Once Upon A Time In China- for me?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Mike Broadman, Jun 30, 2002.

  1. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2001
    Messages:
    4,951
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Browsing Best Buy, I happened upon a box set of three movies called Once Upon A Time In China and its two sequels. IIRC, they starred Jet Li.

    My own tastes in martial arts films are very low-brow: I don't want plot, story, etc. I want violence, cool action sequences, and lots of it.

    While I recognise Li's talents, his American movies have just been to lame for me, what with all the wires and special effects. I like seeing skilled martial artists kick the crap out of each other.

    I was hoping that these Chinese films may offer that. Is this so?
     
  2. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
    Moderator

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 1999
    Messages:
    38,749
    Likes Received:
    480
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    Umm...not quite. You may be bothered by the presence of plots in the films.
     
  3. Phil Florian

    Phil Florian Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2001
    Messages:
    1,188
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Yeah, there is an unhealthy amount of good story and even some character development that you might find disquieting. I mean, forget the great fight on ladders in the end of the first one or the the various times Li teaches people the power of an umbrella. The have to see to believe contest in the end of the second movie where Li fights for dominance over the White Lotus cult where combatants would lose face if they touch the ground. Heck, even with the unbelieveable amount of large martial arts battles that are throughout this thing, I think the story of a China in transition and the collision of European and American cultures with the Imperial ideals of old China will insult your taste for chopsocky flavor. A definite must-not-buy!
    [​IMG]
    Phil
     
  4. felix_suwarno

    felix_suwarno Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2001
    Messages:
    1,523
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    well i have seen all of his hongkong movies.

    they are actually comedy with kungfu action thrown in here and there, not the other way around. the story is always as simple as : there is a group of bad guys, master wong is the only person who can beat them ( effortlessly ), and he has stupid students ( or servants ) who cause troubles ( they serve as plot device ), add some silly family characters and a love interest : there you got it. everybody acts silly except for master wong and his nemesis. can you imagine that? out of 20 people, only 2 acts seriously. these movies are pure comedy.

    bring bags of pop corn, turn off your brain, you will enjoy it. and if you think the US jet li's movies were full of wires...you will get sick watching his hongkong movies. there are too many ropes.

    and yes, the kungfu action is the only reason why people watch jetli's movies. i personally dont really like the movies, but back in my home country, his movies can be watched on tv for free. the best one should be "once upon a time in china part 2". i forgot number 1. number 3 was full of dragon dance action. number 4, no jet li, somebody else took his part. not bad at all. number 5, "once upon a time in china and america" was so so. kungfu versus guns? thats lame.
     
  5. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2001
    Messages:
    4,951
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Well, OK, I exaggerated a bit about the no-plot thing. But I have seen Kung Fu movies with very little Kung Fu in them.

    Maybe I'll rent one and check it out before buying them.
     
  6. Kirk Tsai

    Kirk Tsai Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2000
    Messages:
    1,424
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I would actively disagree with Felix's view on the movie. If anything, the OUATIC series is one of the most ambitious and thoughtful "kung fu" (if you must categorize) movies to come out of HK in the past decade. Perhaps the idea of "the kungfu action is the only reason why people watch jetli's movies" clouds the perspective on the movie from the beginning. When this movie came out, Jet Li was well known as a martial artist, but not really as a mega movie star yet. This is the closest thing to really establishing him. In other words, Once Upon a Time in China was a sensation not because of Jet Li, but Jet Li became a superstar because of the movie.
     
  7. James_Kiang

    James_Kiang Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2000
    Messages:
    1,171
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Mike -
    I was in a similar situation as you. I had seen some of Jet Li's movies (mostly the American stuff but also Fist of Legend) and was looking to see more. This was also probably around the time Crouching Tiger was hitting and I was interested in the wuxia (spelling?) genre. Based on some stuff I had read here and at other online sites I figured I'd take a chance and ordered OUATIC when just before its release. I don't have many movies in my collection that I regret but this is definitely one of them.
    People, above and back when I was looking for opinions, praise the story element of this movie. I watched this one with my brother and my best friend. I would say that we are pretty intelligent, open-minded people though none of us have nearly the amount of movie knowledge some of the people here have. That being said, none of us liked the story at all. The comic influences really got in the way of our appreciation.
    Now, as some people have said, the action may be the selling point of a movie like this. Well, again, we were all very disappointed. This is no Fist of Legend. Yes, the ladder fight at the end is well-done but I can't even clearly remember any of the other fight scenes.
    Overall, I would say you probably made the right decision not buying the set (to be clear again, I have not seen the other movies in the series). I would advise renting first. If the first movie does appeal to you then go for it.
     
