Once Upon a Time in China and America (1997)

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 07/10/2006

Having never really taken to the “new guy” (Vincent Zhao) as Wong Fei-Hung in the 4th and 5th instalments of this popular franchise, I was looking forward to seeing Jet Li back in the role. That Sammo Hung was to be the director came as a surprise to me, but a pleasant one if he could wipe away the memory of so many tepid/awful films from the early to mid 90’s.

The plot centres around Wong Fei-Hung and his arrival in America and the struggle of the Chinese workers against the white man. I have to admit that I liked Once Upon a Time in China and America an awful lot at the time, and still think it’s quite good now. Terrible title though. And now that I think about it, some of the acting’s terrible. In fact, the whole Native American sub-plot’s a bit iffy as well. But on the whole, it’s good mindless fun with some great action. Chan Kwok-Bong makes a stunning Ah Chat – he virtually steals every action scene he’s in.

It’s worth mentioning that the humour element has been ramped up for this episode – and by and large, it’s great. I loved the scene where Wong Fei-Hung makes a speech, only to find everybody asleep at the end. That certainly wouldn’t have happened in the first film!

Jackie Chan had been on about making an “eastern western” for some time, and had even voiced his idea of his character lose his memory. When Sammo pre-empted him by making Once Upon a Time in China and America, Jackie was not too chuffed. However, they evidently patched up their differences once again, and Chan went on to do his version (WHO AM I?) and got Hollywood to do it properly in SHANGHAI NOON.

As Mr Booth has pointed out, there doesn’t seem to be a decent version of this available at the moment, and I’ll reiterate his comment that the MIA version is pretty lousy. I’d also like to add that the subs are REALLY tiny.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: Arshadnm6
Date: 04/21/2005
Summary: Jet Li returns to take his title of 'Wong Fei Hung' once again!!

Jet Li’s long overdue return to the Wong Fei Hung Saga, embraces HK Cinema with the entertaining and flamboyant ‘Once Upon a Time in China and America’. Note: That since the whole movie is based in America, it should have been named ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, unfortunately the title was already spoken for thanks to Steven Spielberg, so Sammo Hung (director) had little choice.

The basic plot is that Wong Fei Hung travels with Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan), and Club Foot (Xiong Xin-Xin) to America to begin a new life and start a ‘Po-Chi Lam Health Clinic’ with his apprentice Buck Tooth Sol (played by Chan Kwok-Bong). Along the way they meet up with a righteous gun slinger named Billy (possibly the American version of Billy the Kid, who knows??). Anyway things go awry when a Red Indian Mohican tribe attacks their carriage and during the fight Wong Fei Hung falls into the river and hits his head against one of the boulders. Aunt Yee and Club Foot meet up with Sol and decide to go look for Wong Fei Hung hoping he is still alive. Meanwhile Wong Fei Hung loses his memory and falls in with a Native American Tribe. Eventually Aunt Yee and Club Foot find Wong Fei Hung and try to resurrect his memory. Eventually things get back to normal about half-way into the film, but the local sheriff, the Mayor and some of the local thugs are plotting to rob the bank and put the blame on the Po-Chi Lam Health Clinic. Will Wong Fei Hung, Club Foot and Billy prevail and save Po-Chi Lam and bring the real culprits to justice?

The whole blend of countryside scenery and desert land is just what was needed to bring something new to the ‘Once Upon a Time in China’ series. The action is well choreographed and the fight scenes, although few, have been given some length of time with plenty of stunt work and few wire tricks. The mixture of gun blazing encounters with kung fu are a reminiscence of the predecessor (OUATIC5), but the only difference is that Sammo Hung had an excuse to use this initiative, you can’t have cowboys without any guns that would be plain silly. The entire storyline seems geared up towards finding a bad guy to beat up in the second hour of the movie. Eventually when the bad guys turn up in the last 15 minutes of the movie, the obvious Red Indian bad guy, whom seems to be leading the troupe, miraculously knows semi decent kung-fu, which requires some suspension of disbelieve but not enough to make the film any less than enjoyable.

The whole structure of the storyline is water-thin, which was a big surprise, considering Sammo Hung and Tsui Hark (taking the role of producer once again) were involved in the production. At least Jet Li’s presence and charisma did some good to uplift the movie. Although Zhao Wen Zhou is bitterly missed (since his appearance in OUATIC4 and 5), there is no question to whom the role of Wong Fei Hung should really belong to, namely Jet Li.

