Once Upon a Time in China IV
Directed by Corey Yuen. Starring Rosamund Kwan, Max Mok.
For the fourth time, Tsui Hark's Film Workshop brings us another in a seemingly unending stream of historical dramas featuring the exploits of monk/martial artist Wong Fei-Hong. Maybe it's me, but the series seems to be showing its age, with the last three plot lines bearing startling similarities to each other (not to mention the look and feel of anything bearing the Film Workshop logo). Again, Wong and his allies Clubfoot and the westernized Aunt May are out to save their rural neighbors from scheming westerners and factionalized Flower and Lantern Societies via a massive, multi-racial martial arts tournament. There's absolutely nothing here that hasn't been done before (and better, at that), from the evil eyebrows of the foreign dignitaries, to the exhilarating fight scenes (one, staged atop a series of domino-like wooded planks set upright on the ground, is a knockout, with Wong and the minions of the radicalized, all-female Red Lantern Society flying about like so many marmosets at war). As usual, director Yuen -- with an able and obvious assist from Hark -- thoroughly immerses the period piece in gorgeous reds and blues; it's one of the most colorful of Hark's later productions with what must have been a much higher budget behind it. Nevertheless, this is a series that has outlived its usefulness. Really, there are only so many stories to tell about the legendary Wong Fei-Hong, and surely they've already been done. There's a riot of action and high-flying fisticuffs at every turn, but that's nothing new, either. Maybe it's time for Hark to move on and come up with something new (Swordsman III, maybe?), before I fall asleep again.
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