Once Upon A Time In China (1991)
Wong Fei-Hung has to train men in martial arts to defend his people from foreign powers.
Written and directed by Hong Kong based Tsui Hark who also directed the rest of the films in this franchise, Once Upon A Time in China features Jet Li in one of his most riveting performance as he pays homage to Chinese martial arts teacher and folk hero, Wong Fei Hung in this spectacular martial arts classic.
Fei Hung is a legendary teacher, traditional medical practitioner, and trainer of the local military squad in Foshan where the story is based in the late nineteenth century.
The underlying theme is the face-off between Chinese bare-hand fighting and the bullets and firepower of the colonial rulers they often call the ''foreign devil''. But it also reveals the many under-currents of conflict and competitiveness between Chinese martial arts factions, and schools of teaching.
The story reveals how Wong Fei Hung battles bias, misunderstanding, imprisonment, threats, challenges from fellow martial arts experts and criminal gangs to maintain peace in Foshan.
The key players in plot include the infamous Shaho gang found frequently attacking people and disrupting public events; they fear and have to face Wong who is about the only real peace-keeper able to handle them.
Once Upon A Time in China features Jet Li in one of his most riveting performance as he pays homage to Chinese martial arts teacher and folk hero, Wong Fei Hung in this spectacular martial arts classic.
The Governor; who on more than one occasion blames Wong for the violence and crime taking place, and has him and his followers blamed, arrested and villainized.
Jackson, a local American official running an underground business trafficking Chinese women and sending them to America to become prostitutes.
''Iron Vest'' Yim a martial arts expert who claims to be the best and challenges Wong only to be defeated twice and put to shame by the sheer magnificence and peerless skill of Wong Fei Hung.
And of course, the beautiful Rosamund Kwan plays Wong’s romantic interest; lending true charm to the story. Wong is interested but unable to take things forward with her only because she is technically his 13th Aunt (grandfather’s friend’s daughter) although of almost the same age as Wong. The unresolved romantic tension acts like a silver thread woven into the plot and is deftly managed as an important, though never central, element in the script.
This film has, undoubtedly, some of the most gloriously choreographed fight sequences; especially between Fei-Hung and Yim including a superb encounter in pouring rain and in a large barn where they fight high up on ladders in the midst of massive bales of hay!
With all the ingredients of a martial arts classic, and Jet Li’s outstanding skill and charisma holding the film together, this film is nothing short of legendary!