a word of explanation…
I have had something of a blogging orgy when it came to writing about this film. Um. So far I’ve written 5 blogs on the choreography, 2 blogs about Li and his character Wong Fei Hung, 2 blogs about Yam Sai Kwun and his character Iron Robe Yim, and a few blogs about other aspects of this film. But Once Upon A Time in China (OUTIC) is an important film for me. Not only is it one of my favourite films, but it is also one of the films that converted me into the kung fu movie fanatic I am today.
In this respect, though, an honourable mention should go to Japanese TV series Monkey, that was shown here in Australia during the 1980s. This show was based on the famous myths surrounding the Monkey King’s journey to the West in the company of a Buddhist priest. The same myths were to inspire Jet Li and Jackie Chan’s 2008 film The Forbidden Kingdom, in which Li plays the Monkey King. The Japanese series was a mixture of fairy tale, humour, Buddhist philosophy and martial arts. When it was first aired, no one in my family had ever seen anything like it before. It knocked us for six. In retrospect, I can see that the choreography and martial arts skills in this TV show were not a patch on those regularly on display in most Hong Kong chop sockies, but when I first saw it I was absolutely electrified by the fight scenes. This show softened me up and primed me to be an easy convert to martial arts cinema later in life. Re-watching Monkey today, I still think it has enormous charm and entertainment value despite the shortcomings in the martial arts department. I will always be very fond of it, and one day I intend to buy and own it on DVD.
Here in Australia we have a great TV channel called SBS (or Special Broadcasting Service). SBS is devoted to showing multicultural product. You can watch a Japanese food show followed by a Turkish soap opera followed by a documentary on Nigerian politics. Years ago, during the nineties, I saw Jackie Chan’s Project A on SBS and thought it was good fun. Then I saw Tsui Hark’s Warriors from Zu Mountain, which struck me as glorious and glamorous and worth a second look, but which, at the time, didn’t make any sense to me at all but. I didn’t have my eye in apparently. I recently re-watched this movie and had that second look and had absolutely no problems following the plot at all. I have heard westerners criticise chop sockies for having incomprehensible plots. Assuredly, some of them do, but sometimes I think that the westerners are just not used to getting plot information out of visual elements, like fight scenes, rather than just relying on expository text. These films are different, and deploy different story telling or entertainment techniques to western films. Western viewers just have to be prepared to adapt to this. If you are, many of the films aren’t as incomprehensible as some people suggest.
Shortly after Warriors from Zu Mountain, SBS screened OUTIC and that was it. I was caught, hook, line and sinker, and there was no going back. It is only within the last couple of years that I acquired my first DVD player and, therefore, was able to buy a DVD of OUTIC (and many other martial arts movies). I have watched this film numerous times and I still find it to be a rich and absorbing viewing experience. So maybe it’s not surprising that it has generated so many blogging ideas for me. Below is a list of blogs I have written on this movie, and which I intend to post on my blogging site over the next few days:
- Jet Li as Wong Fei Hung – Part 1 – Acting
- Jet Li as Wong Fei Hung – Part 2 – Physical Performance
- A brief note on the romance between Wong Fei Hung and Aunt Yee
- Yam Sai Kwun as Iron Robe Yim – Part 1 – character analysis of Iron Robe Yim
- Yam Sai Kwun as Iron Robe Yim – Part 2 – Yam’s performance of Yim
- Choreography – Part 1 – General overview and opening preamble
- Choreography – Part 2 – Lion Dance on the ship – opening credit sequence – brawl in the street and restaurant – umbrella fight in the teahouse
- Choreography – Part 3 – fight in the Chinese Opera venue
- Choreography – Part 4 – Fight in front of the bonfire – Fight between Yim and Wong in the rain – action leading up to the climactic fight scene
- Choreography – Part 5 – climactic showdown between Wong Fei Hung and Iron Robe Yim
- The Elements
- A brief note on the depiction of westerners