  8. Greg_R

    Greg_R Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Apr 9, 2000
    Messages:
    1,996
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Portland, OR
    Real Name:
    Greg
    There are enough fight scenes to keep you entertained. IIRC, there isn't a lot of wire fighting...
     
  9. felix_suwarno

    felix_suwarno Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2001
    Messages:
    1,523
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    thoughtful kungfu movies???

    what does that mean? as far as i could remember, the story on those movies were quite straight forward. they were so simple that everybody in my family from young to old understood what happened.

    btw, okay maybe there arent lots of wire fighting, the last time i saw any of the movies was more than 3 to 4 years ago.

    but i do remember when it comes to aerial fighting...wires were involved. no doubt about it. take a look again to the dragon dance fight. or maybe you guys think every fighting move in those movies make sense?

    oh, one more thing. when the bad guys fire their guns, you wont see the bullets hit the victims. all they did were jumping and rolling around before hitting the ground.

    i do enjoy those movies. i dont enjoy the story but i enjoy the comedy.
     
  10. Kirk Tsai

    Kirk Tsai Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2000
    Messages:
    1,424
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Perhaps the impact of this particular series disappears to an audience outside of the Chinese, but let me assure you, it is indeed more thoughtful and meaningful than most other martial arts movies. Complexity of a plot does not determine the sophistication of the movie. The Searchers is easy to follow, so is Sunrise, as is Rear Window; do not get me wrong, I'm not comparing this movie with those, but we should not let a genre categorization mistake our expectations too much. If I had to pinpoint one single theme, at the heart of the OUATIC series, but only including the first three movies IMHO, is the conflict between a revolutionary western influence and the age old Chinese culture. In the center of this conflict is one person embodied--the westernized love interest that Wong is related to by marriage.
     
  11. felix_suwarno

    felix_suwarno Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2001
    Messages:
    1,523
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    "Complexity of a plot does not determine the sophistication of the movie. "

    so, what does?

    "only including the first three movies IMHO, is the conflict between a revolutionary western influence and the age old Chinese culture"

    i really dont get it. they use the same plot device on every iteration that i didnt think it added some meaning into the story anymore.
     
  12. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
    Reviewer

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2001
    Messages:
    6,190
    Likes Received:
    76
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    Location:
    Livonia, MI USA
    Real Name:
    Kenneth McAlinden
     
  13. Kirk Tsai

    Kirk Tsai Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Nov 1, 2000
    Messages:
    1,424
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    "Complexity of a plot does not determine the sophistication of the movie. "

    'so, what does?'

    The way the stories are told. By now, this point isn't open to much debate IMHO. Again, refering to films with simple plotline does not determine the movie's quality. Rear Window, for example, has as easy a plot to follow as any. It's the way the story is told that makes it compelling.

    I fully understand how many look at Once Upon a Time in China with little regard, but I would also argue that it depends heavily on the state of mind one watches it. In the U.S., audiences would primary watch it with the framework of a martial arts movie. Not wrong, but limiting. As so many film critics, scholars, and audiences have found in the past, genre films present each individual movie a set of conventions and narratives, but that does not mean a Western is always about a loner with a gun, nor does it mean martial arts skills mean beating others senseless.

    Jet Li has made many other financially successful martial arts films in HK after OUATIC, but none have matched its importance and success. It's because it strikes a cord in its particular time setting, as well as a reflection upon the HK times itself. His other movies have perhaps even more fighting, wire-work, and outrageous comic relief, but when you compare it to OUATIC, this one truly stands out as something trying to achieve more. Perhaps its appeal is limited when trying to consider it as a real movie instead of just another martial arts flick, but not all movies should be required to translate/transition well from one culture to another. Keep an open mind, that's all.
     
