Once Upon a Time in China II

Rated R, 108 min. Directed by Tsui Hark. Starring Mok Siu Chung, Rosamund Kwan, Jet Li.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 30, 1993

Funny thing about Chinese film sequels: they tend to be better than their originals. Take this one for example. Whereas Once Upon A Time in China I tended to be a spectacular series of action-oriented set pieces loosely tied together by an often bewildering and incomprehensible plot, Hark has wisely decided to eschew the too-fast-to-explain pacing and instead settled down a bit, offering us much more fully developed characters and pacing that -- while still far more rapid than most American films -- at least gives us time to breathe. The improbably named Jet Li returns as Wong Fey Hong, wandering martial arts master and friend to the friendless. Also returning are the Westernized Aunt Yee (Kwan) and Hong's acolyte Fu (Chung). This time out, the trio finds themselves caught between the notorious White Lotus Sect, who despise all things Western and seek to return turn-of-the-century China to its former glory, and profiteering Colonials bent on making a quick buck in this new land of theirs. Unlike the first film, Hark depends less on the chaos of flying fists and passionate (though confusing) rhetoric, and instead gives us a bit more in the character department. He even manages to include a young Sun Yat Sen as a minor character, though don't get the idea this is any sort of historical drama in anything but the broadest sense of the term. There's plenty of well-choreographed action, though, including one hilarious bit where Fu defends himself from a band of White Lotus goons by brandishing a giant crucifix he's plucked from a Western church altar. All the scene needs is Dustin Hoffman yelling, "Elaine, Elaine!" to top off this genuinely loopy Graduate homage. Not as fast and not as zany as its precursor, Once Upon a Time in China II is instead a more controlled, skillfully woven film overflowing with a talented cast and crew. A better film, really.
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