Once Upon A Time In China 2
HONG KONG LEGENDS
 
Starring:
Directed By:
Tsui Hark
Year:
1992
Run Time:
108 mins
Producer: Hong Kong Legends
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Languages:
CANTONESE 5.1, English 5.1
Subtitles:
English, Dutch
W/S Subtitles:
Yes
Ratio:
2.35:1 Anamorphic
Region:
PAL 2 & 4
Genre:
Drama / Kung-Fu / Wire-Work - 15 (UK)
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MOVIE
10/10

The second (and my favourite) of Tsui Hark's original Wong Fei-Hung trilogy has finally been brought to the PAL DVD format, courtesy of HKL...

Upon their arrival in Canton to attend a medical convention, Wong, Aunt Yee and Leung Foon are confronted by the fanatical White Lotus Sect.
Wearing Western clothes, and carrying her trusty camera, Aunt Yee soon becomes a target for the Sect - a society formulated to combat the invading foreign influences in China.
As is his way, Wong appears in the nick of time to save Yee, and soundly beats a number of the Sect's men.
This confrontation immediately makes Fei-Hung an object of contempt for the Sect, and also the town.
Deciding it best to leave before further blood is shed, Wong gathers his belongings but is alerted to a horrific attack on the local English language school.
With his strong moral code, Wong decides to stay and help the survivors, but soon realises it is not just the Sect who he must battle...

Subtly developing the ongoing romance between Fei-Hung and Aunt Yee, whilst also incorporating some wonderful action and a strong plot, Once...2 is equally as strong as it's prequel.
The storyline maintains many of the elements which made the original so good, with the slow integration of Western ideas and inventions both helping and hindering Wong's feelings towards his country.
Jet Lee's superb interpretation of Wong Fei-Hung is further enhanced, as his true feelings for Aunt Yee are slowly revealed, and the more human side of his character starts to shine through.
Opposing and matching Jet's performance is Donnie Yen's. His portrayal of General Yan is superb, and goes to show that with the right director, Donnie is a far more accomplished actor than many of his films give him credit for.

From a technical perspective, the direction and cinematography is as equally impressive as the original's, and in some cases, more so.
The final scene in the White Lotus sect's temple is stunningly edited and lit, and it's this segment which always draws me back for repeat viewings.

Quite why I prefer this film to the original I'm not sure.
Both films are exceptional in their depiction of Wong, their narrative and fight sequences, and their consistent tone.
Maybe it's to do with the fact that I stupidly saw Part 2 before Part 1, and therefore it holds a different place in my heart....who knows.
Either way, this is one film which you simply MUST own, and thanks to HKL, you can.

PICTURE
9/10

A small amount of grain is noticeable in a couple of scenes, but generally the prints looks superb.
Detail is equally impressive. In particular, Wong's assault on the Sect's temple looks wonderful. The lighting used throughout is beautiful, and details, such as the droplets of blood covering Wong's face, are clearly seen.
This fine detail was never present on any other version of the film that I own, and adds a great deal to the experience.

On the down side, black levels very occasionally veer towards dark grey, and ever so slightly diminish the otherwise cinematic appearance of the transfer.
Print damage is extremely rare, with only the odd sparkle popping up from time to time.
Colour reproduction is generally very good, although there is an occasional muted-ness to some scenes.
It's difficult to tell whether this is is a problem with the print, or a Tsui Hark decision, but I'll give HKL the benefit of the doubt.
Having said all this, the transfer should be regarded as a major success. I've never seen the film look as good as it does here, and can't believe it'll ever look much better.

SOUND
7/10

Whilst dialogue is perfectly clear throughout, sound effects, as when Wong connects with his opponents, occasionally seemed to get overpowered by other elements of the soundtrack.
The film's well-known strident theme "The General's Mandate" is reproduced well, though it seems to lack the impact which I remember it contained on the Mono VHS version.
Surround effects are kept to a minimum, and the "mix" rarely distinguishes itself as being a 5.1 Digital soundtrack.
A good, though far from impressive, remix.

Just as an aside, the English dub should (as in almost all cases) be avoided. If you do attempt to listen to it though, you'll be greeted by dialogue which sounds like it was recorded in a broom-cupboard!

SUBTITLES
8/10

The subtitles are grammatically perfect and well synched, but they frequently simplify lines of dialogue.
This usually comes in the form of a Westernised translation of a Chinese term, or the compacting of a conversation's dialogue.
It doesn't ruin the film, but it does slightly reduce the "Chinese-Ness" of the viewing experience.
Most disappointingly, whilst written Chinese is translated, the film's main theme, and the blind man's lament in the restaurant, are left unsubbed.

MENUS
9/10

A significant improvement over previous attempts, the stylishly designed menus are attractive throughout.
As usual, the main menu contains a looping selection of clips from the movie.
However, this time, the montage of scenes is better balanced and is accompanied by a far more fitting soundtrack.
I personally would have preferred the Wong Fei-Hung theme to have been played over the menus, but the piece of instrumental music used fits the movie well.

EXTRAS
7/10

At first glance, there seems to be a very good selection of extras. However, on closer inspection the "Special Features" aren't quite as special as they appear...

Interview Selection:

Donnie Yen (16 mins) - This specially filmed interview with Donnie Yen offers many interesting insights into the film making process of Once Upon A Time In China 2.
Also covered are Donnie's approach to his role as General Yan, as well as his action scenes, and it's easily the disc's best extra.

Jet Li (10 mins) - This very disappointing interview with Jet is in fact the footage taken of his appearance at a Hong Superstars roadshow.
Although Jet comes across as a thoroughly charming, and somewhat shy individual, he is asked nothing about his role in the Wong Fei-Hung series.
This extra felt very much like a "filler" feature, and came as a great letdown to me.

Biography Showcase:

Although the purported Rosamund Kwan biography listed on the cover is absent, this Jet Lee bio. is still one hefty mine of information. Lasting a staggering 30 minutes, it covers a massive amount of detail.
However, I couldn't be bothered to sit through more than a couple of seconds, as the dreadful voice-over man reared his ugly head.
Please, I beg you HKL - make the biographies TEXT ONLY!

Photo Gallery:


A "look once and forget it" photo gallery, featuring a reasonable amount of shots.

Trailers:


For once, the HKL trailer is the equal of the Original Theatrical one.
As with the menus, I still would've preferred the usage of the Wong Fei-Hung theme instead of this newly created piece. It's a very nice instrumental score, which manages to capture some of the flavour of the film, but it doesn't have the spine-tingling effect which the General's Mandate has over me.

Commentary:

Another feature-length commentary by the one and only Bey Logan.
Although it's a very interesting and informative piece, covering a multitude of aspects, the lack of another actor or crew member's input is somewhat disappointing.

CONCLUSION
9/10

Having begun to reach mastery of their art, HKL give this superb film the presentation it deserves.
Whilst the extras are not quite as impressive as they first appear, this is a still a recommended purchase, and one which you'll treasure for a very long time.

MOVIE 10/10
PICTURE
9/10
SOUND
7/10
SUBTITLES
8/10
EXTRAS
7/10
MENUS
9/10
PACKAGING
7/10
OVERALL
9/10