  14. Phil Florian

    Phil Florian Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2001
    Messages:
    1,188
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I agree with Kirk. I had originally gotten into this film because of a recommnendation in a great book called "Sex and Zen and a Bullet in the Head" which is a great overview of HK cinema. I went into it appreciating a bit of the history behind the character of Wong Fei Hong. He is a real person (whose teaching styles have literally been passed down to todays current crop of HK martial artists) whose legend is probably just as varied and misleading as any of the American West heroes (like Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, etc.). As the Western heroes, his story can be retold with new angles, etc. What really amazed me was OUTIC's depiction of the relationship between the Western visitors and their Chinese "hosts." I read up a bit on the era after seeing the movie and China's response to these social invaders was so mind bogglingly difficult to wrap my mind around.

    The Imperials of China (the Manchus?) had such an ego, for lack of a better word, that they felt the British and American influence on their coastal cities would have little impact on the "real" China which lied more towards the center of it. For that, they allowed the Americans and English (and others) to set up little fortresses right on Chinese property in these port cities. The equivalent would be Americans letting Russians set up bunkers in New York and Boston in the 1950s but not being cocnerned because Washington was still safe. I am butchering it and simplifying it, but the history is extremely complicated and these films, while only a sketchbook version of this history (as many WWII movies, Westerns, etc.), go a long way towards introducing viewers to the odd relationship between ancient China and modernization influence of the West.

    The original DVDs (not sure about these new releases) were neat in that they included footage from old Wong Fei Hong movies and tv shows (he is as prolific as The Lone Ranger, Zorro, and all those other pulp stars) and a bit of the real history of this complicated character.

    In the end, OUTIC is still a martial arts flick with great production values and a real heart behind it, no substitute for any history lesson. But, as Kirk said, watch it with an open mind and maybe an appreciation for the history and you will get so much more out of it.

    And for the record, even the HK flicks with no apparent "wire work" ala the Matrix still uses tons of wires. They use wires for many of the "simple" looking jump kicks, too.

    Excelsior!


    Phil
     
  15. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2001
    Messages:
    4,951
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    0
     
  16. felix_suwarno

    felix_suwarno Screenwriter

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2001
    Messages:
    1,523
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    "The way the stories are told."

    if thats the reason, yes i do agree. and i checked imdb, the best one would be the first one in the series, which i havent seen! i am gonna rent it from netflix.
     
  17. Jeff Vachon

    Jeff Vachon Auditioning

    Joined:
    May 29, 2002
    Messages:
    5
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Jackie Chan has used wires from time to time. The end fight from Drunken Master 2 has some, as does Who Am I. He doesn't use it frequently, but he does sometimes. And he has indeed used stunt doubles.[​IMG]
     
  18. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
    Reviewer

    Joined:
    May 9, 2002
    Messages:
    11,758
    Likes Received:
    671
    Trophy Points:
    9,110
    Location:
    Since 2006
    Real Name:
    Cameron Yee
    I am not a fan of blatant wire work as in the OUATIC series, but I did find the first of the films more thoughtful than the rest as well as most other martial arts films I've seen. If I were to recommend a film with wire work it would be OUATIC. Anything else I've not been particularly excited about. If you want a fairly thoughtful film with "straight" martial arts (as well as Jet Li) then get Fist of Legend.

    The original poster sounds more like an old school and "straight" kung fu enthusiast. If that's the case I recommend The Master Killer (AKA 36 Chambers of Shaolin), Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, the Prodigal Son, Shaolin Temple, Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagles Shadow.
     
  19. Matthew Brown

    Matthew Brown Supporting Actor

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 1999
    Messages:
    781
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Jeff -
    Here's some links you may appreciate.
    http://www.bulletsnbabesdvds.com/mod...&topic=3755&11
    http://www.network54.com/Forum/195433
    These have screenshots of some of Jackie's scenes were stunt doubles were used. It's usually been Yuen Baio or Mars. The editing is incredible in that it's not obvious unless you go frame by frame.
    Cameron -
    Those are excellent choices. KNOCKABOUT would also be one to add.
    Back to the subject of the thread... I was fortunate enough to see OUATIC in a sold out theater last year in NYC. Great movie. My favorite memory is watching the elderly gentleman sitting in front of me shadow boxing everytime Jet Li was fighting on the screen. This movie really needs to be seen on the big screen to really be appreciated.
    Matt
     

Share This Page