Once Upon a Time in China

Once Upon a Time in China ★★★★

The action is incredible, particularly the ladder battle at the end. Jet Li is pretty spectacular and some of his moves you almost don’t realize how incredible they are, like kick stepping up onto a rope (wires or not). His charisma and star power blows everyone else off the screen and makes the movie.

The rest of the movie is so so, the script is pretty mediocre with some lame (and some pretty damn funny) comic relief. There’s a fair amount of Nationalism inherent to the story but when it veers into the didactic it becomes a bit eye rolling—although I really appreciate the direct clarity of the message of fuck those fucking westerners and fucking unequal treaties that fucked us over we gotta rise up.  The editing is all over the place, from amazing to bafflingly aggressive, and sometimes there’s cuts made (probably) for clarity that only serve to confuse things further. Not during the action, only during the melodrama. 

The production design is superb with fantastic sets. And after the first forty minutes the amount of fights doubles and after the first seventy minutes the fighting to melodrama ratio is an extraordinary 10-1 or so. The finale of nonstop action for an hour or so is pretty damn incredible and feels very at home in todays Marvel dominated film style of an hour of action finales. And in that respect, it’s also staggering just how much (a lot!) that this film influenced the matrix. Morpheus and neos first fight has a ton of direct lifts (as well as other beats for sure).