We take a look at Once Upon A Time In China

25 Apr

My new partner in crime at and I have decided to collaborate on some of the finest Asian movies we’ve seen and give you, the reader, our thoughts on these films so you can make an informed decision on whether to view them or not.  Also, if you have seen any of the movies we decide to collaborate on we would love to hear your comments on the matter.  Again, this is one in a series we are going to do together so stay tuned for some great Asian movie reviews from two movie connoisseurs.

China has had a very tumultuous history, including hundreds of years of civil war, a humiliating defeat in the opium war and a bloody occupation by Japan.  It was during the dark times between the opium war and the Japanese occupation that a Chinese folk hero, physician and martial arts expert was to emerge — Wong Fei-hung (1847-1924).  Wong Fei-hung, a legendary figure, would, among other things, later inspire his countrymen to endure even bigger ordeals in the last century.  The legend of Wong Fei-hung has also inspired dozens of films.  In my opinion the best is Once Upon a Time In China, a 1991 Hong Kong kung-fu epic directed by Tsui Hark.  This film had five sequels and was among the first to introduce Jet Li as its main star to Western audiences.  Li as Wong Fei-hung provides the viewer with a fine performance especially given that role was played very early in his career.

The plot:  On the surface the movie seems simple enough, as my colleague said, almost Shaw Brothers simple, but in reality the story is very complex and transcends the many martial arts films whose plots can easily be summed up in a single sentence.  Wong Fei-Hung, like his countrymen, is forced to endure the humiliation of American slavers, local gangs, a renegade martial arts master and even his own wayward (but well-intentioned) students.  As if these problems were not enough, he has to contend with his growing affection for Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) which is important as to movie is set around the end of the 19th century when there were great social changes in China.  This is typified with his relationship with his “Aunt” Yee (who is not related to him by blood), as she would be taboo to marry.  The fact that this is a series of films allows the relationship to develop slowly also setting it apart from many Hong Kong films where romances are very fast-moving and unrealistic.

The action sequences are superb, which is unsurprising considering that they are choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping, though dim-witted critics who can find fault in anything point to the wire-work and use of doubles.  The final showdown is a stunning success of editing as Jet Li was injured and had to be doubled for many of the shots that weren’t above the waist, but his extraordinary  fist techniques make up for this.  The film has a long running time for a martial arts movies so for once there is plenty of time for story and action.

Hong Kong movies don’t come much better than this.  Anyone who is a fan of wire-work and/or the likes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon should hold this movie in high esteem—either that or they are a communist.  I could not agree more with my new partner in crime at Silver Emulsion.  You must check out his take on Once Upon a Time In China at — you would be a fool not to.


Posted by on April 25, 2010 in Movie Reviews


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14 responses to “We take a look at Once Upon A Time In China

  1. silveremulsion

    April 25, 2010 at 11:02 pm

    Good stuff! It’s cool that we both hit on different points so the reviews work together well.


    • jpfmovies

      April 26, 2010 at 12:45 am

      Yeah I went after the story a little bit and you went after the action Nice Job.


  2. Jude Finestra

    April 27, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Nice work dudes! You guys need to review some Ichi next (Zatoichi that is).


    • jpfmovies

      April 27, 2010 at 12:28 pm

      Ok Jude, I have talked to my new partner in crime and we will do one of the original Zatoichi movies starring Shintarô Katsu for our next collaboration.


  3. dangerousmeredith

    April 28, 2010 at 1:34 am

    coincidence – I am currently writing some blogs on this very movie! It is one of my favourites and, indeed, was probably one of the movies that turned me into the kung fu movie addict I am today. I look forward to reading your other blogs about Asian movies.


    • jpfmovies

      April 28, 2010 at 11:17 am

      Great Dangerous, checked out your page and you have some nice material! Pretty comprehensive have you been at this a while? Would you mind if I put your link on my page? You should also check out my new partner in crime Silver Emulsion at He has a nice eclectic collection and is also a big HK movie fan like me. Our next collaboration is Zatoichi “The Fugitive” I believe the fourth in that great, long running series starring Shintarô Katsu. If you ever want to collaborate on a film just let me know. JP


      • dangerousmeredith

        May 19, 2010 at 8:14 pm

        Of course I don’t mind if you put my link on your page – I would be most flattered. And I will reciprocate with you and silver emulsion.

        I have been blogging for a while on various things but have only started blogging on the Jet Li films in the last couple of months. Why? Poverty. I am unemployed and can’t afford to hire DVDs most weeks (let alone go to the cinema). This means that I am rewatching (yet again) my own DVD collection and, in between boring job applications, trying to keep my brain from atrophying by putting down some of my thoughts on my favourite films in blog form. I never expect anyone to share my interests or read my waffle so I am always chuffed if anyone shows an interest.

        I have seen a couple of Zatoichi – looking forward to reading your blogs on those.

        BTW – sorry it’s taken me so long to reply. I don’t have the internet on at home, and I have about 200 unopened notifications from wordpress, facebook, etc. in my email inbox


  4. jpfmovies

    May 20, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    I am glad you mentioned that you have problems getting access to movies (not that I am happy about the circumstances surrounding them) but I have, and often do, send movies electronically to my friends here and overseas that can’t otherwise get access to them. Why don’t you let me know what you would like and we can go from there.


    • dangerous meredith

      May 31, 2010 at 11:29 pm

      THIS is how far behind I am in getting onto the internet and reading my emails. I only just found this comment in my inbox today. As i mentioned in reply to your other comment I will definitely be in touch when I have my technology sorted out on the home front. Thanks!


      • jpfmovies

        June 1, 2010 at 12:09 am

        What are you using the Flintstones technology over their? You are in Australia correct? If you have a flash drive you could even get them off a library computer! Pull yourself together man! We can, and will, overcome these easily surmountable problems. It is truly an injustice that you are being forced to re-watch your Jet Li collection over and over again-not that there is anything wrong with Jet Li, but this is abominable. I am going to upload a movie tonight (well it is tonight for me) and I’ll send you the link (I’ll need an email) you can send it to me privately a and download all or parts of it at your convenience. However, at some point you’ll have to provide a guest review–deal?


      • jpfmovies

        June 1, 2010 at 12:12 am

        I take it back I have your email from your comments.



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