Wong Fei Hung [Once Upon A Time In China] (1991)

(On VHS, December 2001) I guess it had to happen: a martial arts film where I was more interested in the story than the martial arts themselves. For some reason, there isn’t much in terms of spectacular fighting in Once Upon A Time In China (save for the end ladder sequence, which is good fun) and so the interest of the film becomes the theme of guns-versus-fists, and the encroachment of the new Occidental values over the traditional Chinese ways of doing things. Western audiences may feel uncomfortable with the subject matter, but it made me curious to see a non-dubbed subtitled version to see if they have indeed softened some anti-American rhetoric. In any case, Once Upon A Time In China almost serves as a link between the Asian kung-fu films and the more modern Hong Kong bullet-ballets. As far as Jet Li films go, I still prefer Fist Of Legend, but if you’ve seen the rest…

(Second viewing, On DVD, January 2004) On second thoughts, the action portions of this film appreciates and the historical content depreciates. Oh, there’s still a lot of interest in seeing a different perspective, with the French, English and Americans as the bad guys, but the lack of subtlety peeks through once the surprise of seeing actual historical content in a kung-fu film fades away. The rain fight is still a delight, and so is the end ladder fight, but the film as a whole is just adequate. The all-in-one trilogy DVD contains the subbed movie, and that’s pretty much it.

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