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Original Title:
Wong Fei Hung ji saam: Si wong jaang ba

Hong Kong 1993

Martial Arts, Action, Comedy

Tsui Hark

Jet Li
Rosamund Kwan
Max Mok
Xiong Xin-Xin
Lau Shun
Ge Cunzhuang
John Wakefield

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Once Upon a Time in China 3

Story: Wong Fei-Hung (Jet Li) goes to Beijing to help his father (Shun Lau) make some medicine. At the same time he hopes to find the chance to tell his father about his wedding plans with Aunt Yee (Rosamund Kwan). However, soon Wong finds himself tangled up in other problems. Empress Dowager has announced a lion dance contest in which the best kung fu schools of the country are participating. The agenda behind this contest is to show the western powers the strength and fighting capability of China. However, the question who is allowed to be part of that contest leads to bitter struggles among the different schools. Wong Fei-Hung tries to mediate in this chaos, but besides an especially aggressive school which has the dangerous fighter Club Foot (Xiong Xin-Xin) at their side Wong also has to take care of a love rival in the shape of the Russian Tumanovsky (John Wakefield). Things really get tricky when Yee finds a recording that proves that the Russians are planning the assassination of government official Li. Wong Fei-Hung decides to participate in the lion dance tournament and save Li.

Review: The third installment of the "Once Upon a Time in China" series proves to be a lot less political than its predecessors and also delivers less memorable moments. Most problems lie within the script as it is written rather chaotic and at the end tries too hard to hammer everything into the same frame. The first two parts could both provide a pretty decent story, therefore it is even the more disappointing that this time we actually only get a passionless attempt to follow up the story revolving around the national hero Wong Fei-Hung. This is apparent because of the fact that the political aspect of the movie is introduced to the movie too late and in a rather forced fashion. Apart from that the movie can still be entertaining as a martial arts flick even though you got to have a special love for lion dances as you will have to marvel at them non-stop.

It's nice to see that Wong and Aunt Yee are finally ready to bring their relationship to the next level. Of course, you will wonder a bit that there is suddenly talk about a wedding since there have only been careful advances in the last two installments of the series. But that's also where the cultural and naturally the historical wall between the east and west comes into play. In one scene in which Wong and Yee are hugging each other out of joy this is even put in a nutshell by Wong's father. Normally, this kind of behavior is a scandal but the world is going through a change and maybe you just should be a bit more open-minded and not stick too much to traditions. However, on the other hand there is Wong Fei-Hung himself, and even Yee later on, who thinks that China should walk its own path and adhere to its tradition. A man of contradictions as he wears sunglasses himself and has a father who buys a steam enginge for producing medicine more efficently. Then again, this shouldn't be surprising as Wong is a peaceful individual who nonetheless throws himself into a fight whenever he has the chance.

Since we are already talking about it: The fights are nice to look at once again, but there is also extensive use of wires and some of them are even visible for the untrained eye. That's simply a no-go in my book. Furthermore, many of the fights are integrated into lion dances and for most viewers all this dancing will be just too much towards the end. You really have to be a true fan of these lion dances that you don't just wish for this jumping around to finally end. And so you will miss some real one-on-one fights of which there are only a few to be seen at the beginning. Or to be more exactly there is only one and even that one isn't a real one to be honest. Wong is simply so good that he has to face numerous enemies simultaneously. Only one inventive fight scene is memorable and it takes place in a tavern in which Wong has to defend himself on a slippery ground.

Another flaw not to be underestimated is the fact that there is no real villian. Club Foot doesn't fit into this role as the talent gap between him and master Wong becomes quite apparent soon enough. Surprisingly touching, though, is the haphazardly interspersed dama revolving around Club Foot. Responsible for a few comedy moments is Max Mok again and "Once Upon a Time in China 3" shows its entertainment value more than anything else on this comedy level.
In fact it would have been nice if we had seen more of the relationships between the individual characters, Wong's father is a good addition to the series and especially the scenes in which the family stands in the focus, and that naturally also includes the students, are the most entertaining. We have grown fond of the characters for the last two parts and therefore the filmmakers sould have worked more with them.

After the rather tiring showdown there is a good portion of pathos and nationalism, even though a bit late. China has first rebelled against manchurian reign in the country, but in the end Manchurians became a part of China. It's similar with the western powers as Tumanovsky states in the film. Wong's insisting that China should go its own path almost sounds like the speech of a party cadre who explains that wealth (and therefore capitalism) is in fact possible in a socialistic state. But apart from these last, mostly inappropriate, political footnotes in the movie "Once Upon a Time in China 3" proves to be an entertaining flick. It's simply not that politically connoted as its predecessor and doesn't offer a similarly good story which also makes it a bit less successful as a movie. Nonetheless, we are used to see a lot worse when it comes to sequels...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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