Directed by Tsui Hark (Legend of Zu) and starring Jet Li (Lethal Weapon 4 and The One, Once Upon a Time in China is a tale of courage. Based on one tale of the Chinese legendary folk hero Wong Fei Hung, Once Upon a Time in China ia a storytelling masterpiece and a martial arts film classic!
The DVD case is the regular black case with a cover slip featuring a beautiful orange-based color scheme. The film’s star (Jet Li) is pictured on the front with the title written below him in shadowed white letters. At the bottom of the front cover are martial artists practicing forms. The back of the case features a one sentence summary of the film’s plot, three screenshots, as well as a screenshot of the film’s main menu (which is not this film’s main menu!!) The bottom of the case’s back features the basic DVD information (format, audio, region, etc.)
The case is well made and features the “X” push button securing device, which firmly holds the disc in place during storage and transport. The packaging for Once Upon a Time in China is, overall, well made and designed.
The video is a copy of the Region 1 Columbia TriStar DVD, which is as good as it can get! Presented in widescreen format (16:9), the colors are bright, but the film still has a slight “grainy” feel to it. (The video can not get any better than this however, and I am being overly critical!)
There is only one DVD copy problem that I saw and that was on the “Chapter Select” menu, there is a hard line through the screen where some of the graphics did not copy correctly. There are no noticeable problems with the DVD’s play or video during play; and, as far as I can tell, this film was complete.
The audio menu features two options: Cantonese (Mono) or Chinese (Mono). Seeing as how the movie was originally filmed in Chinese, which is the language I chose. There is also a third audio option featuring an audio commentary by Ric Meyers, martial arts expert and writer for INSIDE KUNG FU Magazine.
The audio is only presented in Mono, therefore there is no surround sound capability (which means the audio is only projected from the front left and front right speakers of any surround sound system). The audio was recorded at a good volume and was easy to hear. The sound effects were all well timed (unlike some films where a punch lands before it has been thrown!!)
I hate that there is no Dolby Digital for this audio, but, being that this is the best audio available for this particular film, I am content.
This is where I have mixed opinions. Again, this is a perfect rip of the Region 1 DVD, so the subtitles do not get any better; however, my major complaint was not in the subtitle’s misuse of the English language, but in the style of script! The subtitles are black letters outlined in white! Since the film is presented in widescreen, the subtitles fall below the film making the white outline the only visible subtitle! This style of sub can be hard to read for some people. The white outline is, in my opinion, a bad way to subtitle, but it is the only option and therefore we, as viewers, must make do!
There is no “Engrish” and each time a new speaker has dialogue, the subtitles feature this symbol: - This makes it easier for the viewer to tell which subtitle belongs to which character’s dialogue. Overall, the subs are well done and, if it wasn’t for the style of the subtitles (white outline!! AGGGHHH!!), would be excellent!!
There are twenty-eight chapter breaks which allows easy access to a every part of the film. The chapter breaks fall every 3-5 minutes and none of the chapters start during dialogue. The amount of chapters and chapter placement is perfect!
The main menu of Once Upon a Time in China is easy to navigate and use. There are five options: “Play Movie,” “Audio Set-Up,” “Subtites,” “Scene Selections,” and “Special Features.” The “Audio Set-Up” contains only two options (Cantonese and Chinese). However, three are available (See above section Audio for more info) The “Subtitles” menu features English, French, and Spanish options. The “Scene Selections” menu offers access to the film’s 28 chapters. The “Special Features” feature access to an extended preview for the title film.
Once Upon a Time in China is to Chinese martial arts films what the original Star Wars is to modern day science-fiction films. Both are considered masterpieces and helped elevate the quality of their specific genre of film! Once Upon a Time in China is still considered the “definitive” martial arts film and many of today’s films, even with their CG effects and special camera work, have a hard time living up to the pure “entertainment” value that Once Upon a Time in China expresses! Not to mention the fact that Jet Li, one of today’s biggest stars of martial arts movies, found himself as a “popular” actor because of this film’ release! Jet Li, famous for his incredible physical power and skill, has become a martial arts powerhouse in the film world and it all started right here!!
Once Upon a Time in China is based on the legendary Chinese revolutionist Wong Fei Hung. Wong, a martial arts master and doctor, has become frustrated with the “Westernization” of his country. After an accident forces Wong into a quarrel between Chinese and Western forces; Wong must choose sides and settle things with his fists (even though he doesn’t like to fight!)
The martial arts action in this film is one of a kind and the director (Tsui Hark) is considered by many to be the “Steven Spielberg of Hong Kong.” This being said, it is understandable why this film is considered one of the best martial arts movies ever and, for fans of Jet Li and martial arts, a MUST HAVE DVD!!
Conclusion: Once Upon a Time in China is a masterpiece of film and is a MUST OWN movie for fans of Jet Li and martial arts films!! My only complaints are the DVD’s lack of a Dolby Digital audio track and the style of subtitles, but these are easy to ignore once you witness the breath-taking martial arts magic that Tsui Hark and Jet Li make in this classic. Overall, this film is well worth owning and is an amazing film!
For fans of today’s martial arts films: watch this movie and see where it ALL began!!
Publisher: RO Discs: 1 Episodes: Movie Price: $4.00