Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Wong Fei Hung - Once upon a time in China

1991 by Hark Tsui

Sometime in the mid 80's when VCR's started appearing in Keralan homes, thanks to those working in the middle east, one of the first heroes who came with it was Jackie Chan. All video libraries tried to stock each and every Jackie Chan movie which became terrific hits, even in villages. For us Chan movies were the first international movies we were exposed to as school students. Of course, there were movies like Gandhi and Beautiful people, which were international movies too, but those were more of educational ones for us. I remember watching Jackie Chan movies with all the neighbour hood in our family home, mostly containing boys and men who were amazed by the powers of the martial art star (Apparently there were bigger crowds only when the '86 world cup was shown live by Doordarshan and Maradona lit the scene). As news came in that Jackie Chan performed his own stunts and gets operated at least once during each of his film shoot, his fan base increased. We used to watch those movies again and again and again. Watching them now, for eg a movie like Drunken master or Protector, I still admire and appreciate him as an ultimate action star. But the comic scenes of those movies looks a bit oldy now. But I still like to watch those earlier movies of Chan than his modern flicks with Hollywood. Wong Fei Hung or the movie famous as Once upon a time in China, came highly reccommended, but while watching it I thought this movie was still in the early 80's.

Wong Fei Hung, a martial arts maestro has to set up a local militia to protect his town from the increasing number of foreign invaders including the Americans and the French. He faces opposition also from another local gang and a brutal martial art master. 

The movie starts quite slowly and its pace varies, sadly though, many times until it enters the final third. Therein, it is excellent. There is something wrong with the basic script and especially how it is edited, I thought, was the reason for its varying pace. Also as in the case of the earlier Jackie Chan movies, its comic scenes are a bit oldy for now. May be if I had watched it in 90's I would have felt different. And technically too, it is only slightly better than the Chan movies of 80's.

Whatever, the fight scenes are brilliant and that is all what matters finally. Wong Fei Hung was a legendary martial art hero. There should be hundreds of movies made upon this man and every Chinese must be proud about this legend. What a life it must have been for this hero. Even a century later, he is a hero not just in his country, but through cinema, his stories are flying high to the nook and corner of this world.