Once Upon a Time in Shanghai is yet another retelling of the story of Ma Wing-Jing a poor country bumpkin who goes to Shanghai seeking fame and fortune but ends up on the wrong side of powerful gang bosses. Philip Ng plays the title character who goes with two friends to the big city and almost immediately has to use his powerful martial arts skills to defend himself and his co-travellers.
After showing his amazing strength in an arm wrestling contest he gets a low paid job and then comes across nightclub owner and gang boss Long Qi (Andy On) who uses his skills to become the main man controlling Shanghai much to the anger of other gang bosses (played by veterans Fong Hak On and Chen Kuan Tai). The two become friends but the battle for power gets out of control and with the Japanese invaders also getting involved the stage is set for an all-out battle in the city.
Its great to see hard-hitting martial arts action again and the two leads play the roles well. Philip Ng has talent and is one to look out for and Andy On yet again shows what a talented performer he is. Sammo Hung has a small role as the head of the commune Ma is staying at but sadly he only gets one fight in the film, but it is well shot. The action by Yuen Woo Ping is mostly ground-based with a few wirework and CGI enhancements which really were not needed. Fights are powerful and brutal at times but it is strange that at no time in the film is a gun shown or used considering this was probably one of the weapons of choice at the time for gangsters.
What was odd and distracting at times was the look of the film. Colour is virtually drained out of the picture and it might as well be black and white, I don’t know what director Wong Ching Po was trying to achieve. Being a Wong Jing production the story jumps all over the place and is disjointed at times. The film is very entertaining which is not a bad thing and action fans will certainly get their money’s worth.
The film has been released on DVD and Blu ray in the USA by Wellgo. No release as yet for the UK.
FILM: 7.5 out of 10