Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
January 11, 2015 by Dennis Amith
If you love films with magnificent fight choreography, you owe it to yourself to watch “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai”!
TITLE: Once Upon a Time in Shanghai
FILM RELEASE: 2014
DURATION: 96 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (16:9 widescreen), Mandarin and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Subtitles: English
COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment
RATED: NR (Not Rated)
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Directed by Ching-Po Wong
Screenplay by Jing Wong
Produced by Wai-Keung Lau, Jing Wong
Cinematography by Jimmy Wong
Edited by Wenders Li
Costume Design by Connie Au-Yeung
Andy On as Long Qi
Sammo Kam-Bo Hung as Master Tie
Philip Ng as Ma Yongzhen
Kuan Tai Chen as Baldy Bai
Luxia Jiang as Tie Mei
Cheung-yan Yuen as Laughing Buddha
Hark-on Fung as Scruffy Chou
Michelle Hu as Tie Ju
Mei Lin Mo as Brother Tiger
Fengchao Liu as Shinji Tsutsumi
Jiaolong Sun as Hei Mao
Ma (Philip Ng) dreams of making a life in Shanghai without using his fists. But when befriends the Boss of a rival gang (Andy On), he must fight for honor or lose everything – including his neighbor (Sammo Hung) and his love (Michelle Hu).
From director Wong Ching-po (“Revenge: A Love Story”, “Triad Underworld”) comes his 2014 martial arts action film titled “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai”.
Starring Sammo Hung (“Martial Law”, “Ip Man 2”, “Winners & Sinners”), Philip Ng (“New Police Story”, “House of Fury”, “Invisible Target”), Andy Hu (“Three Kingdoms”, “True Legend”, “Mad Detective”), the film will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment in January 2015.
“Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” revolves around a young man named Ma Yongzhen (portrayed by Philip Ng). Ma has exceptional martial arts skills and his right fist is known for its great power. Because he tends to get into his fights and his right hand is destructive, his deceased mother made him promise to her that whenever he plans to use his right fist, to look at the bracelet which will remind him of her to not use it.
Ma Yongzhen and his friends are en route to Shanghai to begin their new lives as many Chinese have heard that Shanghai brings many people opportunities and he and his friends can’t wait to begin their new lives.
And they are taken in by the residents of one territory led by Master Tie (portrayed by Sammo Hung).
Meanwhile, gang boss Long Qi (portrayed by Andy On) is known for being a ruthless and powerful martial artist and he kills one of the gang leaders to make a statement that he intends to rule Shanghai, putting the four gang leaders of Shanghai’s Axe Fraternity in fear that they will lose control of their territory.
One day, one of the gang bosses from a territory threatens to kill Ma’s young friend and her father but as the gang boss is about to take an axe to the man’s throat, he is stopped by Master Tie. For Ma Yongzhen, he does not like to see the corruption in Shanghai and takes it upon himself to get rid of it.
So, he immediately defeats a gang and their gang boss and they lose a lot of opium which is taken in by law enforcement. But as law enforcement want crime out of their area, they know that the Axe fraternity and Long Qi have too much power and Ma is warned to not do anything foolish.
But Ma wants to do something and he confronts Long Qi and challenges him in a duel.
Meanwhile, the Axe fraternity is planning to take back their territory by working with the Japanese and assassinating Long Qi. Will Ma Youngzhen be dragged into a deadly gang war?
“Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:38:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality is very good as skin tones look natural and closeups featured great detail. A lot of the scenes were shot on set, inside a warehouse or a building, but fortunately the cinematographer did a good job of focusing on the action and for a martial arts popcorn action film, it should catch their attention because the fight scenes were staged very well.
I didn’t notice any artifacts or banding issues during my viewing of the film.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” is presented in Mandarin and English 5.1 DTS-HD MA and due to the number of scenes with action, surround channels are well-utilized.
Subtitles are in English.
“Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” comes with a short making of (4:40) and a theatrical trailer.
“Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” comes with a slipcover.
Whenever I watch a martial arts film with the title..”One Upon a Time” , you have come to expect a film that would display intense action and awesome fight choreography.
And in many ways, “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” doesn’t disappoint, especially if you have a legend such as Yuen Woo-ping involved with the fight choreography and much attention is dedicated into making sure the fight scenes are impressive towards viewers.
One thing that fans will want to know is that the protagonist name, Ma Youngzhen, is paying homage to the 1972 Shaw Brothers martial arts film “The Boxer from Shantung”. In fact, Chen Kuan-Tai who played the original Ma Youngzhen in the Shaw Brothers film, has a cameo in “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai”.
Now watching “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai”, I have since abandoned the idea that anything will come close to the “Once Upon a Time in China” films starring Jet Li and directed by Tsui Hark. Those films were shot with a bigger budget and remain martial arts classics.
But does “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai” have what it takes to become a classic? The answer is no.
I will give actor Philip Ng his due as he makes a wonderful martial arts protagonist. His actions are swift and smooth and good, young action stars that light up the big screen are hard to come by and Philip does have star potential. But does he have the magical flair of Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen or Bruce Lee…not yet. But the potential is there.
And while I did enjoy the martial arts choreography, I felt the story to have Ma Youngzhen have this special destructive ability with his right fist, was going too far over the top. It’s one thing to have a martial arts film with fighters who are great at what they do, but when you start putting a supernatural element in a film like this, it just seems overly forced for my taste.
But with that being said, I enjoyed the film as the first half features Ma Youngzhen taking on the antagonist Long Qi, by the second half, it’s almost an entire different storyline as Ma Youngzhen and Long Qi become brothers and the antagonist become the Japanese.
Films like “Ip Man” show the human struggle under the Japanese and you sense it and the emotional element is there. For this film, you go from disliking Long Qi but then having to accept him as Ma Youngzhen’s friend and then seeing Ma taking on the Japanese soldiers, the flow of the film is impacted by the storyline that the film becomes more popcorn action and you are in it for the martial arts choreography.
Still, I did enjoy this film and am not sure if the plan is to continue the series but I do see a lot of potential in the character of Ma Youngzhen in future films and also actor Philip Ng becoming the next great action hero.
Overall, if you love films with magnificent fight choreography, you owe it to yourself to watch “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai”!
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