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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 15 March 2002
Whilst Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will be more familiar to audiences as possibly the most successful foreign-language movie of all time, such people may want to check out this wonderful movie from 1991.
Wong Fei-Hung was a real-life legendary Chinese hero who was not only a master of Hung Gar kung-fu but an accomplished doctor who opened his own clinic, which has been named Po Chi Lam (although sometimes it has been spelt Bo Chi Lam); the name has survived to this day. Fei-Hung has had over 100 movies made that featured someone playing him, although Hong Kong veteran Kwan Tak-Hing was more synonymous with him (he played him in Sammo Hung's MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER movie, for example).
In this movie, which spawned many sequels and a spin-off TV series that starred Chiu Man Cheuk ('The Black Sheep Affair', 'Body Weapon'), Wong Fei-Hung is played by the brilliant Jet Li ('Kiss Of The Dragon', 'Romeo Must Die'). Set in late 19th-Century China, it tells of the story of China seemingly being overrun with foreigners such as Americans and British people, complete with their foreign machines -- in particular one that would potentially jeopardise the effectiveness of kung-fu: the dreaded gun! Fei-Hung, a traditional leader with traditional views, must learn to embrace the rapidly-changing China, but can he do so without compromising his values?
This movie scores on many counts: superb acting, attention to detail and production values (for a Hong Kong movie with the comparatively limited budgets); characters develop brilliantly (a trait that follows into its sequels, particularly the relationship between Fei-Hung and 13th Aunt Peony, played by the beautiful Rosamund Kwan); some stunning camerawork and (of course!) fabulous martial artistry that, although featuring wirework, does not actually allow the fighters to actually fly like they did in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which caused some unintentional humour for many when I saw CTHD at the cinema), plus the wire sections are cleverly interspersed with sections featuring the more-realistic ground-based kung-fu that similarly does not disappoint.
The DVD version reviewed here contains both an English dubbed version (which doesn't really work, if only because it cannot really show how Fei-Hung struggles with foreign languages as everyone seems to be speaking English) and a Cantonese-language subtitled version. Mark King (who plays General Wickens in the movie) accompanies Bey Logan for an insightful audio commentary. There are also the usual interviews and trailers.
If you liked Crouching Tiger (even if you didn't) I'm sure you'd find something to like in this. It's top-notch, and even features Jackie Chan's younger 'brother' Yuen Biao ('Eastern Condors').
Tsui Hark's direction that revitalised the then-flagging traditional kung-fu genre (as well as Li's career) remains a classic. Check it out!
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on 27 September 2001
This was Jet Li's breakthrough movie, and it isn't hard to see why. The plot and direction are both stunning, and put other martial arts movies to shame, whilst the fight scenes rank as some of the best ever filmed. In short, this is compulsive viewing for the kung fu fan who thinks (s)he's seen everything.
In terms of cinematic brilliance, this film is surpassed only by its sequel, and the final fight scene is probably the greatest ever filmed.
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on 10 March 2000
Once Upon A Time In China, is a breath taking epic story, ivolving love, patriotism, brutality, honour, nobility and morals. Tsui Hark directs masterfully and wonderfully creates scenes of passion and intricacies. Set in China at the start of the last century, Hark portrays a country in much confusion, under threat from the outside world, of which little is known, and from within. The people within the story are lost and chaotic. Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li) is a rock in a raging sea, and dispite his best efforts has little control over the ever growing turmoil spewing around him.
Emotions are strained and love is invoked, by the beautiful and charming Rosamund Kwai. The support to Li is impecable, of note Yuen Biao.
Some of the most memorable photographic shots I have seen are contained in this film. I cannot speek high enough of it.
Wong Fei Hung was a 'kung fu' master of great esteem, know famously for developing the 'shadowless kick'. More films have been made about this remarkable man, than any other figure past or present.
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on 8 November 2006
The martial arts routines and fighting were phenomeonal, extremely well done, a pleasure to watch. The story and plot were so transparent, it was highly predictable and somewhat boring. The lines were clear as to who were the good guys and who were the bad. Having viewed "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" and "House of Flying Daggers" my expectations for depth, creativity, and superb acting are very high. Those two films are like dining at a 5 star gourmet restaurant with exotic flavors and spices. This film is more like eating at a local diner where you leave with a full tummy but know there is an entirely different experience out there waiting for you.

