Thursday, December 31, 2015

Once Upon a Time in China (1991)

Directed by: Hark Tsui
Runtime: 134 minutes

This movie is about Doctor Wong Fei Hung. A skilled doctor, skilled martial artist, martial artist instructor, militia leader, and defender of the weak and down trodden. His life and deeds have been the inspiration for numerous films and television programs. So I'm willing to believe that he was able to break the laws of physics, flick a soft lead round hard enough that it can enter someone's skull, and can use a bamboo splinter to turn the human body into high pressure blood fountain. This is the fun madness that is Once Upon a Time in China.

The movie opens in a ship filled harbor somewhere in China in the late 19th century. Wong Fei Hung is an honored guest of the Black Flag army. The Black Flag army was a company of bandits that ended up becoming a celebrated regiment of the Chinese empire. The Black Flag army is about to head out and kick someone's ass so they celebrate by setting off firecrackers and a dragon dance. A near by French ship has it's marines take exception to this celebration and they open fire. This disrupts the celebration and causes all kinds of chaos on the ship.  Luckily Wong Fei Hung is on the ship and fixes the situation.

This is the majority of the conflict and resolution in the film.  There is some sort of problem,  other people try to fix it,  the fixing makes the problem worse,  and Wong Fei Hung shows up to kick ass and fix the problem. I understand that they are trying to put Wong Fei Hung on the biggest pedestal that they can.  But it's done on the backs of characters that historically were as interesting as the main character.

The main plot of the movie revolves around the influx of foreigners and the problems they are creating and a local gang who is enforcing aggressive protection racket. The problems with the foreigners is that locals getting shot because they get too close to foreign ships and the marines on these ships are too trigger happy. Also, a foreign company is exploiting Chinese workers by promising them great wages and a better life. Only to be thrown into slavery and are being worked to death. The gang is extorting stupid amounts of protection money out of the local merchants. This in turn causes the business to go under or fire their staff and in turn they seek out the company that exploits them.

So it is up to Wong Fei Hung to stop the gang and keep his own militia from being arrested. He also has to stop the exploitation of the Chinese people. He also has deal with the awkward romance with his Aunt Yee (or Aunt 13 according to the subtitles).

A lot going on in this movie aside from what I mentioned. All the slice of life in China in the late nineteenth century, the personal lives of the other members Wong Fei Hung's militia, and lots of impressive martial art fight scenes. Overall, a must see for anyone who is a fan of Hong Kong cinema, the Kung Fu genre, and Jet Li.

MVT: The work put into the numerous fight scenes throughout this movie.

Make or Break: The movie assumes that the viewer is well versed in the history of this time period. It can take you out of the movie if you want to know why the story focuses on this person or why the extras collectively loose their bowels because a character walks into scene.

Score: 7.55 out of 10

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