Required viewing for any Hong Kong Cinema fan. While long-winded and overstuffed. The film still provides terrific action sequences and a healthy history lesson.
Once Upon a Time in China (phim vo thuat hong kong) is director Tsui Hark’s seminal Wong Fei-Hong epic. Clocking in at over two hours, the hit film launched an entire series of new Wong Fei-Hong films. Plot: China is in turmoil, with Western influence having an upsetting effect on China’s long cultural history. Wong Fei-Hong (Jet Li) must fight dastardly foreigners intent on smudging China with their gweilo presence. Said bastard foreigners are in cahoots with a local band of Chinese who frame Wong’s local militia for a series of terrorist acts.
Meanwhile, Leung Fu (Yuen Biao), a member of said evil band of Chinese, gets attracted to Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan). Fu hooks up with Master Yim (Yen Shi-Kwan), who wants to supplant Wong’s status as the number one kung-fu guy. To accomplish his goal, Master Yim hooks up with the bastard band of Chinese who want to get Wong Fei-Hong(Hoang Phi Hong). Eventually, all the evil parties make a deal with the bastard foreigners and try to ship Chinese women to America. Their plan: to entice Chinese workers to head to America as coolies. Aunt Yee is kidnapped as part of this plot, and Leung Fu objects. Now he and Wong Fei-Hong must save Yee AND come to terms with the reality of gweilos in Asia. It’s like this: the Chinese have kung-fu, but the foreigners have guns.
The above Byzantine plot is part cinematic drama but also equal parts political commentary and actual Chinese history. The result: a rather confusing kung-fu epic that’s helped along by fantastic action sequences and a terrific central performance by Jet Li (Ly Lien Kiet). There’s plenty of debate as to whether the film is truly a cinema classic or simply long and boring, but fandom seems to side with the former opinion. Once Upon a Time in China is worth watching for the liberal doses of Chinese history and for its excellent action design. Tsui Hark won a Best Director Hong Kong Film Award for this film.