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Once Upon A Time
In China And America

cast: Jet Li

director: Sammo Hung

100 mins (18) 1997 widescreen 1.85:1
Hong Kong Classics VHS retail
Also available to buy on DVD

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jeff Young
Jet Li built his career on this series of period kung fu adventures, telling the story of young doctor and martial arts master, Wong Fei-hung. This is the sixth film in the chain launched by Tsui Hark in 1990 with Once Upon A Time in China. These lively tales explore a broad canvas of folk heroism, social history and cultural identity as the world enters the 20th century, and boast many a superbly created fighting scene!
   Moving the action from eastern to western, director Sammo Hung downplays the serious drama of earlier episodes and ups the quota of comedy, but he does so with a care not to lose the essential dignity of the central character. Here, there's an impressive opening in which our hero and his entourage (including the always fashion-conscious Aunt Yee), ostensibly visiting the US to mark the anniversary of a friend's medical clinic, combat a raid by tomahawk-throwing Indian braves. Wong Fei-hung loses his memory, and falls in with a tepee dwelling tribe (like the similar joke in Mel Gibson vehicle, Maverick) who call him 'Yellow'. After this lengthy diversion, which parodies Native American lore just as the finale sends up gunslinger myths, the Chinese heroes get their act together just in time save a small town from its corrupt lawmen and the spaghetti-western styled outlaws the Mayor is in league with.
   The film's cast of war-painted redskins and gang of surly Mexican bandits are portrayed by white actors as casually insulting stereotypes rather than with a more fitting satirical irony, but then the bigoted cowboys are also lampooned so presumably no racial offence was intended. The breathtaking action follows the 'Indiana Jones' template of just one damn thing after another, until thrills (the violence is generally of the fantasy type) segue into laughs and then, satisfyingly, back to fast-moving thrills again. This compelling effect is well sustained and so successful that the viewer is only too happy to overlook any number of defects.
   If you enjoyed Jackie Chan's Shanghai Noon, this is a must see.


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