Review: ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI 惡戰 (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Review: ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI 惡戰 (2014)

Review: ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI 惡戰 (2014)
Well-staged fight sequences and Philip Ng's fairly charismatic performance are the saving grace in this elegantly stylish but hollow martial arts movie.

Chang Cheh's BOXER FROM SHANTUNG (1972) was one of Shaw Brothers' most popular hits among all martial arts classics that best remembered for then-young martial arts star Chen Kuan-Tai playing the title role, Ma Yongzhen (also the movie's Chinese title). Then in 1997, director Corey Yuen attempted to remake the movie under the title of HERO (no, not that HERO starring Jet Li) with Takeshi Kaneshiro in the title role (yikes!). But that movie failed to make an impression at the box office. Now, director Wong Ching-Po made his own attempt to remake BOXER FROM SHANTUNG with ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI.
  
WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Philip Ng plays Ma Yongzhen, a young labourer from Shantung, arrives at the prosperous city of Shanghai trying to earn some living. One day, he meets Long Qi (Andy On), a rising gangster and boss of the Paradise Club who is determined to conquer Shanghai. Long Qi is particularly impressed with Ma's amazing martial arts skills and eventually hires him to work at his club. Both of them become best friends. Meanwhile, the Japanese government collaborates with Long's nemesis, the Axe Fraternity gang (Chen Kuan-Tai, Yuen Cheung-Yan, Fung Hak-On) for drug trafficking business and eliminates Long at all cost.
  
THE GOOD STUFF
 
Likewise, Wong Ching-Po's direction is stylish while Yuen Woo-Ping's kinetic action choreography is impressive. Despite favouring over choppy camerawork and slow-motion effect for enhancement purpose, rest assured that the fight sequence is exhilarating and fluid enough to keep the martial arts fans happy.

Up-and-coming actor Philip Ng gives a fairly charismatic performance as Ma Yongzhen. His well-toned physique, agility as well as his energetic fighting skills immediately remind me of the late Bruce Lee. As Long Qi, Andy On displays his usual good-looking charm and cocky swagger while his fighting prowess is as impressive as always.
  
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)
 
The climactic fight sequence beginning with Ma Yongzhen taking down a group of axe-wielding gang, before proceed to square off against the three Axe Fraternity gang leaders (Chen Kuan-Tai, Yuen Cheung-Yan, Fung Hak-On), and finally goes head-to-head against two Japanese fighters (one who carries sai and shuriken, and another with a katana).
  
THE BAD STUFF
  
Like (all) Wong Ching-Po's movies in the past, ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI is sadly all style but little substance. Despite the familiar but engaging premise, his overall execution feels hollow. It doesn't help when Wong Jing's screenplay lacks compelling depth to justify the entire movie. Even his added theme of brotherhood between Ma Yongzhen and Long Qi feels superficial.
  
FINAL WORDS


Although ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI doesn't exactly live up to its fullest potential, the movie is nevertheless a fairly engaging old-school martial arts movie worth watching for.

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