ReviewWriter: Casey ChongWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
“Boxer From Shantung”, “Hero (1997)” and “Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen”.
In 1972, legendary director Chang Cheh was responsible for "Boxer From Shantung", which was highly regarded as one of Shaw Brothers' most popular hits among all martial arts classics. It was also best remembered for then-young martial arts star Chen Kuan-Tai playing the title role, Ma Yongzhen (also the movie's Chinese title). The classic movie was then remade by director Corey Yuen ("Fong Sai Yuk", "Fong Sai Yuk II", and "So Close") called "Hero" in 1997. Despite boasting a stellar cast of Takeshi Kaneshiro and Yuen Biao, the remake was a box office disappointment.
In this 2014 remake directed by Wong Ching-Po, "Once Upon A Time In Shanghai" centres on a young labourer named Ma Yongzhen (Philip Ng) who travels from his hometown trying to make a living in the prosperous city of Shanghai. However, he ends up using his kung fu skills to survive against the evil Japanese.
Director Wong Ching-Po who has already explored different genres throughout his career including triad ("Jiang Hu", "Mob Sister"), thriller ("Fu Bo", "Revenge: A Love Story"), romance ("A Decade Of Love", "Finding Love") and even manga-inspired actioner ("Let's Go!), finally marked his first attempt in a martial arts period movie. Likewise, his direction is not much different than his previous movies, which is all style but little substance. Everything here is highly stylised, particularly during the fighting sequence which favours more on choppy camerawork and slow motion effect. However, thanks to Yuen Woo-Ping's kinetic action choreography, the movie is reasonably enjoyable to watch for. A particular highlight worth mentioning here is the climactic finale involving Ma Yongzhen single-handedly fighting his way stage by stage, beginning with a group of axe-wielding gang before taking on against the three Axe Gang leaders (Fung Hak-On, Chen Kuan-Tai and Yuen Cheung-Yan), and finally squaring off against two Japanese fighters (one who carries sai and shuriken, and another one with a katana).
Despite the entertaining action sequences, it's a shame that Wong Jing's screenplay is mediocre. Even his added theme of brotherhood, which focuses on the bond between Ma Yongzhen and the rising gangster Long Qi (Andy On), feels superficial.
As Ma Yongzhen, Philip Ng's wooden expression fits him well for a country bumpkin role. His acting style almost reminds this reviewer of the late Bruce Lee, even though he doesn't have his sheer charisma. But as a martial arts star, he shows a lot of promises in his agility and energetic fighting skill. Andy On is charismatic as Long Qi, but thanks to his awkward Cantonese dubbing voice, his over-the-top acting of a cocky gangster caricature is sometimes laughable.
Production-wise, Jimmy Wong's stylized cinematography is so washed out that it's almost like watching a black-and-white movie. Strangely enough, the Shanghai period setting feels curiously empty and stagy at the same time (you'll know when you see it).
"Once Upon A Time In Shanghai" is hardly a martial arts classic by any means, but if approaching this as a casual entertainment with a few good fight scenes thrown in together, this movie remains a worthwhile effort.Cinema Online, 09 January 2014