Huo Yuanji's life is one which inspires Chinese. He lived during the turn of the century, January 18, 1868 to August 9, 1910. During this time, China saw many changes, most notably the growing influence of foreigners on the country. The last dynasty of China was in power and slowly in decline. China saw the rising of the Boxer Rebellion and the growing power of their neighbor, Japan.
As a youth, Huo Yuanji was considered too weak to learn martial arts. He suffered from asthma and jaundice, both of which would haunt him his whole life. Despite this, he secretly watched his father teach others the family martial arts. When the time came, he stood forward and surprised everyone by winning a challenge. From that day forward, his father accepted training him in the family's style, Mizongyi.
Huo Yuanji's fame rose as a fighter. And when several foreigners called the Chinese weak men, he openly challenged them to fights to stand up for his country. At the age of 42, he died quite suddenly. There are many speculations around his death. With his growing popularity, there is some belief that he was poisoned with arsenic by the very foreigners he challenged. However, it is difficult to tell because certain forms of arsenic are used as treatment for various diseases which ailed him in traditional Chinese medicine.
Because of his willingness to stand up for China against these foreigners, he was widely regarded as a national hero. Many legends and stories were developed around his life. The latest rendition stars Jet Li as Huo Yuanjia.
In this version of the story, Huo Yuanjia has a very precarious beginning. Having been subjected to a childhood of being considered too weak to learn to fight, he is constantly trying to prove he is the best and strongest. This leads to fairly dire consequences for his family. It is not until he's lost all and rediscovers himself does he emerge as the legendary hero of China. At the end, while he gains the respect of his opponents, he is faced with betrayal which ends his life.
Much of the movie is probably propaganda, the whole the old ways is selfish and the simple life is the better route to follow; but the story was enjoyable and the Martial Arts fun to watch. This isn't a movie I'd race out to get; but given the opportunity, I would definitely watch it again.