Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (E zhan)


Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (E zhan) (2014)




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Shanghai, early 1900s. Fortune hunters flock to the big city from all over China. It's the fittest who survive. Four gang lords hold Shanghai in an iron grip until hard-boiled newcomer Long Qi elbows his way in among them. Young, totally honest Ma Yongzhen (Philip Ng), blessed with great kung fu talent and a cast-iron right hook, settles in Shanghai and soon attracts the attention of Long Qi. An unexpected friendship develops between them. When Long Qi gets into trouble through his courage and arrogance - both a Japanese spy and the Chinese gang lords are out to get him - Yongzhen can only help, even though he has promised the pretty, inaccessible girl next door (Michelle Hu) that he won't fight any more.

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Critic Reviews for Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (E zhan)

Audience Reviews for Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (E zhan)


Outside of some excellent martial arts sequences, this movie is incredibly lackluster. I suppose in some ways the fact that the action is good should be reason enough to give the film a positive rating, and I'm pretty sure I have given a film a positive rating just for the action, but in those cases the action was probably far more stronger than this. Don't get me wrong, there's some really damn good fight scenes here, but they're not giving both Raid films a run for their money. I think what brings the movie down is the pretty damn terrible story. I get that China and Japan have had an acrimonious past, and that's putting it mildly, but I'm getting sick of these period movies where the Japanese come in and are instantly the bad guys. Trying to forcefully overtake China's or Hong Kong's cultural identity and replace it with the 'vast superior' Japanese culture and way of doing things. I'm not justifying, in any way, the Japanese's actions during the second World War, because they committed some horrible atrocities, Google Unit 731 for proof. But it's a cheap storytelling tool in order to get an easy reaction from the nationalist crowd. I have no problem with this portrayal if it was based on an actual event, like the films based around the Nanking Massacre, even if some of these films delve in dramatic manipulation, at least they're basing it on something factual. In these movies that have nothing to do with reality it feels more like a tired and old stereotype that they simply cannot get rid of. Sort of like the government in zombie films being portrayed as cold and merciless, willing to do whatever they can to contain the virus to keep it from spreading to widely populated areas. I wouldn't have so much of a problem with it if it was, at the very least, thoughtful but it is still preying on the remnants of animosity between China and Japan in a negative way. Of course the heroes would rather kill their own mothers rather than betray China's or Hong Kong's glory. It's all very silly to me. Outside of that, I literally had no idea what the hell was going on in this movie. The movie is very obviously a low budget affair for a martial arts film. It just has that look. But the budget has nothing to do with how ineffective the story is at doing anything of importance or relevance. I honestly completely tuned out when there wasn't any fighting going on. I know I just said that I had no idea what was going on in this film, but I meant it as an expression meaning that I didn't really care about anything enough to care enough to invest in it emotionally. Ma comes to Shanghai with hopes of finding a better life for himself. He meets Long Qi, this dude who's trying to take over the various territories in Shanghai from the old guard, if you will. In fact, Qi's introduction sees him murdering one of these old men, the one who ran the club, and, for all intents and purpose, he comes across as a villain. Color me surprised when, later in the film, Qi and Ma, after having an awesome fight, sort of becomes friend. What? How? Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I'm assuming it's because Qi had a certain respect for Ma for standing up to him the way he did when Ma took possession of the Japanese's opium supply. That's what I'm assuming. And it's not like this is the type of movie that leaves anything unsaid using subtle storytelling to make you connect two and two subconsciously. Nope, this is a movie that wears its nationalistic heart on its sleeves. So this friendship between the two made absolutely no sense to me particularly when Qi was such a dick at the beginning. The acting, particularly from our two leads, isn't what I would call good, at all. Andy On, who plays Qi, was fairly decent, at best, but he had this incredibly forced laugh and it was absolutely horrendous. It was so bad that it was actually kind of funny. And even worse they have him laugh a lot throughout this film. So it's not like you hear it once and it's done with. You get to hear his terribly forced laugh more than, at least, 6 times in the film. So it's even more pronounced. At least Andy was a damn good martial artist, and that's what was needed from him, so on that front he delivered. Philip Ng didn't really do much for me. He was made up to look like Bruce Lee, except he didn't have Bruce's charisma or presence. His acting isn't good either, particularly his more dramatic moments are pretty bad. But, hey, at least the action delivers the goods. If you like action, then this film has got your back. If you're into action mixed with a compelling story then you would be absolutely fucked when it comes to this film. The first Ip Man comes to mind, another film with the whole Japanese are evil stereotype actually, as a movie with fairly compelling story on top of excellent martial arts scenes. A definite mixed bag, but a decent choice if you want an action fix. The Raid 2 isn't on Netflix but might I suggest you getting that film, I'm sure it's fairly cheap on DVD/Blu-Ray. Not to mention that it is one of the best action films ever made. Do you really wanna pass that up, if you haven't seen The Raid 2 already, for Once Upon a Time in Shanghai? Really?

Jesse Ortega
Jesse Ortega

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