Entertaining and workable kung-fu epic that’s notable for the return of Jet Li and some truly awful acting from most of the cast.
Jet Li’s much-heralded return as Wong Fei-Hong is in a respectably solid. If not well-acted, kung-fu western. Plot: Wong Fei-Hong travels with Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan or Quan Chi Lam), and Clubfoot (Xiong Xin-Xin) to America to visit Buck Tooth Sol, in a U.S. branch of Po Chi Lam.
Along the way, the group picks up a righteous gunslinger called Billy, who’s played by the blonde and not-so-great Jeff Wolfe. Things go bad during a raid on their wagon train, Wong loses his memory and falls in with the Native Americans. Yee and Clubfoot meet up with Sol, but they can’t find Fei-Hong. Meanwhile, baddies plot to act badly and rob banks.
Once Upon a Time in China (Hoang Phi Hong: Tay Vuc Hung Su) storyline seems entirely geared toward finding a bad guy to beat up in the second hour. When said bad guy appears, he’s able to do some semi-decent kung-fu, which requires some suspension of disbelief but not enough to make the film less than enjoyable. Essentially the film is plotless, which is not surprising since this was a Tsui Hark production directed by Sammo Hung. At the very least, Jet Li shows some terrific presence and charisma. Despite Zhao Wen-Zhou’s excellent (and even underrated) take on Wong Fei-Hong, the role is really Li’s.
Ultimately, this is an entertaining film that suffers from an unfocused plot and some incredibly bad acting from the usual suspects (unknown gweilo actors). Strange as it is, of the three big New Year’s movies this year (the other two being Mr. Nice Guy and All’s Well, End’s Well ’97), this is easily the best one. It’s a rarity when a Jet Li (Ly Lien Kiet) film can top both Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow, but they managed to pull that off here.