XL Popcorn – Once Upon a Time in China

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 816/1007Title: Wong Fei Hung (Once Upon a Time in China)
Director: Tsui Hark
Year: 1991
Country: Hong Kong

I think I am in the minority when I say that I preferred Peking Opera Blues over this film. Maybe it’s because it’s a more comedic film that tells a more localised story with some kick-ass female leads? Yes, I think that’s pretty much why I rate that higher than Once Upon a Time in China. Martial arts films really just turn out to be hit and miss for me and this is one of those where I truly admire the direction and the stunt work, but everything else leaves me a bit cold.

Probably doesn’t help that, last night, I watched From Beijing With Love and was a bit sad that Steven Chow didn’t get a film in the list. Once Upon a Time in China is the second of two films by Tsui Hark to be featured and, given how it led to a resurgence in these types of period kung-fu films in Hong Kong, I can see how this was included alongside Peking Opera Blues.

It’s just that, for me, this was a films that was trying to be too broad and epic in scope. Too many plates were in the air at the same time which, whilst it may be historically accurate, doesn’t pair well with a large number of drawn out fight sequences. This, however, is fundamentally a taste thing. I had similar issues with A Touch of Zen – a film regarded as an exemplar of the martial arts genre that ultimately left me wanting more and feeling a bit bored and frustrated.

I hope I am not the only one who also, at times, felt a bit left behind by the plot. The number of antagonists, including a probably more than fair take on Westerners being more than arseholes, made the different threads a bit hard to follow at times. Maybe, at some point in the future, I’ll find a copy of Drunken Master – which is about the same man (because Wong Fei Hung is one of those people who had a lot of films made about him) but apparently does it better… without being included on the 1001 list.


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