Plot: What’s it about?
Wong Fei-Hung (Jet Li), his old friend Chung, and his “aunt” Yee (Rosamund Kwan) all arrive in Peking just in time for a special event, a Lion Dance martial arts competition. This very popular event has been sponsored by the Empress herself, which means all the most gifted martial artists will be present, perhaps even Wong himself. But he has other issues on his mind, as his hidden romance with Yee has hit a speed bump, in the form of Russian diplomat Tumanovsky, who has a hidden agenda of his own. Yee and Tumanovsky were schoolmates it seems and they seem to have the old spark again, which means Wong has another problem to deal with. He must also face off with Club Foot (Xin Xin Xiong), a brutal martial artist who seems to have a stake in making sure Wong is knocked out of the Lion Dance contest. What will become of Tumanovsky’s romance and hidden plan, Club Foot and his plot to injure Wong, and of course, Wong’s hidden romance and possible performance in the Lion Dance competition?
I am a fan of this series and I am glad to see releases, but I am not pleased with the treatment offered by Columbia/Tristar. As with the other two releases, this one has a less than stable visual transfer, a rather weak audio presence, and little to no extras. This is a fantastic series and deserves better treatment than this, to be sure. I ended up looking overseas for superior editions and found them, so rest assured, this is not as good as it gets for these movies. But enough about how Columbia/Tristar has dropped the ball on these great flicks, let’s discuss the movie itself. Jet Li returns to his signature role and puts on another terrific show, both in terms of action and acting. He manages to squeeze in some classic facial expressions also, which adds a lot to his character. This installment is more story driven than action, but some cool fight scenes are still included, so no need to worry in that respect. Perhaps it doesn’t compete with the original movie, but Once Upon A Time In China is still a cool movie and a worthy addition to this series. It’s too bad Columbia/Tristar has messed up the disc though, leaving me to recommend you to look elsewhere, as other studios have issued better discs, you’ll just have to look overseas for them.
As he has made the transition to American cinema, Jet Li has met limited success, thanks to less than top notch projects. His skills seem up to par still, but he is unable to latch onto a great project, which is a shame. Li is best known for his intense martial arts skills and with good reason, as he can manage fight scenes with the best, no doubt about it. But Li can also hold his own in normal acting situations, as he has proven time and again, including this movie. In truth, the focus is more than the story than action in this one, which allows Li to expand his character more and that’s terrific news, I think. He might be well known as an action star, but he is also a great actor overall and I hope he finds some more suitable material soon. You can also see Li in such films as My Father Is A Hero, Hitman, Kiss of the Dragon, Black Mask, and Fist of Legend. The cast also includes Max Mok (Pedicab Driver, Summer Lovers), Xin Xin Xiong (The Blacksheep Affair, Dragon Inn), and Rosamund Kwan (Swordsman II, Project A II).
Video: How does it look?
Once Upon A Time In China 3 is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I was let down with this transfer, as it shows all sorts of artifacts and defects, due to the process used to create the image. Instead of striking a new anamorphic print here, Columbia/Tristar instead took and existing print and converted it, which leaves the final image less than impressive. I had real problems watching this on my television in fact, as the image looks downright miserable on a big screen television. This is a shame, as the English language edition found on this release looks much better, thanks to being a true anamorphic treatment. But you have to deal with trims and lack of original language there, which sucks. The overall video score is based on the original edition (1/5) and the English edition (3/5), so the average comes out to a 2/5, which is the end result.
Audio: How does it sound?
The original theatrical version includes Dolby Digital 5.1 surround options in Cantonese & Mandarin, as well as optional English, Spanish, and French subtitles. I wasn’t too thrilled in this area either, as both tracks seem restrained and even dead at times, not the kind of audio you want on a flick like this. You will hear some surround presence, but it is rather thin and often hollow, so it is nothing to shout about. The English language version has a simple 2.0 surround option, which sounds even worse than the others. The audio is better than the video, but not by much and in the end, I doubt anyone will be pleased with this aspect of the disc either.
Supplements: What are the extras?
If you can consider it an extra, the English language version of the film is present, as well as some basic talent files.