Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
Reviewed by: Gaijin84 on 2005-08-04
Summary: Classic Tsui Hark...
Jet Li takes his first shot at the role of the legendary Wong Fei-hung in Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China. Fei-hung, who runs a medical clinic, martial arts school and the Local Fa Shan Militia, is given the task of looking after his Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) after she arrives back from a trip to America. A gang from the Shah Ho province has been extorting money from local merchants, and when they go after Leung Foon (Yuen Biao), a local actor, they end up tangling with the Militia, led by one of his star pupils, Lam Sai-wing (Ken Cheng). The gang becomes a problem later in the movie as well when they manage to convince some sleazy American traders that Fei-hung and his men are the sole obstacle in setting up a lucrative prostitution exporting scheme. After an attempt on Fei-hung's life at a theater event, local townsfolk are killed, and the Militia is framed for the crime. Meanwhile, Leung Foon has become the pupil of a down-and-out martial arts expert Master Yim, who decides to become head of the Shah Ho gang and challenge Fei-hung for the control of the Fa Shan province. When the gang captures Aunt Yee and plans to ship her off to be a prostitute in America, Fei-hung must single-handedly take on Master Yim, the Shah Ho thugs and the ruthless American traders.

Once Upon a Time in China is an immensely entertaining film, very well directed by Tsui Hark, featuring good performances and incredible fight scenes. The film not only has an interesting main story, but a very good sub-plot involving Fei-hung's (and China's as a whole) acceptance of the Western influence from traders and missionaries. Unfortunately, there are almost no sympathetic Western characters in the film, most of them being pretty bad stereotypes of loud and rude Americans. Wong Fei-hung is a very popular folk hero in Hong Kong, so his dealings with the West is interesting in that is probably represented the public feeling at the time the film was made in 1991. Although it's slow at some points and feels quite long, Once Upon a Time in China is a fascinating film not only for its action and directing, but its view into the Chinese psyche surrounding change and Western influence.
Reviewer Score: 8