjia's great-grandson).

The family says his depiction of Huo Yuanjia strayed too far from the truth to be accurate, and tried to block the movie’s distribution, accusing the film of “maligning the reputation of his family.” For example, in the movie, Huo Yuanjia’s family is killed as a form of revenge, which wasn’t the case in real life. Huo Yuanjia is also shown to have grown up in an upper-class home — servants included — when actually, he is said to have come from a family of farmers.

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Source: Getty Images

“Huo, the grandson, contends that the film is completely inaccurate,” China Daily reports. “It portrays his ancestor as a man who killed many innocent people just for the sport of it. It also shows Huo's redemption and eventual self-fulfillment comes to him through his unrequited love for a blind girl.”

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The size of Huo Yuanjia’s family was also called into question by Huo Zizheng. "I couldn't believe they would make up stories like that,” he said

“According to their story, Huo [Yuanjia]'s sons were all killed and he left no offspring. Actually, Huo Yuanjia has seven grandsons and 11 great grandsons including me. We're a big family."

But the Yuanjia family legacy lives on.

Drama aside, Huo Yuanjia’s great-granddaughter is carrying on the family tradition of martial arts excellence with more gold medals to add to their collection. Talk about girl power. 

Fearless is available to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

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