Once Upon a Time in Shanghai Blu-ray Review
I’ve never been a kung-fu movie guy. Better yet I’ve never gotten into a kung-fu movie. I’ve enjoyed the exploitation and slapstick versions of kung-fu, but never the movies from 1970’s that predominantly featured Bruce Lee. That’s not to say I can appreciate something that still has an impact on today’s directors. ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI is a stylish tribute to those beloved movies.
Although, like I stated, I’m not necessarily an expert, but I can surmise that that was the intention. Ma Yongzhen (Ng) is a young adult, crammed on a ship packed full of immigrants heading to Shanghai for a better life. At least that’s why I assume they’re putting up with such deplorable conditions in the belly of a boat. Shanghai is run by multiple gangs who have divided it up like a pie, driving the impoverished to seek a life of crime. Not Ma though. Despite his freakishly strong body and equally freakish fighting skills, he seeks an honest living.
On the flip side, there’s Long Qi (On), another young adult making a living in Shanghai, but not as honest. He’s actually a bit older than Ma, but not by much. He’s risen to prominence in gang territory and taken his own large slice of town. He’s done it purely by intimidation and near superhuman kung-fu skills. Which I know sounds incredibly silly, but his swagger is feared and admired amongst those who come into his presence.
You would think the first time Ma and Long cross paths, the wind will kick up, lightning will illuminate the sky and these two will battle over supremacy in Shanghai. Quite the opposite actually. They become the best of buds and learn a thing or two from each other. They respect each other over their love for kung fu. In fact, they enjoy hand-to-hand fighting and laugh while throwing deadly punches and rib crushing kicks.
This is a movie that oddly benefits from a hodgepodge of humor, crime drama, bad romance, and stylized kung-fu. While this is a remake of a Bruce Lee movie, it feels deeper than that. The movie radiates appreciation for something I’ve never seen before or been able to appreciate myself. Watching it is like having someone show you their favorite movie of a genre in the hopes of swaying you to viewing more or the person showing you one episode of the latest TV show they’re hooked on.
It’s almost like cherry picking the beloved elements and somehow leaving the logic on the cutting room floor. This is a movie that inherently lacks logic. There’s no reason a rising criminal kingpin would admire a street rat who just bested him in battle, followed by him torching his prize of drugs that he won in the battle. The rationale behind the villain gaining admiration for him falls flat upon further review.
The enjoyability of this movie relies solely on style, choreography and the willingness of every actor to not become a cheesy caricature. Since none of those things happen and all of three of those are spotless in execution, ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI is a gorgeous, fun ride. So maybe I will check out one of those Bruce Lee movies I’ve yet to watch.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 2:35:1) The monochrome look of this movie comes through clearly on this Blu-ray presentation. The shadowing is the true highlight.
Audio: (Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) A beautiful blend of 30’s lounge singing, fighting, grunting, and SFX. Really brings out its own golden age vibe.
Making Of (4:39): This is a first. There’s absolutely no narration or interviews. It’s simply highlights of them filming with a soundtrack. The most useless feature about the making of a movie I’ve ever watched.