Once Upon a Time in China - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Once Upon a Time in China Reviews

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March 20, 2017
Comedy and action mixed together make this an enjoyable film to view, and of course Jet Li & Yuen Woo-Ping's fight sequences are always worth watching.
September 18, 2016
This was one of the first movies that I found after seeing Jet Li in American cinema, and I have to say that this series is quite wonderful, Li is at the top of his game and masterfully directed by Tsui Hark.

½ April 25, 2016
With a full-fledged passion for the martial arts style of Jet Li, Once Upon a Time in China sounded like a good chance to look back at the man in his early cultural glory.

It's important to acknowledge that prior to seeing Once Upon a Time in China I was familiar with Jet Li strictly through his English-language action with the exception of the big-budget Wushu epic Fearless (2006). As such, I was not fully certain of what to expect from Once Upon a Time in China and so it didn't reach my expectations. Much greater in scale and narrative-driven than a standard martial arts vehicle, Once Upon a Time in China puts a greater emphasis on its genuine narrative than simply on action, even though it succeeds at doing both. However, as a viewer not familiar with the historical relevance of the narrative I lean more favourably towards the action-driven part of the story. But throughout the slow-paced and extensive story, it ends up being rather sporadic.
Due to its Chinese roots in history it is difficult to ascertain for certain how much of the story in Once Upon a Time in China maintains historical fidelity and how much is dramatized for the sake of forming an action narrative. I have no idea what the story means to audiences in its native country, but I can appreciate the style in which it is told. However, there seems to be a very large scale of events going on in the course of the story and between the larger scope of events and the many characters they try to fit into it, the characterization gets lost and keeping track of everything becomes more challenging. I might have been able to follow it all more if I spoke the language of the film, but between attempting to admire the style of the film and pick up on all the themes in the dialogue-heavy dramatic sequences I managed to get lost. Western audiences are bound to find more appreciation for Once Upon a Time in China on the basis of its martial arts choreography than the relevance of its Eastern culture and from that perspective there is inconsistency in the overall value of the cinematic experience.
Whenever the action happens in Once Upon a Time in China, it tends to last variable rates of time. There are various long-running scenes which are empowered by the strength of the choreography and the visual style which captures it all, but it isn't always easy to determine when they're gonna come in. The fight scenes prove strongly impressive thanks to the dedicated efforts of the cast and the way they target each other and bounce off of the surroundings. The use of wires and stunt doubles is key to this all, but the spectacle of action entertainment is enrichened by the powerhouse physical performances of the bodies on display. The action occurs in a versatile collection of settings which give strong and colourful backgrounds to every scene along with the detailed production design and costumes even if there aren't fights occurring in them. The cinematography manages to consistently keep the appeal of the scenery empowered in the backdrop, and the use of long-shots, Dutch angles and slow motion manages to add further atmosphere to it all. And the musical score sweeps this all up, ensuring that the entire film works to serve as a strong piece of testimony to Tsui Hark's directorial credibility.
In terms of acting, it should be noted that Once Upon a Time in China still manages to succumb to some of the flaws of even the most generic kung fu movies. Namely, the English-language version has dubbing with voice actors who are a little too juvenile to capture the spirit of the actual actors, and they seem to just chatter over each other a bit much. But then again, that's to be expected. Yet somehow even the Chinese-language version is propped with mediocre dubbing. It matches the spirit of the cast more, but it still fails to sync up with the mouths of the actors much of the time. It is a feature that viewers must overlook much of the time to see the greater value in Once Upon a Time in China.
Amid it all, Jet Li delivers a solid leading performance. In the role of Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung, Jet Li manages to deliver natural charisma in his own native language. Even if the story itself can become a little too big to track at times, Jet Li effectively remains a competent and charismatic lead who grasps the wisdom of his character without faltering on the emotional humanity of the part or the occasional flair for comic spirit. Though the many characters of the film get lost in the crowd, Jet Li's heroic spirit manages to carry himself through the entire film with dedication to the script. Of course, the greatest asset he contributes is his incredible martial arts skills. Jet Li manages to fight as if he is a dancer as he does it with swift speed yet smooth grace and never back down to anyone. Though he puts fear in the character, he doesn't integrate it into his technique and keeps a consistent flow throughout his endless spectacle of martial arts. Jet Li's fighting spirit in Once Upon a Time in China is far more kata oriented than in American productions due to its focus more on showing off techniques than on using them solely to create violent visual content, and the passion of his ambition manages to carry the real spirit of martial arts very nicely.

