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

New Movies

Dunkirk Movie Review

Dunkirk Movie Review

Britain's epic 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk has been dramatised on film before, but no one...

Killing Ground Movie Review

Killing Ground Movie Review

From Australia, this dark and edgy thriller is skilfully made by writer-director Damien Power to...

City of Ghosts Movie Review

City of Ghosts Movie Review

This award-winning documentary plays like a thriller as it traces the work of a group...

Cars 3 Movie Review

Cars 3 Movie Review

It's been six years since the last Cars movie (there were two Planes movies in...

The Beguiled Movie Review

The Beguiled Movie Review

In her inimitable loose style, Sofia Coppola remakes the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie from a...

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

The surprisingly thoughtful prequel trilogy comes to a powerful conclusion with this robust, dramatic thriller,...

It Comes At Night Movie Review

It Comes At Night Movie Review

This sharply original horror film not only approaches its premise from an unexpected angle, but...

Advertisement
Okja Movie Review

Okja Movie Review

As Tilda Swinton reteams with her Snowpiercer director, Korea's Bong Joon Ho, it's perhaps unsurprising...

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

This may be the third reboot of this franchise in 15 years, risking audience exhaustion,...

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Actually the fourth film in the series (don't forget the prequel Minions), this animated super-villain...

Baby Driver Movie Review

Baby Driver Movie Review

Wildly energetic and so cool it hurts, this action movie has been put together in...

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

There's a clear sense that this Tupac Shakur biopic is hoping to build on the...

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

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.