Once Upon a Time in China

Once Upon a Time in China ★★★½

2nd viewing. This film is popular, but I apparently have biases that prevent me from liking it more. It's a Chinese martial arts movie through and through, with exaggerated character types that appear in every one of these types of movies, from the stoic hero to his comedic sidekicks to the villains who are super-bullies if they're local to condescending assholes if they're foreign. As I had written in my first review, what makes this transcend those elements is Jet Li himself, and that's still true. And the set up of the scenario where it's Wong Fei-hung vs. a changing political climate in China provides fascinating, potent ingredients for a good story. But the other stuff is so old hat and tiresome. So, yeah, I just can't embrace it more than this. It's fun, it has some great action sequences, it has a big emerging star, but as a story it's kind of a jumble and its elements are corny.

My kids dropped in and out while I was watching this. It was funny to find out that my older one had seen some of this before. At least certainly he'd seen the title sequence. He said they showed it to his class at some point in elementary school (he was in Mandarin dual immersion classes). They wanted the kids to learn the song for a performance or something. Sure enough, he was singing the title song while it was playing (or humming the parts he didn't remember the words to, anyway).

Also, is the title "Once Upon a Time in China" a good title? There's a lot of weight to that title, and the movie's story isn't epic enough for it. The original title is just "Wong Fei-hung." But I get why they had to make it something more striking for the international market. Anyway, I'm just musing out loud here.

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