Once Upon a Time in China is a culturally rich film which ties strong martial arts choreography into a tale of a legendary Chinese folk hero and is empowered by Jet Li's role in capturing both sides to this, but with its extensive running time and slow pace making the wide scope of the story less-interesting to keep up with, the story itself proves less structurally sound for a western perspective.
October 24, 2015
An excellent historical fiction, martial arts movie featuring Jet Li as the legendary Master Wong Fei-hung.
½ September 16, 2015
I believe I had never seen the whole film from beginning to end until tonight. And I bet I am one of the very few who doesn't like the film (or maybe the whole series actually) at all.
Tsui Hark's 1990s reboot of the character Wong Fei-Hung has been regarded as a big success, & which also helped Jet Li's career a big deal.
But the film itself, like most of Tsui Hark's pre-2000s work, was a big mess in story-telling, besides those catchy Kung Fu action, in addition to its totally unnecessary, tiresome, long-winding length.
½ July 7, 2015
Il était une fois en Chine est un film légendaire de Tsui Hark, un monument du cinéma d'arts martiaux chinois, un point d'ancrage dans la chronologie du cinéma de ce pays. Il est facile de comprendre pourquoi tant il représente la somme de ce qu'on veut voir quand on se pose devant un tel film : les combats sont nombreux et virevoltants, Jet Li est badass à souhait, les bad guys sont très méchants, l'humour débile y est bien présent... C'est d'ailleurs son problème, aujourd'hui en 2015 : il n'y a quasiment aucune surprise et le film est souvent trop plein de tous ces éléments. Parfois trop long, voire incompréhensible, Il était une fois en Chine a surtout extrêmement mal vieilli. Le ventre mou y serait presque rédhibitoire s'il n'y avait ce final fabuleux où l'inventivité de Tsui Hark ressort comme neuve, défiant toute logique. Bien sûr, c'est un très bon film. Mais d'autres films de Tsui Hark ont bien mieux vieilli.
½ April 7, 2015
Once Upon A Time in China was promising at the beginning: typical cultural clash between Western countries and China with multiple factions with different interests. Unfortunately it was trapped with gordian knot later, tied up with so many distracting subplots so that pure violence is the only exit solution. One dimensional villains are too abundant as well, but on the lighter note it manages to explore beautiful acrobatic choreography to extreme ends.
December 13, 2014
I quite enjoyed the first movie in this massive franchise. Its good to finally see a Jet Li film were there not flying in the air and fighting on strings. Anyway, the movie is basically about Americans trying to take over China. Some of the gangs buy into the Americans policies and attack the people that are trying to keep China the same. Its quite a simple storyline, but there are other aspects to the story, like the down and out fighter who wants to fight Jet Li so he can prove that he is the best and open his own fighting school. The fighting scenes were quite impressive and the different disciples who are working for Jet Li, we're quite funny. Aunt Yee, who was the lady character, did become annoying after a while but the showdown at the end was brilliant, mainly because it reminded me of the old Kung Fu movies and the ladder work was amazing. Anyway, the film does seem a bit long but it's an enjoyable movie which is worth a watch. Enjoyable!

You can tell that this film had quite a big budget because of the epic scenes but it still looks unAmericanised. Personally, I think that there is a hidden message behind the movie, from a Chinese point of view, which is why this franchise was so big overseas. The added wit to the script made the movie original and interesting but it's the action that's second to none. I just hope that the rest of the movies in this franchise, are in the same calibre as this one. 

Budget: N/A
Worldwide Gross: HK$30million

I recommend this movie to people who are into their Jet Li movies about a doctor trying to stop China from becoming Americanised. 6/10
½ November 19, 2014
The best thing about this film is the cinematography, direction and the choreography. Its not as grand or sweeping as crouching tiger but it is impressive. The script at time feels like its only on its second draft and also the music is annoying its doesn't work very well with the fight scenes. I liked the how China is on the brink of change from the western culture and the clash it brings, with the old ways facing the new.
Also the film is quiet funny with some great comic turns. Definitely worth seeing.
May 31, 2014
When I first saw this twenty-three years ago, I wasn't sure i was watching a kung fu movie. Quite different, tonally, from what I was used to at the time.
March 13, 2014
Classic martial arts film, that launched Jet Li to International superstardom. A must see to all Kung Fu enthusiasts!
March 8, 2014
The action sequences are excellent but the scenes in between are a fairly average mish-mash.
February 28, 2014
A beautifully filmed and choreographed martial art film and probably one of Jet Li's best. The trilogy is one of my favourites with tsui hark able to capture political and social issues alongside the martial arts in a very stylistic way
February 20, 2014
Occasionally way too cheesy; then again the dubbed version I watched was, once again, not great.
January 13, 2014
Very good, not only as a great and entertaining martial arts piece but, an amazing period piece as well. With a main character that is caught between two cultures, one that has to make a decision whether to stay with tradition or to be open with the ways of the west, this movie shines. It not only captures the time but, also captures the characters, I was mesmerized by Wong Fei-Hung's dedication, to his honor.
November 18, 2013
tsui hark is one of my favorite asian directors working in HK cinema
½ September 1, 2013
Ignore the inaccuracies . This movie has a really good story and absolutely amazing fight scenes.
August 18, 2013
This series was definitely watchable, especially when I was really into Kung Fu movies, but it's not that memorable.
July 28, 2013
Wanted to see it, totally worth it :D
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