Overall there is very little that impresses, and Aunt Yee and Club Foot do get some decent screen time but the saga which began in China, should really have ended in China. Billy, the gun slinger, acts like a free-lance cowboy / vagabond most of the time he is in the picture, which gives him little, if any, integrity or sympathy for the loner that he is. Also the setting of the No-Mans Land ambiance does little credit to Tsui Harks producing abilities, since the need for a grand Po Chi Lam Health Clinic in the middle of a remote village, with a probable population of less than 100, seems vulgar at best.

Overall Rating: 7.8/10

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 06/08/2003

Let's face it, this one was misconceived from the start. Whoever decided that what the series really needed to regain it's steam was to move it to America? Shoot that man! Probably the same person that decided that Wong Fei Hung should lose his memory for most of the film too, and China's greatest national hero should be reduced to a clueless simpleton. I hate to say it, but Tsui Hark I'm looking at you

Perhaps it's best to pretend this isn't really a Once Upon A Time In China film at all, as I'm sure the film suffers unfairly by association with the first two masterpieces in the series. It's just a story about some Chinese martial artists who travel to America to visit a friend, and find the Chinese people being oppressed and bullied by the white folk. Looked at as a stand alone entity it's not such a bad film. Still not a great one, though.

There's not much to get excited about in the story, and plenty to cringe about in the acting (too many people delivering corny English dialogue and hamming it up, though the Chinese speakers don't come across much better - this definitely isn't Jet at his best either). There's some good action though - some gunplay and some wire-enhanced kung fu. Xiong Xin-Xin gets more action scenes than Jet (and probably doubled Jet in his too), but it's no bad thing as he's probably the better martial artist and acrobat. In many ways he steals the film from Jet in fact, and Wong Fei Hung is almost relegated to a side character. Most of the fights pit XXX or Jet against clumsy cowboys and indians, where the speed and power of the Chinese martial arts overcomes the superior weaponry of the Westerners. There's some good choreography from Sammo Hung. The best fight and the best scene in the film comes when Xiong Xin-Xin acts out various fight scenes from the earlier OUATIC films in an attempt to trigger Wong Fei Hung's memory. Let's face it, there's nothing better than seeing two remarkable martial arts athletes going at each other

I've owned two versions of this film on DVD - actually make that three. First there was the Hong Kong disc from Chinastar, which featured a typical rushed non-anamorphic transfer, which wasn't too bad, but also had subtitles that were quite seriously out of sync with the dialogue, lagging by 10-20 seconds. That was bad!

So I replaced the disc with the UK "Special Edition" from MIA. This contains two versions of the film on the same disc. First is an anamorphic version, that is cropped down to 16:9 from about 2.35:1 and dubbed into English. It also features a hideous 5.1 remix. I wouldn't watch a dubbed version anyway, but the cropping really hurts the film - Sammo's cinematographer really uses the full frame, and far too much action is lost in the crop. Actually I think the image may have been zoom boxed, as it felt cramped on top and bottom too. Anamorphic or not, avoid this one.

Which leaves the other version on the MIA disc - a letterboxed transfer at the correct aspect ratio, featuring Cantonese 2.0 audio and burnt in theatrical subs. It's an ugly looking thing - faded, dirty and suffering from tons of edge enhancement that looks even worse zoomed up to fill a 16:9 tv. Might as well be a VHS, but at least it fits the basic requirements of correct aspect ratio, correct language and English subtitles that match the dialogue. If you have the film on VHS, don't bother "upgrading". Otherwise, bad as it is this is the version to get.

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: Inner Strength
Date: 01/13/2002
Summary: AVOID

The sixth or seventh I think in the long running series, sees Jet Li making a come back after only being in the first three. These movies got worse and worse I think, but don't get me wrong, the first one is a classic.

This time, we see Wong Fei Hung (Jet Li) in America, and after his coach being hijacked, he falls and looses his memory. Yes, we've all seen this before. He is rescued by native Indians and believes he is one of them.

As far as the story goes, there is not a lot to it, and it drags big time. However, the action seems a lot more frequent than before and some is quite impressive (probably because Sammo Hung was behind the scenes on this film). This movie seems more like a comedy (although not funny) than a serious insight to the legend of Wong Fei Hung, simply nothing like the original and its sequel. As far as I know the history of Wong Fei Hung, I don't even believe he went to America, but I could be wrong.

I actually bought this movie for the first time I watched it, and was mortified, and quickly got rid of it. I would not recommend anyone buying this, but it is worth watching.

As a comparison, I can say it's like Shanghai Noon, but not as funny.

Rating (of 5): 1.5

(This rating is based on the year & genre, so don't think it's based as a comparison on new releases etc.)

