Review: ONCE UPON A TIME 三生三世十里桃花 (2017) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Review: ONCE UPON A TIME 三生三世十里桃花 (2017)

Yang Yang and Liu Yifei in ONCE UPON A TIME (2017)

Based on the fantasy novel Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles Peach Blossoms by Tang Qi, ONCE UPON A TIME tells a story about a crown prince Ye Hua (Yang Yang) who falls in love with a white-fox goddess Bai Qian (Liu Yifei). Apparently, Bai Qian bears an identical resemblance to Ye Hua's previous love, Su Su (also Liu Yifei).


REVIEW: Not to be confused with the ABC fairy-tale fantasy series of the same name, this big screen version of Tang Qi's fantasy novel boasts a pair of recognisable talents behind the camera: Zhao Xiaoding and Anthony LaMolinara. Xiaoding is best known for some of his best cinematography works such as Zhang Yimou's HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (2004) and CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (2006). LaMolinara, in the meantime, has previously won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004). Given their primary backgrounds in the technical department, it comes to no surprise that Xiaoding and LaMolinara's directorial debuts in ONCE UPON A TIME is all about lavish visuals and elaborate costumes.

The movie looks pretty with equally photogenic actors (Yang Yang and Liu Yifei), while some of the wire-fu action sequences are exquisitely framed in slow motion. Xiaoding must have learned a lesson or two from Zhang Yimou's visual playbook.

Liu Yifei as Bai Qian in ONCE UPON A TIME (2017)

But for all the CGI-heavy galore and lush backdrops, ONCE UPON A TIME falls short where it should be mattered the most: the love story between Yang Yang's Ye Hua and Liu Yifei's Bai Qian/Su Su. The plot, which took four screenwriters -- Li Han, Liu Han, Mai Ling and Zhang Yaliang -- to write, is crammed with heavy-handed exposition and flashbacks about their romance between the past and the present. And yet, it was all haphazardly told in a confusing manner. Perhaps the biggest fault here is its insufficient 108-minute running time. Besides, telling such a complex storyline all jammed into a condensed length just wouldn't cut it. No wonder Eternal Love, the recent TV adaptation based on the same novel which starred Yang Mi and Mark Chao, ran a total of 58 episodes.

Yan Yikuan as Qing Cang/Demon Emperor in ONCE UPON A TIME (2017)

The movie is also suffered from a schizophrenic, yet uneven tone. One moment, it tries to be cute and lightweight with the appearances of Bai Qian's dwarf-like green creature, Mi Gu (about as annoying as Jar Jar Binks) and Ye Hua's chubby little child, A Li (Peng Zisu). Another moment, it wants to be sad and tragic with all the "till death do us part" endless love. Unfortunately, both of them don't really blend well with each other. As for the cast, Yang Yang and Liu Yifei are both attractive to look at. However, try hard as they may in playing a star-crossed couple, their chemistry is sadly lacking a sufficient emotional depth to make them more than just a mere eye candy. The antagonists, played by Li Chun as the envious Princess Su Jin who also fall in love with Ye Hua and Yan Yikuan who appears as the vengeful Qing Cang/Demon Emperor, are both undermined with their disappointingly inferior roles. Overall, ONCE UPON A TIME plays better if the movie is just an empty visual exercise.

ONCE UPON A TIME is all surface-level gloss of lush visuals and eye candy, but the central eternal love story is as convoluted as a multiple personality disorder.

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