The opening and ending scene of kung fu exercises being done on a beach with the sun either risng or setting is great cinematography. The viewer is teased, hooked, impressed by the dance-like very disciplined movements. As the story unfolds, one sees how the Western influences are pitted against the Chinese traditional culture, with the Americans exploiting the Chinese as slave labor. It turns out, the local authorities are blind to the problems ... Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li) creates a local movement to fight neighborhood corruption. He is challenged by a disgruntled down on his luck kung fu expert, Iron Fist Yim (Yan Kee Kwan) who wants to establish a school of his own and put Wong Fei Hung out of business ... Wong Fei Hung is challenged by a distant gang who cause rebellions for which he is blamed as they establish authority in the area. His honor and reputation are at stake. Aunt Yee, a female relative by marriage but not by blood, returns from England, in Western styled clothes, who appreciates the technology and advances achieved in the West. Unfortunately, it seems each time she uses the camera with tripod to take a photograph, a bomb explodes (it gets to be funny by the second and third time it happens). Ironically, the first time, the pet bird of a restaurant owner is killed. It is a warning to him to pay protection money to the new group or he will die. The next time, a huge explosion occurs where a building is blown up and Wong Fei Hung's Martial Arts School is threatened ... Some rival gang is looking to establish a presence in Canton to exploit local fear, create instability and exploit the local population. Wong Fei Hung discovers Aunt Yee has strong romantic feelings for him - he initially resists but eventially yields to her charms, all of it is chaste and above board. She is captured by the enemy, nearly taken as a female consort to the Chinese slave workers in California who dig for gold. The Americans appear as bumbling one dimensional characters and conquerors with big guns ... The Chinese come off slightly better however their culture is diminishing, nearly dying out as the common people are exploited inwardly by Chinese gangs and indifferent authorities while outwardly Western greedy forces destroy them. A home grown hero with solid values and the courage to act on his convictions is needed. He arises from ancient Chinese soil, his name is Wong Fei Hung who saves the lives of many, including Aunt Yee. There are many themes in this film which could have been explored with a better script and by a better director. Unfortunately this film is not as exciting as I expected ... given it was a huge hit in China, perhaps the elements I found predictable were due to cultural differences. Erika Borsos [pepper flower]
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on 27 February 2002
If you know anything about Hong Kong films then you'll know that it was this film that started a whole new generation of film making. Once Upon a Time in China started a massive new wave of exhilerating films that came with fantasy style martial arts and fighting.
This film delivers good acting; peak martial arts; an engaging story; and directing from the one and only Tsui Hark whom is also well known for his produceing of other such classics as The Killer and A Better Tomorrow, as well as directing Peking Opera Blues and a whole line of other great films. Jet Li plays by far the best Wong Fei Hong performance that I've ever seen and he is closely followed by Jackie Chan who Played a young Master Wong in Drunken Master 1&2. Li just has the on-screen charisma, magnificent martial arts, and shear grace to his presence. This is a great film.
If your looking for a DVD version that offers both English Laguage and English Dubbing then I would recommend the Hong Kong Legends version, as well as having both versions you'll also have great picture and sound quality and interviews with Jet Li and the Martial Artist that Played the villian Iron-Vest Yin. In addition to the HKL version you also get tarilers for other HKL films and biographies of some of the cast. If your looking for other Hong Kong Cinema films then HKL is the best.
Once Upon A Time in China deserves ten-out-of-ten.
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on 8 January 2003
A Classic martial arts movie with great fights and nice camera work. It has a plot as well - which helps.
The opening scene is one of the most dramatic that I have seen on a movie. With the theme tune of the movie in the background you see a large group of men practicing a Kung Fu form on the beach as the sun sets. It has a beauty and structure all of its own. It will ring a chord with anyone who has trained in a martial art that has forms.
I buy these type of movies just for the fight scenes, I like to see a professional at work on his craft. That said, it stands as a movie in it's own right. Not a Chick Flick but definitely worth a look.
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on 6 February 2001
This is a really good kung fu film, although the fight and action scenes are little short of amazing the plot and character development is really good. The last fight has to be seen to believed while all the other fight scenes are worth the price of the film alone.
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on 30 June 2001
This film is of a rare breed. Wushu Movies of this type and calibre are dying out. I recommend this film to anyone bored of run of the mill action/ shoot 'em ups. This is truly a work of art and Jet Li at his peak of high quality!!!
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on 14 September 2001
So you've seen Crouching Tiger....you've been lucky enough to see Iron Monkey...and now you are... STOP!
Take a breath, compose yourself and relax. Press PLAY.
The plot of this movie can be at times difficult to follow. It is because there is quite a lot going on at once and many 'strong' characters. However the next time I watch it, I won't have that problem.
-I will watch it again quite simply because the martial arts, direction and 'feel' of this movie is excellent and to cut this review short I can sum it up by saying 'if you like kung-fu then stop hesitating and watch it'
=Note of interest=
Wong Fei Hong is the character played by Donnie Yen's screen son in Iron Monkey (another must see).
Onto Once Upon a time II...
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on 8 September 2016
Probably the best chinese film ever made. The film quality has evolved a lot since the bruce lee and jackie chan days (plot, acting, sets, directing). The martial arts and acrobatics are phenomenal and it all merges together to form an authentic portaryal of 19th century china and the conlict between early chinese communists and foriegn european invaders.

As usual, the teenage american dubbing completely ruins the film, so it's best to select chinese audio and english subtitles.
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