Director: John Farrow
Stars: Loretta Young; Alan Ladd
Genre: Drama, War
Runtime: 79 minutes

Once Upon a Time in China The first of a popular series (six in all) starring the charismatic and athletically adept Jet Li. Li plays legendary folk hero Wong Fei Hong, a late 19th century southern Chinese healer and kung fu master. The story begins with Western powers (American, British, and French) encroaching on the city of Canton. Wong is asked by the Black Flag army to safeguard the town by creating his own militia of kung fu experts. His assistants include the butcher "Porky" (Kent Cheng), a Chinese-American named Bucktooth So (Jacky Cheung), and his westernized "Auntie" Yee (Rosamund Kwan), a non-blood-related childhood friend for whom he holds a special affection. But the Westerners aren't the only problem in Canton. The Sha Ho gang terrorizes local businesses and has begun dealing with the Americans in exporting Chinese for slave labor and prostitution. A down-on-his-luck kung fu master named Iron Vest Yim (Yan Yee Kwan) has decided he needs to defeat Wong to open a school and Leung Fu (Jackie Chan contemporary Yuen Biao), a traveling opera troupe groupie, just keeps getting in the way. This epic martial-arts film showcases Li's amazing fighting and acrobatic skills and established Tsui Hark as a top-notch action film director. The final fight scene between Wong and Yim entails a dizzying orchestration of kicks and punches while teeter-tottering on ladders. --Shannon Gee Once Upon a Time in China 2 Actor and martial arts maestro Jet Li and iconoclastic director Tsui Hark revisit historical China and legendary folk hero Wong Fei Hung in the second installment to the wildly popular Once Upon a Time in China film series (or better yet, "serials"). The main players include Li as Wong Fei Hung, Rosamund Kwan as his beloved but Westernized Auntie 13, and their clumsy sidekick Foon (Max Mok). China is in a period of political unrest. Dr. Sun Yat Sen is beginning to gain momentum behind his Nationalist party. A Qing minister (played with intensity by skilled fighter Donnie Yen) firmly carries out his job as police enforcer and a crazed cult called the White Lotus Sect has decided to take matters into their own hands by bullying citizens and destroying everything foreign. Wong and his crew find themselves at odds with the minister and the Sect, who have more in common than they initially let on. It all leads to some high-octane action scenes, including an all-out table-stacking and airborne brawl with the Sect (in which Wong uncharacteristically goes a little berserk himself) and a one-on-one matchup between Li and Yen. Tsui juggles the multilayered plot while Li juggles his opponents in a perfectly serviceable epic that is perhaps not as significant as the first Once Upon a Time in China but is solid kung fu nourishment for fans. --Shannon Gee Once Upon a Time in China 3 Set in the era when China was just beginning to establish relations with Europe, Once upon a Time in China 3 is a mixture of politics, intrigue, broad comedy, and kung fu action. Charismatic Jet Li stars once again as Wong Fei-hung, a legendary Chinese hero who is a doctor, a pacifist, and an amazingly skilled martial artist. Like many Hong Kong films, this movie has a woefully complicated plot: in summary, a kung fu competition not only sparks a bitter rivalry between different martial arts associations, it also becomes the linchpin in an assassination plot. But this leaves out Wong Fei-hung's increasingly romantic relationship with his aunt (played by Rosamund Kwan), the rehabilitation of one of the villain's henchmen, and the introduction of a steam engine to a Chinese factory, among other subplots! Once upon a Time in China 3 is not the strongest in the series--the subtitling is unusually clumsy, the editing is rough, the plot is confusing, and the melodrama is more crudely played than in the other films--but there's still a clear, raw authority to the storytelling that is a hallmark of director-producer Hark Tsui (Peking Opera Blues, Green Snake). Though it seems to have been made in a rush, Once upon a Time in China 3 will still reward devotees of Hong Kong films, and the frequent and wild fight scenes will appeal to action fans. --Bret Fetzer

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