Reviewed by: Ryoga
Date: 12/25/2001

Very different feeling from the rest of the series and since Tsui Hark didn't direct this one, that might explain why. Wong Fei Hong (Jet Li) and the rest of his crew comes to America to find Ah So and his shop, Po Chi Lam. On the way, however, some Native Americans ambush them and Fei Hong ends up falling off a waterfall and losing his memory. He ends up with some tribe and a new life begins it seems like.

Reviewed by: Trigger
Date: 07/19/2001
Summary: Xiong Xin Xin Kicks ASS!

This film is basically Shanghai Noon with 1/10th of the budget, 1/10th of the time to make it, and starring Jet Li instead of Jackie Chan. I'm told Jackie had been planning to do a film like Shanghai Noon for years before this one came out, so accusing one of ripping off the other is perhaps pointless I guess... I don't know.. that's what I'm told. My guess is that Sammo and Jackie had probably talked about it back in the old days numerous times and thus they both ended up doing similar films. In fact, some of the same cast appear in both films...

I'm a strong believer that had this film been given the time and budget of Shanghai Noon (or even half the time and budget), it could've been an amazing film.

The story was weak... the acting was bad... but the action was tight. The man who played Club Foot in previous installments kicks too much ass. The fighting was outstanding in this film. This film had alot of style going for it and from the opening shots it looked like it was going to be a top quality production. However it was obviously plagued with being limited on time and money. The american actors lacked talent for the most part as well. Despite all of its shortcomings, this film managed to entertain the shit out of me. I really enjoyed it - I wish the subtitles were in synch with the film on the DVD I bought though. By the cheaper one if you can - don't buy the China Star DVD that Tai Seng distributes.

Seen on China Star DVD:


Movie: 6.9/10

DVD: 3/10

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: mehaul
Date: 07/04/2001

Good Jet Li movie but a little too much wire fu. Jet is in an accident and after developing amnesia joins an American Indian tribe. After regaining his memory he has to help a bleached blonde (straight out of Bill and Ted’s adventure) combat a crooked sheriff’s control over a western town.
The Media Asia version has the worst subtitling I’ve ever seen. The subtitles are
shown over a minute after the characters are speaking.

Reviewed by: cathy in dc
Date: 05/16/2001

This movie illustrates why cross-genre pollination can be a very very bad thing. There's no reason why a kung-fu western shouldn't work but this one didn't. I can't even really describe why I disliked this movie as much as I did. The stereotype indians didn't help, and the english-speaking actors were terrible (and sounded as if they were dubbed by someone who was saying the lines phonetically and didn't really speak english). I kept wondering if we were supposed to assume Billy was Billy the Kid, but it wouldn't really make any difference. Overall the fights were pretty diappointing, and the fight scenes for me have always been one of the main reasons to see the OUATIC films. Given how not good this film was, it makes me wonder how Shanghai Noon ever got the go-ahead (I didn't like it very much either and thought it was a total rip off of OUATIC 6, but with better comedy bits, although not by much). Unless you are a Jet Li fanatic, don't bother with this film. Or at least don't pay to go see it; my disappointment was tempered by the fact that I saw it as part of a $6 double feature at the late lamented Music Palace in NYC, so at least I didn't waste a huge amount of money on it.

Reviewed by: nomoretitanic
Date: 03/11/2001
Summary: Painful

I refuse to believe that this is an installment of the OUATIC series, but rather, an ugly radioactive mutant offspring.

This movie hasn't the faintest idea of what America was/is like. Everything you see here is a caricature of those politically incorrect old TV shows. A caricature of a caricature. Basically this movie was saying that Chinese people are awesome, they can heal anything, they have the best food, they can kick asses, and they can even catch bullets.

A lot of Chinese movies are like that, only to be redeemed by the actions. But the actions here made it even worst. Everything is undercranked at a ridiculous rate because apparently that's how fast Chinese people really move. All the villains in this movie don't stand a chance, the cowboys would stand in their bullying boxing stances waiting for Clubfoot to take them out, the crazy Indians tried their darndest to attack Jet here only to stop dead two feet in front of Jet and waits for his kicks or something (I say "or something" here because Sammo does that amazing camera thing where he swish pans and jump cuts and blurs just to show you what a gifted director he really is.) The final fight between Jet and the Dirty Mexican/Chinese Guy in Mexican Suit is more or less the same. The Mexican tries his hardest to come at Jet Li with his Amazing Undercranked Kicks only blocked by Jet Li's own Amazing Undercranked Shadowless Kicks. The entire time it was the Mexican hurling anything and everything at Jet, even tried shooting at the poor Chinaman, but Jet kicked everything out of the way and, not making this up, bent the spacetime continuum and caught all of them lil' bullets. The entire time the evil villain kept on asking himself outloud "Just who the hell is this guy?" "Is he human?" Which was the same questions we've been asking ourselves watching this movie: he moves at the speed of 20 frames per second (that's whole four frames faster than the rest of us), he catches bullets, he doesn't remember anything, he has no feelings for anyone, he hardly even talks. R2-D2 is more human than this guy.

