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Once Upon a Time In China VI (1997)

(aka: Once Upon a Time In China and America)



Reviews and Comments

The title is a touch misleading: the entirety of it takes place in America, specifically the Old West. It gives Wong Fei-Hung a chance to mingle with cowboys and Indians, which is an intriguing three-way culture clash. It sounds gimmicky, but it's actually a natural step for the long-running series to take. The series has always been about the increasing influence of Western culture on Chinese culture and the coming of guns changing the traditions of martial arts. Setting this episode in the Old West escalates these tensions and flip-flops the prejudices. One thing I've always liked about the series is how it's never one-sided. There are goodguys and badguys on all sides. No race or culture is purely good or purely bad, and the message of the movie is of moderation and tolerance, not conquest and victory.

This is high-minded talk for a series of what are essentially action pictures, but it is to their credit that they can be viewed on multiple levels. In this one, Wong Fei-Hung is presumed drowned but actually suffering from amnesia; meanwhile, a corrupt mayor of a small town has a mind to turn the oppressed Chinese population into scapegoats. There are a lot of fun fight scenes that pair up martial arts with guns, ropes, and tomahawks; the one weak link is a particularly nasty gunfighter that inexplicably knows something about martial arts. When a movie is all about exploring mixing cultures, particularly with regard to combat traditions, it's a miscalculation to cross lines just to allow for a better action scene.

This is the last in the Once Upon a Time In China series. It's technically the sixth episode, although some consider it the fourth real one, as the fourth and fifth episodes feature neither star Jet Li nor his character, Wong Fei-Hung. It's good that Li came back for one more: Though different from the other episodes, it compares favorably with the best in the series.

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