Dave Foster and Alexander Larman have reviewed the Region 2 release of Once upon a time in China 2. Highly recommended for fans, but perhaps slightly obscure for others.
The film Dave Foster’s review
Jet Li reprises his role as the legendary Wong Fei-hung for the second in the OUATIC series of films giving us another genuinely charasmatic performance along with some outstanding martial arts displays. This time Fei-hung must face both the government and the dangerous White Lotus cult who are opposed to anything western, and this includes Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) and her dress sense! Continuing from where the original left off we see Fei-hung and Aunt Yee’s impending romance begin to blossom, which again brings on some of the more comical scenes in the film. The only leading actor not to return from the original is Yuen Biao, instead for this film we see Siu Chung Mok put in a much more comical peformance in the role of Leung Foon (Fei-hungs apprentice, but more of a sidekick in this film).
Director Tsui Hark gives us another excellent Wong Fei-hung film, combining great storytelling with some amazing visuals and superb renditions of the QUATIC theme. Everything is then brought together with some of the best action scenes committed to film. Of course these action sequences are choreographed by none other than the now legendary Yuen Woo-ping, who together with leading stars Jet Li and Donnie Yen manages to create some utterly astounding sequences both on the ground and in the air! The grounded sequences are amazingly fluid, with both Jet and Donnie showing just how fast and accurate they are – all of which is shot beautifully including many long one take scenes. The major ‘wire-fu’ sequence is also excellent, here we see Jet Li face off against his double from the first film in a sequence which is so creative and well executed it just puts Hollywoods recent efforts to shame!
Alexander Larman’s review
To be absolutely honest, this isn’t really my type of film; while I enjoyed the wonderfully demented Iron Monkey, this is a far more serious and sombre type of film, with most of the humour stemming from Leung Foon’s obsession with Aunt Yee, who is in turn in love with Wong Fei Hung. However, the comedy here, with the exception of a marvellous scene early on where Foon is paralysed in the middle of an attack on a lecture, is mostly lacklustre, which leaves the film’s raison d’etre for the fights. Unlike Dave, I wasn’t all that impressed by them; it’s a good 75 minutes until the first really memorable action scene begins, and even that is far less witty than Iron Monkey. Still, the plot is a rather more interesting one than in many other films of this ilk, with an interesting subtext about imperialism vs xenophobia, but the film is marred by some appalling ‘British’ accents, and some truly horrendous dubbing, even in the Cantonese language version. However, if you’re a fan of this kind of film, consider this a recommendation.
Hong Kong Legends have done a splendid job here with the 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Colours are bold and rich, detail is high and there is no noticeable print damage. The only minor criticism I would make is that occasionally the transfer did seem rather dark, but that is almost certainly down to the source material rather than the work done on it. A fine and impressive effort.
A rather less impressive job here, with the 5.1 soundtrack frequently sounding very muted and restrained, with the music frequently hardly audible below the sounds of fighting and battle (which are rendered pretty well, although not as well as a ‘proper’ 5.1 release such as Crouching Tiger would render them). Dialogue is more or less audible, but given that you are more likely to be relying on reading the (excellent) English subtitles or listening to the (dire) English dub, that’s hardly a consideration that most will care about.
A middling selection here. The animated biography showcase is interesting enough, but rather weakened by its lasting so long and being narrated; it is far more interesting to fast-forward through it while on silent mode. The commentary by Bey Logan is interesting and illuminating, but it’s really only of interest to genre aficionados, given its constant references to other Hong Kong films. The most interesting fact revealed is that virtually every Hong Kong actor releases an album at some point, including Chow Yun-Fat; presumably songs on his would have titles like ‘Shooting villains in slow motion’
There are also a couple of interviews with Jet Li and Donnie Yen, neither of which is especially long or especially illuminating, and will be of greater interest to fans than casual viewers. The two trailers included are an interesting contrast, as the UK promotional one stresses the action scenes, whereas the original theatrical trailer stresses plot. Hong Kong Legends have also included the usual raft of trailers for other films of theirs.
If you like Hong Kong films, this is an easy recommendation, as this is a fine example of the genre both in plotting and execution. If you don’t, this is unlikely to be the film that converts you, and you would be better off with Iron Monkey. Hong Kong Legends have done their usual good job with the transfer, although the sound leaves something to be desired, and the extras are a fairly good selection, although not as useful as some on the other HKL titles.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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