Reviewed by: Sydneyguy
Date: 02/19/2001
Summary: Better than i thought!!

I am not sure what to think of this one. Though, like i said before, the villians are becoming less of a challenge for Wong Fei Hung to defeat, this brings DOWN the movie because you know whats going to happen!!

The storyline............was pretty good. It seemed a bit short to me for some reason!! I can't remember too much about this movie but i was not disappointed
watching it!!


Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 01/27/2001
Summary: Not as bad as I predicted

Yeah, the plot definitely was the poorest in all 6 series, but the action is among the upper, better part. In fact, I really liked this movie in general, which even surprises me because of the horrible things I've heard about this movie. I have yet to see sequels 3 and 5 (4 is out of the question for being so bad).

Anyway, the plot here puts the whole film down just a bit. It doesn't explain so many factors, so ruins a lot of the fun. The story starts with Billy, a mysterious man whose identity is never revealed in the movie, wanting to kill himself. Wong Fei Hung comes along and saves him. But soon, a bunch of Native Americans comes over and Wong and Billy tries to defend the group, but Wong, his student (the really ugly and weird-looking one whose head is always sideways. extremely irritating) and Aunt 13 fall into the river and Wong's head hits a huge rock and looses a lot of memory (strangely, not his martial arts or speaking skills). Somehow Wong is seperated with Aunt and his student, who end up in Wong's training center in California. They all try to find Wong with no luck. At the same time, all the Chinese in America are being discriminated against. People even threatened to kill some, but our western hero Billy, who is also highly skilled in guns (which makes it even more confusing as to why he wanted to kill himself at the beginning), protects the Chinese and eventually becomes the deputy sheriff of the town. Meanwhile, Wong is "rescued" by the Native American tribes, two of which are fueding eachother. Wong does not remember anything about his past, but does have some flashbacks once in a while. Wong soon helps the good Indian tribe defeat the other vicious one, and befriends the good tribe. One day when they're out riding, they're spotted by Aunt 13, who follows them and is caught by WOng, who apparently has no idea who she is. She wrongfully gets the impression that Wong changed his heart when she saw one of the girls with Wong's ring on her finger. Well, then she decided to leave America, but Wong came in time to stop her, still with amnesia. His student fights Wong in order to help him gain his past. Wong finally gets his memories back when he falls into the water. Meanwhile, a groups of Hispanic terrorists have teamed up with the untruthful mayor to plot schemes involving money. They got the money, but one of them is shot by Billy. To get rid of the unfavorable Chinese, the mayor hires a shameless Chinese spy to spill some money in Wong's home, and the mayor of course arrives, finds the money exactly where he put it, and denounces the whole Chinese community. Wong and 6 other people including Aunt 13 and Billy are sentenced to be hanged, but the Hispanics come back just in time when they find out that the mayor left out a couple of bucks. Wong and his student & Billy battle the Hispanics in a profound finale. When the criminals are captured, The Chinese are welcomed back, with Billy elected as the new mayor. I liked it where they made it sound like Wong's student (aka 7) and Billy creating 7-11 (the store), and when they created the first Chinatown at the end.

I've never liked a single one western movie before, but this western-eastern mix worked well for me. I think the idea of having Wong come to America and the old-school western stunts/shooting were very appealing. The downside, once again, is the plot. Although the Chinese were highly discriminated, the script never calls for a scene where it is fully and emotionally discriminated. RIght after the man spills beer on Aunt 13, Billy comes to rescue and the Chinese beat up the Americans. I wish they had some exploitation scenes where it makes you really wanna beat up the bad guys. This one does not. In addition, how did the Indian tribes rescue Wong? Why did they decide to keep him instead of slaughtering him? All these questions were left totally unanswered.

This film obviously influenced Jackie Chan's Who Am I (amnesia) and Shanghai Noon - a huge rip off in fact. You got the same catagoric Chinese hero and the similar Native American tribes there. Shame for Jackie Chan!

