Once Upon a Time in China

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Total Count: 25


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User Ratings: 22,687
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Movie Info

Though generally unknown to Western audiences, Tsui Hark is considered a giant among Asian filmmakers and this exceptional epic, combining hard-hitting martial-arts action with romance, comedy, history, genuine poignance, and sharp insight into the effects of the century-long encroachment of Western civilization in Asia more than amply demonstrates why. The story centers on the exploits of Master Wong Fei-hung (a familiar figure in Hong Kong cinema) a 19th-century doctor, Confucian, and exceptional martial artist. As the film begins, he has just opened a new clinic in Canton Province. To help him with patients, he hires a few apprentices including Porky Lang (the comic relief) and Buck Teeth Sol, who was raised outside China and barely can speak the language. Wong is platonically involved with the lovely, worldly Aunt Yee, who has been abroad most of her life. Wong soon gets in trouble when he begins using his skills to protect and assist the poor and helpless in his community. As a result, someone torches his clinic, forcing Wong and his compadres to set off and get spectacularly staged revenge. They also try vainly to stop Western culture from changing traditional Chinese ways, but they soon find that they may as well be shoveling sand against a rising tide.


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Critic Reviews for Once Upon a Time in China

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (3) | Fresh (22) | Rotten (3)

Audience Reviews for Once Upon a Time in China

  • Jan 12, 2014
    Directors C Super Reviewer
  • Dec 31, 2011
    The iconic theme song of this Wong Fei Hung trilogy defined "heroic" for my generation of Chinese kids. Revisited this childhood staple with my family on New Year's Eve. With the comedy, nonstop action, romance and stirring story of overcoming oppression, this is another all-in-one Hong Kong miracle product from Tsui Hark. Jet Li looked great in this film, that face is just so righteous. And you get to see him in a 3-piece suit at the end! The dialogue was beautiful and rousingly poetic, that's something non-Chinese speaking audiences will lose. The common saying "Ren yi shi feng ping lang jing, tui yi bu hai kuo tian kong" translates to: "Bear it for a while to calm the wind and still the waves, retreat a step to broaden the sea and clear the sky" explains why the Chinese people often swallow their pride to avoid confrontation for the 'greater good'. Until the red-blooded, patriotic Doctor Wong Fei Hung comes along and yells at China to wake up and stand up to their Manchurian and foreign conquerors, to bleed for their motherland. The film is a bit too long at 2+ hours. It won't bore you, but you have to go into it prepared for a LotR-type epic.
    Letitia L Super Reviewer
  • Aug 17, 2011
    While I am still getting used to Hong Kong films, this was a surprisingly good critique of western civilization and the chaos that it breeds. Hark finds clever ways to show how the eastern spirit has been drowned out by the sounds modernity. Also, not being an action fan, I was oddly really enraptured by the Kung fu.
    Reid V Super Reviewer
  • Feb 10, 2011
    Highly kinetic martial arts film in terms of execution and framing that even the slower scenes look exhausting. Jet Li starred as the legendary Wong Fei Hung(previously played by Jackie Chan in "Drunken Master"), an herbalist/martial artist/patriot whose principles and nationalistic standpoint were caught off-guard by the sudden wave of American culture and western arrogance. The film, directed by Tsui Hark, portrayed the Chinese as highly gullible people who will never back out from a fight yet will consider alien words that describe America(such as 'Gold Mountain' and 'gold dusts in the rivers') as absolute truths. Yes, it's chief villain were basically Americans(with irritating voices and performances) but never the entirety of the country's mores. The root of the conflict was not mainly a cultural clash, nor a friction created by opposite viewpoints. "Once Upon a Time in China", although at certain times heading into something as close as that, is not a propaganda film. It's a film that rendered illegalities at its most chaotic, and how a country bound in simplicity such as 19th century China would respond to such: with utter defiance, and some kicks and punches on the side to further the point. There's no question about Jet Li's ability in fight sequences, but in his acting range, there sure is. I see him do flashy moves, repel fights, engage in some himself, rescue people, assist sick people with his herbal know-hows, but I never saw him do all of it as Master Wong. He goes through the more demanding scenes, actor-wise, with facial expressions that suggest indifference. We can't blame him. He's an action star. But I sure would have preferred it if he had brought some Jackie Chan-type enthusiasm into the character. The kicks landed perfectly, the punches were thrown with accuracy, I even felt the abundant patriotism in the air. But Wong Fei Hung, amid his highly impressive fight scenes and ballistic fingers(that match perfectly with some lead balls), is sorely missing both in presence and in character. And where's some drunken boxing?
    Ivan D Super Reviewer

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