Chinese martial arts icon Wong Fei-Hung returns in this third installment of the Tsui Hark-helmed series. This would also mark the final collaboration of Tsui Hark and Jet Li for a few years before they reunited for 1996’s final installment, Once Upon a Time in China and America.
Wong Fei-Hung, Aunt 13, and Leung Foon decide to take a trip to visit Wong Kei-Ying, Fei-Hung’s father. Fei-Hung intends to tell his father that he has plans to marry Aunt 13 as the two have fallen for each other. However, upon arrival to Beijing, Aunt 13 sees an old friend from England, Russian diplomat Tomansky, who has feelings for Aunt 13 much to Wong’s chagrin.
Beijing is holding a Lion Dance competition to boost the popularity of China’s kung fu. To gain their name, the dastardly Tai Ping Oil Company, led by Chiu Tin-Bai, intends to make sure that they become the favorites by terrorizing other competitors. To give them an extra boost, Chiu has hired rickshaw driver Club Foot as his enforcer. When Wong finds himself involved in Chiu’s affairs, Chiu does whatever it takes to ensure that Wong doesn’t enter the competition.
Meanwhile, Tomansky is involved in a plot to kill China’s current president Li Hung-Cheung, the eunuch of Empress Dowager. The reason is to show the foreign powers’ superiority over the Chinese. When Aunt 13 learns of the nefarious plot, Wong decides to enter the competition with the help of Foon and the reformed Club Foot, who was ridiculed by Chiu after an injury to his leg resulted in his exile.
Once again, the duo of Tsui Hark and Jet Li shines in this third installment of the Wong Fei-Hung series, which combines the exciting fast paced martial arts action with its subtle drama, focusing on the relationship between Wong and Aunt 13, played again by Rosamund Kwan. Max Mok once again returns as the comic relief of Leung Foon, Wong’s student who always gets into trouble. Once again, Mok does well showcasing both his skills in action and comedy.
After playing the White Lotus Clan leader in the last film, Xiong Xin-Xin officially joins the cast in the recurring role of Club Foot. Starting out as a rickshaw driver hired as an enforcer by the evil Chiu, an injury causes Club Foot to be exiled by Chiu and as a result, joins Wong Fei-Hung. Xiong, who was Jet Li’s stunt double on the original film, would go on to play the role for the remainder of the series, showcasing his impressive kicking skills and playing a likable character as opposed to his atypical movie villain role.
While the fight scenes aren’t as superior as the previous two films, they do hold their own under the guidance of fight choreographer Yuen Bun. Most of the fight scenes involve the art of Lion Dancing, which involves two practitioners to hide under a giant lion head and a cloth representing the body with one holding the head and the other holding the “tail”. Yuen, who would choreograph the fourth and fifth installments, does a great job with the Lion Dance sequences as well as the wire-enhanced hand-to-hand fights involving Li and company. While many will agree that the first two films had more superior fight sequences, Yuen Bun should not be discredited as he does a fine job here with the action.
Sadly, Jet Li would leave after this installment and play Wong Fei-Hung in the Wong Jing-directed Last Hero in China in 1993. Fellow Mainland China wushu champion Vincent Zhao would replace Li as Wong in the fourth and fifth installments. Li would return for the final installment of the prolific film series, Once Upon a Time in China and America in 1996.
Once Upon a Time in China III is a worthy installment filled with exciting action in the form of the Lion Dance and the drama revolving around the romance of Wong Fei-Hung and Aunt 13. Definitely worth seeing.
WFG RATING: B+
Golden Harvest presents a Film Workshop production. Director: Tsui Hark. Producers: Tsui Hark and Ng See-Yuen. Writers: Tsui Hark, Charcoal Tan, and Hanson Chan. Cinematography: Andrew Lau and Cho Man-Keung. Editing: Marco Mak and Angie Lam.
Cast: Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, Max Mok, Xiong Xin-Xin, Lau Shun, John Wakefield, Chiu Chin, Ge Cunzhuang, Meng Chin, Wong Tak-Yan, Zhang Chunzhong.