"First of all, the movie: let me start off by saying that you should not try to compare this movie to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" anymore than you can compare the 1920s movie "The Lost World" to the modern, Spielberg-directed and CGI-enhanced "Lost World." And while some of you may say that in the latter example there was a much greater time gap between the movies, my point is that Hong Kong cinema has gone through drastic changes over the past decade, with many of the current crop of movies sporting high production values--"Storm Riders", released a couple of years ago, was one of the first (if not THE first) HK movies to use Hollywood-quality special effects and CGI, and many subsequent movies have tried to follow suit (e.g., "The Duel", "Man Called Hero"). In contrast, "Once Upon a Time in China" was made on a much, much smaller budget, but is generally considered a classic martial arts movie, and the one that not only propelled Jet Li to stardom, but also revived a genre that had long gone stagnant. Personally, I believe that this is one of Jet Li's best movies (I've seen them all), especially if you're looking for a movie which best showcases his terrific martial arts ability. In this movie he plays Wong Fei Hong, a Chinese folk hero who has been depicted in hundreds of movies by dozens of actors, but by Jet Li for the first time. He is joined by a well-known Hong Kong cast (e.g., Rosamund Kwan, Yuen Biao, etc.). The DVD: no, the video image is not of five-star quality, but I don't see why so many people are complaining. I've seen at least 50-70 Hong Kong DVDs over the past year, and most of the time the quality is poor to mediocre at best. Here we have an American release which may not measure up to current releases like Fight Club or Toy Story, but which is still head and shoulders above its Hong Kong counterparts (most of which are still much more expensive to acquire). Yes, the sound is in 2.0, but it's the visuals (e.g., fight scenes) that are the center of this film, not the audio. And there is a dubbed English track for those who resist reading subtitles (I've never listened to it, though, as I hate watching poorly-dubbed movies more than I hate reading subtitles). Plus, since this is an American release, the subtitles are much, much better than most you'll find in your average HK DVD.But perhaps the best feature of the DVD is the commentary by martial artist and HK film expert Ric Meyers. Some critics have complained in the past that this movie can be inaccessible to viewers not familiar with (1) Hong Kong movies, or (2) Chinese history. Ric Meyers does an excellent job of guiding the viewer through the movie, explaining some of the smaller details like (1) the purpose of the Lion Dance at the beginning of the movie, or (2) the importance of the "queue" (spelling?), which is the Chinese male's pony-tail. These are all significant to the movie and their respective scenes, but can be all-too-easily lost on the average american viewer. Plus, Mr. Meyers provides some good background information on the actors and their characters. In sum, this is a good DVD of a classic HK movie at an exceptional price. I believe it's the perfect introduction to HK cinema, as it has probably THE leading HK actor (Jet Li) playing the most famous movie figure in HK cinema (Wong Fei Hong) and is directed by one of HK's most famous directors (Tsui Hark). Add to this the very informative commentary track, and you can't go wrong."
One of the best HK films of the 90s
Will Thomasson | 09/02/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The film which started one of the most famous and successfull Hong Kong franchises of alltime is the best of all the Wong Fei Hung films. One of the most ingenious fight scenes ever seen (esp. Yim and Wong's battles) and probably the most intriguing, emotional and complex storyline of any Hong Kong Martial Arts film make Once Upon a Time in China enjoyable to almost any Martial Art fan. Jet Li (in the film which made him a superstar) portrays Wong Fei Hung the best, in my view. He almost did to Wong what Liam Neeson did to Oskar Schindler. Li's masterful fighting skills, awesome charismatic presence and his wise, flawless acting makes him superior to other kung fu superstars like Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Bruce Lee..only Chow Yun-Fat equals his skills. The end fight sequence between Master Yim and Master Wong is in the top six most tense and exciting Hong Kong action sequences ever (along with Fist of Legend, The Killer, Hard-Boiled, A Better Tomorrow II and Drunken Master 2)."
You Must Own This
Will Thomasson | Virginia, USA | 01/16/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you enjoy martial arts movies at all, you must own this movie. The cinematograpy is excellent, the fight scenes are superb, and the movie as a whole is top-notch. I enjoyed the gratuitous playing of the theme song throughout the movie; it really added to the atmosphere. Tsui Hark and Jet Li bring to life the story of the great Chinese folk here, Wong Fei Hung. I particularly recommend the DVD version."
Great introduction to Jet Li
Will Thomasson | 03/10/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is one of his classics and the newest actor to portray Wong Fei Hong (classical Chinese folk hero).The action is great, although some parts of this movie can be quite boring. I would watch this movie just to see one kick that Jet Li executes (without being suspended on wires) in which he does a 540 degree split kick jumping from one bench to another during the opera fight scene (nicely jazzed up with a jet's "whoosh" sound effect).However, if you want to see Jet's true fighting talent without the cheesy Chinese element (which usually involves lots of wire suspension), see "Fist of Legend" - Jet's new and improved version of Bruce Lee's "Chinese Connection". I also highly recommend "Tai-chi Master" which also features Michelle Yeoh in top form (Bond girl from "Tomorrow Never Dies")."
Fantastic film, horrible DVD!
Kienshin | Malaysia | 02/16/2001
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Once Upon A Time In China is one of the most important landmarks in HK film history with stunning fight sequences, great performances from all the cast and a strong controversial plot altogether. Sadly the American Region 1 DVD fail to do justice to the film. Picture is muddy and sound is mono. Even the english dubbed version suffers from near total darkness. Sound is only mono and not a very good one at that. It's even worse than the Region Zero available in the Asian market.I recommend the UK Region 2 instead. It is definitely ten times clearer and has a full-length commentary by director Tsui Hark and also interviews. Avoid this DVD at all cost!"