Once Upon a Time in Shanghai / 惡戰 / Ngok3 Zin3 (2014)
Director: Wong Ching-Po
Screenplay: Wong Jing
Cast: Philip Ng, Andy On, Sammo Hung, Hu Ran, Chen Kuan-Tai
Note: The next screening is August 4
Preceding this main feature was a trailer for the Boxer of Shantung, which was appropriate because this film is a more modern remake of that old school Shaw Brothers feature. Like that one, this 2014 film starts with Ma Yongzhen on a boat to Shanghai. He’s dirt poor but is an extremely strong fighter. He eventually encounters Long Qi, a gangster and formidable fighter who had upset the status quo by killing one of the axe gang leaders and taking over his territory. Meanwhile, the three remaining axe bosses along with the Japanese plan on taking down Long Qi.
No doubt one would expect a knock-down, all-out martial arts flick from a film such as this one. Unfortunately that is not quite the case. Fight scenes early on are actually sparse and short until Yongzhen and Long Qi square off against each other. After this, there continues to be a dearth of action that only picks up towards the end with Yongzhen and Long Qi against all the Japanese baddies. What happens in between the action is really a boring and predictable story that’s already been done many times before. The only highlights being some humour with regards to Yongzhen’s naivete and his love interest plus the unintentional laughs due to the portrayal of Long Qi (particularly his cheesy laugh although granted this was probably intentional).
The two main actors Philip Ng and Andy On definitely have the martial arts chops and it’s too bad their talents are mostly not properly displayed. Overuse of slow-mo & fast-mo, bizarre camera angles and A.D.D. editing overcomes the fight sequences. Some of the crowd pleasing moments that are slowed down are nice but when speed is manipulated so frequently throughout the fight, it makes everything look fake. It was really totally unnecessary and becomes highly distracting. The one time where the camera is actually allowed to stay is during a fight taking place between multiple pillars. There are some good parts in the fights between Yongzhen and the Japanese fighters with their weapons but they lack any real intimidation factor. The film chooses to make a big deal out of Yongzhen’s super right-hand punch but this is no replacement for well staged, well filmed fight sequences. The Fantasia audience seemed to enjoy this one but seasoned kung fu fans will be majorly disappointed at the wasted potential.