Monday, May 21, 2007

Once Upon a Time in China

I always have to remind myself which movie this is, because I confuse it with both Drunken Master 2 (which is also about Wong Fei Hung, except that it's got Jackie Chan instead of Jet Li) and Fong Sai Yuk (different Chinese hero, but also Jet Li). This confusion extends into other areas. For example, I always think the Shadowfist card for Fong Sai Yuk has a guy with an umbrella, but it's really Wong Fei Hong. That doesn't come up very often, but it's still there.

As with a lot of Hong Kong movies, the plot involves a historical conflict between the Chinese and white invaders. This time it's Americans, but it's basically all a metaphor for the British occupation of Hong Kong. I don't know what they've found to make movies about since China got Hong Kong back in 1997. My guess is "the evil Chinese occupiers who took us away from our beloved British" because there's no pleasing some people.

I couldn't help comparing this movie to Drunken Master 2. There's a natural debate about who would win in a fight between Jackie Chan in his prime and Jet Li in his. My guess, which is slightly weasely, is that Jet Li's better at actual martial arts, but Jackie's practically indestructible, so it would be pretty close. There are comedic elements in both movies, but in this one, they're mostly carried out by the sidekicks. Luckily for the plot, the sidekicks are also good at fighting, as opposed to the comedy sidekick in Drunken Master 2, who's mostly good for cringing and selling out Jackie. Here, the big fat guy, the little skinny guy -- even the guy with buck teeth come in handy. And the big fat guy is actually fat, unlike all the times when the "fat guy" is obviously Sammo Hung again.

This is an older Wong Fei Hung. He's got students of his own and he's really hard to fluster. This is probably because he's aware that he's Jet Freakin' Li. Even when he's faced with guns, which always seems like cheating in a movie like this, he continues his awesomeness.

There's also a great ladder-fight that I assume was the "inspiration" for the much, much lamer ladder-fight in The Musketeer. One of the problems with the one in The Musketeer was that you couldn't see what was going on, but I suspect it wouldn't have helped much.

Incidentally, I would like to indulge myself in a brief complain about These Kids Today, who Don't Know How Good They Got It. I watched this movie on DVD, naturally, which means that I had the option of Dubbed, Subtitled, Both, or Neither. I chose to watch the subtitled version, which involved completely legible subtitles. These Kids Today don't know how lucky they are to have the expectation of reasonably accurate translations. And the subtitles were all on the black part of the screen below the letterboxing. Why, back in my day, we had to put up with a fourth-generation videotape with unreadable half-English subtitles if we were lucky.

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