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In the final years of the Ch'ing dynasty,
martial arts expert and physician Wong Fei-Hung (Jet Li) escorts Cousin Yee
(Rosamund Kwan) and one of his pupils to a medical conference in Canton, where
he becomes embroiled in the conflicts between the government, an anti-Western
secret society called the White Lotus Sect, and revolutionaries led by Sun
Once Upon a Time in China II is a visually attractive and exciting film.
The action sequences are consistently well realized. The sets and costumes are
alike beautiful and evocative of a bygone age. The narrative, unlike that of
its nearly incoherent predecessor, is comprehensible, and the comedic elements,
which are largely confined to the film's beginning, in which they are dominant,
are neither as inane nor as intrusive as are the attempts at humor in the first
movie. Admittedly, the film does include the occasional maudlin incident,
especially towards its end, and a number of heavy-handed political points are
made throughout, but these are all little more than momentary distractions.
Even the acting is decent.
Most importantly, the fight sequences, which constitute a
substantial part of the movie, are consistently enjoyable, exciting, and
skillfully performed. Despite their prevalence, they do not, however, overwhelm
the narrative so that it becomes merely an excuse by which such sequences are
introduced. By assisting in the development of the story, they actually add to
Lastly, I should say that through the course of the movie, Jet
Li proves himself to be a decent actor and shows real skill at performing the
elaborately choreographed fights with which the story is punctuated. The other
actors also acquit themselves well, and, as a consequence, the dreadful acting
which is a frequent distraction in Hong Kong films never becomes an issue.
While hardly a great movie, Once Upon a Time in China II
is not only entertaining but also an improvement upon its predecessor.
Review by Keith Allen
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