PictureOnce Upon a Time in China is presented with a disappointingly poor transfer. Purportedly framed in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, it takes some adjusting to get it out of the 2.50:1 'squashed' frame that it appears to get stuck in as standard. Quality-wise there are shamefully low levels of detail, with evidence of edge enhancement and other forms of digital artefacts prevalent throughout. There simply seems to be no natural clarity or distinction on shapes, and indeed some of the wider shots exhibit terrible blurring. The colour scheme seems quite varied but drifts between too bright to too dull, seldom looking very realistic. The blacks are quite solid considering the rest of the material, and grain, for the most part, goes unnoticed. Although the movie isn't really old enough to warrant it, there is a fair amount of print damage in the form of glitches and scratches that populate the frames. This is generally not a great transfer but it is still probably the best shape you are likely to see this movie presented in.
SoundThere are two Dolby Digital Audio tracks, one Cantonese and one Mandarin, but neither quite in synch with the words being spoken. That said - and considering that they are only two-channel mixes, they are quite vibrant. The dialogue is always prominent, but there is an almost-constant score - which gets less irritating as the movie goes along - s and the fight scenes are suitably punctuated by unnecessary but punchy slapping effects (again a staple of Jackie Chan movies). Sure there's no bass to speak of, and it is basically a limited frontal affair, but it is a perfectly enjoyable track for the movie.
ExtrasExtras? Well, you came to the wrong place. All you get here is the Theatrical Trailer, although I guess you shouldn't expect too much more considering the age and budget of the picture, and the rest of the presentation. Running at a ludicrous four and a half minute in length, the trailer basically sums up the entire story and showcases some of the great fights, but is set to some of the worst music from the movie - the title track. It does not particularly give away too much, mainly because there are no English subtitles, so that is a plus point.
VerdictJet Li is undoubtedly wondrous to watch in full action combat, spinning and kicking and blocking his way through numerous opponents with a cool, calm determination, so it is always great to see what he has to offer. His early days may have meant poorer scripts, acting and overall quality, but the CGI-free stunts are a marvel to behold and the movie is entertaining for those alone. Perhaps not quite worthy of its Once Upon a Time... moniker and with a barely adequate picture are reasonable sound, it is nonetheless a great Kung Fu action movie to add you your high-kicking collection.
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