Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (E zhan) 2014 – this is still a decent Chinese film to watch for martial arts action junkies

Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (恶战) is another action-packed drama film from the legendary martial arts choreographer. Yuen Wo Ping and HK action legend, Sammo Hung.

The film sets in Shanghai in the 1930s. The city once attract many youngsters from different provinces in China to find fortune and fame.

The film has a simplistic and straightforward plot, a story about a youngster. Ma Yong Zhen, well-equipped with martial arts and possesses incredible strength on his right fist. Together with an unshakable sense of morality, comes to Shanghai looking for an opportunity.

Directed by Wong Ching Po, who has had somewhat of a checkered filmography under his belt.

Once Upon a Time in Shanghai is a throwback martial arts film of sorts that more than aptly entertains those looking for high intensity martial arts action. Featuring the first collaboration in years by former collaborators Sammo Hung and Yuen Woo-ping, Once Upon a Time in Shanghai showcases two of the best young fighters.

They working in Chinese cinema today doing what they do best. Featuring martial arts choreography by the aforementioned Yuen. The film will also reward viewers with a fondness of old school martial arts. That by the number of cameos peppered throughout. Sammo Hung has perhaps merely an extended cameo this time around.

He is not unlike his many short appearances in 90’s era martial arts films.

But the inclusion of names like Chen Kuan Tai, Fung Hak-on, and Yuen Cheung-yan certainly brought a smile to my face. Once Upon a Time in Shanghai will be loved by action movie fans as it brings you exactly what you want from a Yuen Woo-Ping action film.

The movie with Philip Ng and Andy On showing that a new generation of kick ass is upon us lets hope that its not a Once Upon a time in Shanghai and maybe just maybe its Twice.

While it’s nothing new here.The story is predictable as these sort of movies been done countless times before in the past. But this is a well-made stylish action film that reminds me of the HK martial arts films of the 80s and 90s. The movie with stories about the criminal underworld and Japanese infiltration in China.

The film features a lot of impressive martial art fight scenes…

The intensity and swiftness of the fights between the actors were just astonishing to watch. You still cheer the lead character, saying ‘Serves them right!’ when he puts down the bad guys in the climatic battle near the end.

The fight scenes are pretty stellar. That with the highlights being the first encounter between the characters played by On and Ng as well as the extended fight. That between Phillip Ng and former wushu champion Liu Yongchen. Sammo himself has a bit of an effects laden scuffle and the always welcome Jiang Luxia gets a chance to show a bit of her skills. But it is all over way too fast.

Female lead Michelle Hu is just the right type of appealing but the focus of the film certainly lies with the brotherly comraderie between Ng and On. A small gripe is that the final fight is not the best action scene in the film.

But rather a letdown after the stellar buildup and promise of violence.

Regardless, the martial arts are top notch and the choreography by Yuen is interesting and exciting. Although the brotherhood and romantic love themes in the films are not properly fleshed out or developed. The plot still engaging enough to hold the action scenes together for the audience to continue watching it until the very end.

It seems that Andy On and Phillip Ng. They are further establishing themselves as rising action stars other than the currently famous Donnie Yen. Not a bad movie by any means, this is still a decent Chinese film to watch for martial arts action junkies.

As a fight film first and foremost, the acting itself is generally an aside to get to the action. Ng’s honorable country bumpkin Ma is at time tough to watch, his slack jawed look almost a caricature for the film’s goings-ons.

But at least he’s consistent throughout the film.

Andy On’s tough and cool Long certainly is a vast improvement over his no dialogue baddies from which he’s made his reputation. Very likable, I hope this leads to more starring turns for one of my favorite modern day film fighters.

This movie is an amazing display of martial arts, patriotism and vengeance. The subdued tones of the visual constantly bring down the color to an almost classic black and white. While highlighting critical elements of the storyline, like Ma’s jade bracelet given to him by his Mother so he doesn’t kill with his fist. Also appearing in the film, legendary kung fu artist Sammo Hung plays the community leader that leads, feeds and protects the ragtag group of workers.

Overall, Once Upon a Time in Shanghai is very fast-paced and action packed film.

That will more than satisfy those looking for some modern and high budgeted martial arts. While the purely technical level of storytelling may merely be a smidgen above the average no-brain chop socky films of old. There is enough here, by enough decent performances to make for a fine hour and a half as long as you know what you’re getting into.

Recommended for martial arts enthusiasts who are looking for a new classic. There’s the usual hyper-patriotism of Chinese films set in the era (translation: the Japanese are the bad guys) played loud. The classic look and feel of the gangster era is romanticized to an almost fantasy level. Lung even owns a tiger like an old style James Bond villain. Still, the settings are top notch, the mixes of color and grayness are a great touch and the two main leads are heroically idealistic and believably charismatic.


Rating: NR
Genre: Art House & International, Special Interest
Directed By: Ching-Po Wong
Writer: Angela Wong
Producer: Wong Jing
Stars: Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Andy On, Philip Ng
On Disc/Streaming: 9 January 2014
Runtime: 95 minutes


Kung Fu Bob
Excellent review Paul. I felt the same way about this film. It was definitely another “shoulda-been-great” movie with everyone involved. A lot of it I enjoyed, and a lot of it was terrible. Definitely worth seeing, but go in with lowered expectations. It was a pleasure seeing all the old-school stars, and some of the action is great. But how about that awkwardly filmed one-take shot where Philip fights a string of guys? Yikes. Did not dig that.

Richard TRONdsen
I may be in the minority here, but I loved every second of this remake of the 1972 Shaw Brothers classic, Boxer from Shantung. Andy On is awesome as always, but this is definitely Philip Ng’s show. The guy’s a total badass, and if his character wasn’t influenced by Bruce Lee in The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, I’ll eat my shoe! The action, choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping and Yuen Cheung-Yan, is excellent, if a little strangely edited at times. The finale, where Philip Ng wipes out half of Japan, is amazing. I wonder whose idea it was to shoot the film in black and white, though…

Sean Gilman
A remake of Chang Cheh’s The Boxer from Shantung with nods to Bruce Lee as well (most specifically Fist of Fury, which was also set in 1930s Shanghai). Written by Wong Jing, action by Yuen Woo-ping, with a decent co-starring role for Sammo Hung. Director Wong Ching-po shoots it in a dusty gray miasma (apparently he wanted to make in in black and white, but Wong Jing wouldn’t let him because money, and this was as close as he could get) which mostly just looks gross. The fights are great (Philip Ng as the hero Ma Yongzhen and Andy On as the suave gangster Long Qi

Great fights, poor story, horrible humor, and odd characters.

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