Overall, the action at the beginning when Wong and the group is attacked by Indians and at the end especially with Jet Li battling the head Hispanic terrorist is simply amazing. Not to say they're better than that of OUATIC 1 or 2, but they were deinifely up to the standards of any good martial arts film! There is even a 2 second cameo with some special effects seen from Storm Riders, Man Called Hero and the Duel! [8/10]

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 03/14/2000
Summary: Not that great

The first three OUATIC movies were phenomenal, the fourth one sucked, the fifth was pretty good... and this one -- the sixth and probably final film in the series -- weel, it's not that great. The silly plot has Wong Fei-Hung (Jet Li) travelling to the US to visit "Bucktooth" So's American version of Wong's Po Chi Lam, which is celebrating its' one year anniversary. Wong's stagecoach is ambushed and (in true US sitcom fashion) after a blow to the head, Wong loses his memory. He takes up with a group of Indians while Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan) and Clubfoot (Hung Yan-Yan)and a cowboy named Billy (Jeff Wolfe, the only decent gweilo actor in the film) search for him (for some reason, Kwan and Hung are called "Diana" and "Seven"). Overall, the first two-thirds of the movie is very poorly done; only the kung-fu action at the end saves this film from being a stinker.

Reviewed by: hktopten
Date: 12/21/1999

To start off, I like Westerns, which exactly is what this film is, a Chinese Western. Unlike the other Lunar New Year flick directed by Sammo Hung Kam Bo which shall remain nameless to protect fanboys and girls everywhere, the characters were actually fleshed out and well acted, and the story actually made me WANT TO SEE the action. I like Chiu Man Cheuk as Wong Fei Hung, but Jet Li proved why he's the Wong Fei Hung a lot of people prefer (I of course would still rather see Master Kwan Tak Hing). The only bone I have to pick is that the part in which Wong Fei Hung living among the Native Americans weren't detail enough. The usual cast is very likable as usual (Rosamund Kwan Chi Lam, Xiong Xin Xin and Chan Kwok Bong). It's always a joy to see Richard Ng Yiu Hong, and Patrick Lung Kong who is much better here than in Black Mask. It's also interesting to see characters like Billy and the Sheriff in a series which earlier made all non Chinese out to be villains. Overall, it's short, direct, fun, definitely worth a watch.

Reviewed by: MilesC
Date: 12/09/1999

Pretty horrible; transparent, forgettable story, not much in the way of action, and every non-Chinese actor in the movie is so bad you'll be shocked when one of them accidently utters a line that almost works... The "Native Americans'" lines are terribly cliche and stereotyped. I spent most of the movie wishing it would end... A really bad note for this series to probably end on.

Reviewer Score: 4

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

A Kung Fu western? Not since the original "Kung Fu" T.V. series was on the air have I seen this. Not only that, Wong Fei Hong (again played wonderfully by Jet Li) gets knocked on the head with a rock, has amnesia, is saved by an Indian tribe, remembers nothing but his kung fu and Chinese, and "becomes" an Indian. Jet Li with two braided pig tails running up the front of his shirt is a sight to see. The entire movie takes place in America, as Po Chi Lam celebrates it's first anniversary of being in America to help all the Chinese workers. Really strange feeling comes with this film because I would say about half of the movie, at the very least, is spoken in English. The action is great, I just couldn't get over the cowboys and Indians running around.


[Reviewed by Dale Whitehouse]

Reviewed by: spinali
Date: 12/08/1999
Summary: NULL

Part six of the Wong Fei-Hong legend gambles with anunbeatable concept: why not set a martial arts epic in the Old West? The timing's right (late 19th century), the locale fits (it's the place where coolies had to work as menials and railroad workers for their white racist employers), and we haven't even touched on the possibilities for gunfights, injun attacks, and kung fu rage. Wong Fei-Hong (Jet Li reprises his signature role) has sailed to the United States to establish a new branch of his Po Chi Lam martial arts school and hospital, but an Indian raid (and a resulting bump on the head) leaves the master with temporary amnesia. When peaceful Indians discover him, he has the skin color and about the right hair style to pass as a member of the tribe. He can also pluck arrows from the air in mid-flight, demolish tribal enemies single-handedly, and even gets friendly with a squaw. Wong's Westernized betrothed (Rosamund Kwan) is exasperated by the town's unwillingness to help; to compound matters, town fathers have decided to steal the coolies' pay and jail them on manufactured charges. Samo Hung, whose martial arts direction on Double Team was magnificent, directs this in spellbinding widescreen, with slightly sped-up action so we can't quite see what's happening in the action scenes; how strange that the best moments are the quaint ones, like when Wong gives didactic speeches that repeatedly put his audiences to sleep, or those tense moments before a fight (gun or fist). Other highlights include Kwan mauling stagecoach robbers with her triple-shadow kick (I never knew she had it in her!) and all the scenes with Billy, the good guy who sides with the Chinese and learns a new kung fu moves along the way.


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 6