Once Upon a Time in China

"Essential"

Once Upon a Time in China Review


The West has Billy the Kid and the East has Wong Fei-hung... and if ever the twain shall meet I will lose all faith in humanity and moviemaking. [Check out Shanghai Noon. -Ed.] Wong Fei-hung, arguably the biggest folk hero in Chinese legend and cinema, has shown up in various movies and dime novels in China since the 1930s. In America, he's just begun to make a real dent... showing up via Jackie Chan in The Legend of Drunken Master and Jet Li in Once Upon a Time in China.

Master of just about any kung fu style out there and massive opponent of imperialism, the legendary Wong Fei is pretty much there whenever China needs him, and, when one of China's anti-imperialist generals goes off to resist the French Occupation of Vietnam, Wong Fei is set to train a local militia to ensure that the West doesn't overrun the country while the General is away. Wong, with the help of many a militiaman with a strange-translated nickname (like Porky or Buck Teeth), attempts to do so, but this being a movie, something had to go wrong. In this case, his militia men get involved in a street fight with a local mobster, Leung Fu (Biao Yuen), and just happen to fight their way into Wong Fei-hung's diplomatic dinner with the Americans.

Needless to say, this doesn't help Wong's standing with the Westerners at all, and various pressures are placed upon him to bend to the rule of the West. Assassination is attempted, Wong's Aunt-in-Law ends up facing the threat of prostitution, his men are told not to fight yet are continually attacked... pick your reason, Wong Fei-hung just can't stay out of it.

Compound this with the fact that Wong Fei-hung is pitted against yet another Kung Fu Master, Iron Robe Yim (Yee Kwan Yan) in a challenge of honor, and Wong's just not having a good week.

Movies about Wong Fei-hung always tend to be filled with allegorical symbolism, and Once Upon a Time in China is no exception. Wong is the traditional man who wishes for privacy, yet finds, like China did, that sticking to yourself doesn't mean others wont bother you. Iron Robe is a member of the Boxer Rebellion, sure that bullets cannot beat Kung Fu until he finds himself shot with one. Buck Teeth is the Chinese that can live well within Western culture and thus finds himself an outcast in his own.

The film's most interesting character ends up being Iron Robe, who, although he doesn't show up until halfway through the movie, is portrayed as a broken man from the start, making it one of the few times that you actually sympathize with the "bad guy" in a Kung Fu movie.

Like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Once Upon a Time in China raises the bar for a genre often thought of as meaningless dribble, showing that a Kung Fu movie can be more than just spectacular fight sequences. Of course Wong Fei-hung doesn't ever disappoint in that aspect, either. One particular fight that takes place on a series of ladders in a warehouse can leave even the most seasoned Kung Fu vet with his jaw dropped... and, if not for the overwhelming political message, why the hell else are you gonna see the movie? Once Upon a Time in China is art, and you can feel free to tell yourself you're seeing it for that, but a few hundred words of explanation later, I only have two words that sum up the entire film: It's cool.

Aka Wong Fei-hung.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 134 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 15th August 1991

Box Office Worldwide: $3.8M

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Entertainment

Production compaines: Golden Harvest Company

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Wong Fei-hung, Yuen Biao as Leung Fu, as Buck Teeth Soh, as Porky Lang, as Tiger, Jonathan Isgar as Jackson, Shi-Kwan Yen as Iron Robe Yim, Shih Kien as Old man who gives advise, Chi Yeung Wong as Commander Man, Mark King as British general, Lau Shun as Naval Commander, Kam-Fai Yuen as Kai, Yuen Shun-Yi as Honorable Manchu Soldier, Wu Ma as Old Man, as Aunt Yee

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Advertisement
Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

It's Only the End of the World Movie Review

At just 27 years old, Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan has an almost overwhelming set of...

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.