Once Upon a Time in China 3 (Wong Fei Hung ji saam: Si wong jaang ba) Reviews
As was the case with the prior two entries into the Once Upon a Time in China series, the historical accuracy of Once Upon a Time in China III comes with real ambiguity. Considering that it is based on the legend of Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung, the actual reality of the stories seems ambiguous. By the point of Once Upon a Time in China III, any sense of belief has dwindled to the point that I wouldn't put much consideration into anything more than the film's action scenes. Unfortunately, Once Upon a Time in China III presents a new low point for the series in terms of both storytelling and action.
Once Upon a Time in China III is a step down from its predecessor. I never found too much favouritism for the stories in the series, but at least Once Upon a Time in China II presented another character worth following with the introduction of Nap-Ian Yun-seut. Having been killed at the end of Once Upon a Time in China II, there is no way of him following on into a third entry. The presence of Donnie Yen was a great asset to Once Upon a Time in China II, but there is nobody else worth keeping up with in Once Upon a Time in China III. The story in this film uses the same basic themes as its predecessors but also explores them very loosely in a tale abundant with too many characters and too few who are given all that much actual development. Even then it is rather melodramatic material, and given that I'm watching this film from a western perspective I fail to understand the historical relevance or importance of the story. Once Upon a Time in China III doesn't clearly explain the context in which its story is happening or the political structure of its society, so it ends up as another simple hero and villain narrative which becomes confusing any time it makes an attempt at anything else.
However, I wasn't expecting a groundbreaking story in Once Upon a Time in China III. I was more looking forward to the action sequences which ultimately did not satisfy the third time around. Frequently, the fight scenes in Once Upon a Time in China III find themselves with a scale too big to grasp. For example: the entire scene where Jet Li fights off three martial arts schools with what appears to be a sweater is all a very unfocused scene. It's difficult enough to believe that whipping so many swordsman with a sweater would sufficiently knock them back, but it's made all the more hard to comprehend by the nature of the visual style. The cinematography uses a series of long shots which remain in a single place without emphasising where the next enemy will come from, and the film cuts between this and various shots which use slow motion for the wrong purposes or simply depict the movement of stones on the ground. Most of the action in Once Upon a Time in China III depicts Jet Li engaged in fights with several foes who come at him from too many directions to keep up with, and while the man's remarkable fighting skills manage to keep his status as a powerful action hero on a high status, but it's the smaller-scaled fight scenes where Jet Li shows off his continuous skills against far fewer enemies which are easier to understand and therefore more entertaining. There are a couple of these in the film which really are entertaining, but the majority of the action in the film is really loose with its focus and that gets in the way of the strong choreography. The cast in Once Upon a Time in China III remain dedicated to the fight, but Tsui Hark loses track of the visual tenacity which his legacy is built upon. Once Upon a Time in China III is one film too many for the series, and its gimmicks have worn off by this point and become scattered to the point that it is the martial arts equivalent of Transporter 3 (2008), even though it precedes the film by decades.
To put it simply, Once Upon a Time in China III displays dedicated stunt performers and a visual grace that comes from the lavish scenery and production design they perform against the backdrop of, but the entire affair feels tiring by this point and there isn't enough visual tenacity to create anything all that memorable.
Jet Li remains an admirable presence though. With relentless dedication to the film in terms of character and action, Jet Li continues to shine brightly in the role of Wong Fei-hung. His genuine passion as an actor keeps him in a state of constant intense focus in the role, ensuring that he commands his line delivery with a strong grip on his character. But of course its the man's amazing martial arts skills which are the true source of brilliance in Once Upon a Time in China III. Once again the man jumps across the screen with remarkable flexibility and speed to his technique, packing a powerful punch and kick at anyone who comes across him. He remains strongly focused on all this without becoming emotionally aggressive, reminding viewers that he really is aware of what it takes to be a true martial artist. Once Upon a Time in China III may not make the best use of his skills, but it does remind us all that three times over he still never loses sight of his remarkable potential. Jet Li continues to make performance art out of his fighting skills in the Once Upon a Time in China series, and he remembers to keep the same focus when it comes to the actual acting.
Once Upon a Time in China III serves as another showcase for Jet Li's remarkable talents, but Tsui Hark's visual style fails to grasp the larger scale of action sequences which in turn makes the overly familiar narrative harder to ignore.
I couldn't really get into this movie because the acting was terrible, along with the poor storyline. The showdown at the end wasn't that great and I found the love story annoying. Once again, the film is based around foreigners taking over China, but this storyline gets a bit silly after a while because people are fighting each other for no reason. I was hoping to see some of the old characters from the first movie, but the director chose to stick with the annoying sidekick from the second one. I did like Thunder Foot, who looked pretty strange but his martial arts skills was brilliant. In all, I was very disappointed with the film especially because the first one was so good. Disappointing!
They should have called this movie "Return Of The Strings" because some of the action scenes was ridiculous. The fighting in mid-air went way too far and a lot of the action was unrealistic. I doubt that I'll be watching any of the other movies in this franchise because it went downhill after the first movie and they also don't star Jet Li. Once I started to see the flying in the air, I knew that the rest of the movies might go down this road so I've chosen to stay away from them.Â
Worldwide Gross: HK$27.5million
I recommend this movie to people who are into their Jet Li movies and who are familiar with this franchise. 2/10