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Once Upon A Time In China and America (1997)

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[Movie Reviews]


-Jet Li
-Rosamund Kwan
-Xiong Xin-xin
-Jeff Wolfe


Jet Li once again reprises the role of Wong Fei Hung. He, Aunt Yee, and Seven (Clubfoot) take a trip to America to visit the new American branch of Po Chi Lam. While on the road in America, they help a local cowboy named Billy who will eventually team up with them. Later in the trip, they are attacked by Indians. During the scuffle, Fei Hung hurts himself and loses his memory. His colleagues must find him and help restore his memory. Meanwhile, they find out the horrible conditions under which Chinese laborers live in the U.S.


A martial arts western episode in the Once Upon a Time in China series? With Jet Li reprising the role of Wong Fei Hung? Directed by Sammo Hung? Sounds cool.... much cooler than it actually is. The setting makes for an interesting idea, but the plot and acting are absolutely horrible. Only some good fight scenes keep this movie from being immediately chucked into the dumpster.

Now, for a martial arts western gimmick, the setting is crucial. Unfortunately, this is a fairly unconvincing old west. While the physical surroundings are just right, the people and their mannerisms are not. First and most outrageous are the Native Americans in the film. I swear they just took a few white people and paid them $30 a pop to put paint on their faces and pretend to be Indians. It's actually a fairly disrespectful representation of Native Americans. With strong modern American accents and speaking constantly in English to each other, they certainly don't become convincing in their speech. The cowboys are not much better, being completely over the top and stupid. Oh, and they seem to know some martial arts, strangely enough.

The plot itself is disappointing. The first major plotline is in regards to Fei Hung losing his memory. At no point was there ever anything interesting leading up to his discovery. All I could do was sit bored and think "When will they find him?" After Fei Hung recovers his memory, the movie changes gears and focuses on the corrupt officials and treatment of Chinese workers. This part is certainly better than the memory loss plot and has some nice themes. But, unfortunately, it is lost in a wave of lame dialogue. At the very least, they would have done better to focus solely on the latter plotline. A major dialogue overhaul, though, would still be necessary to save the film. The only saving grace as it stands are the solid performances of OUATIC series veterans Li, Kwan, and Xiong.

The one thing that keeps the film afloat are some solid fight scenes. While no Iron Monkey, the fights here are quite enjoyable. There is actually significantly less wire-fu here than in earlier installments of the OUATIC series and the fights are, stylistically, fairly different. They are, however, quite fun to watch and the style is a nice change of pace. The fight between Fei Hung and Seven, as Seven tries to restore Fei Hung's memory, is most memorable and will be the part of the film you find yourself skipping to most.

Watch once for the fight scenes and that's it. That is the best advice I can give on this film. The actual story and most of the acting is horrible. Unless you are a die hard collector and need to finish of your OUATIC or Jet Li collection, OUATIC&A is not a reccommended purchase.


-Sammo Hung


-Original Cantonese/English language.