Once Upon a Time in China III Blu-ray Review

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Forget martial arts and period politics, we need more wire-fu and more lion dancers!

by Casimir Harlow Dec 9, 2018 at 9:46 PM

  • Movies review

    Once Upon a Time in China III Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £39.99

    Once Upon a Time in China III Film Review

    Tsui Hark's original Jet Li-starring Once Upon a Time in China trilogy concludes with the weakest of the three films.

    Filmmaker Tsui Hark - frequent collaborator with John Woo - found some of his greatest commercial successes with his Once Upon a Time in China films, but also found a medium to best express some of his more personal sentiments about Chinese nationalism and the effect of foreign - in particular Western - influence both in the past, and in the present (the films were all made around the time of Hong Kong's return to China after almost a century of British control).

    Hark juxtaposed his Qing Dynasty-set politics, and stories of the exploits of real-life folk hero Wong Fei-hung, with the Hong Kong handover, showcasing discord amongst the nation, and framing this around such motifs as the desire to stay true to martial arts in the face of the increasing proliferation of guns.

    The third film goes wire-fu-tastic for some really incongruous gravity-defying nonsense.

    Although the first two films in Hark's original trilogy found a largely excellent balance between the political backdrop and the action-dominated selling point, celebrating Jet Li's (and, in the second film, Donnie Yen's) mastery of their martial arts, Once Upon a Time in China III loses focus on both. Getting caught up in a curiously small scale tale of a lion dragon dance tournament which goes awry, interspliced with a poorly executed assassination plan, and some unnecessarily personal plotting for our hero involving both his love interest and his estranged father (although it's nice to finally see the long-gestating romance with Rosamund Kwan come to fruition, the father issues are an unnecessary addition), the film often becomes a blur of messy dragon dance fight 'riots' and - unforgivably - wire-fu-enhanced fight sequences.

    Whereas the last two features celebrated the natural talents of both Li and his co-stars, affording some stunningly choreographed fight sequences, the third film goes wire-fu-tastic for some really incongruous gravity-defying nonsense. This isn't as visually poetic as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and the Once Upon a Time in China series was never really supposed to be this silly, letting down the true skills of Jet Li in the process.

    Once Upon a Time in China III Blu-ray Picture

    Once Upon a Time in China III Once Upon a Time in China III Blu-ray Picture
    The Once Upon a Time in China trilogy of films each earn themselves brand new 4K remasters thanks to Eureka, making their UK debut on a 4-disc Region B-locked Blu-ray set which promotes the series better than it has ever looked before.

    1993's Once Upon a Time in China III was the last chapter in the original trilogy, and features some of the most striking cinematography of the three movies, but also quite a variance in cameras utilised, resulting in visual changes even midway through fight sequences. Thankfully, the general shape of the piece is still absolutely superb, with vastly improved detailing and textures, a welcome sheen of grain and fabulously vibrant colours, however, the variance in shots does lead to an overall drop in consistency in comparison with Once Upon a Time in China II's 4K remaster.

    Sheer visual opulence.

    Detail laps up the wood-dominated structures, the weaves on the clothing and the finer flourishes of the dragons, with the colour scheme really coming to life this time around - right from the opening shot of the red and orange dragon heads. There are some superbly vivid tones on offer here, and it's possibly the colours that more noticeably change when different cameras are utilised in the middle of a fight sequence, because when they are at their best, they look stunning. Black levels allow for excellent shadowing and this is the most stylish entry of the original trilogy, with the most colourful palette (those dragons again), making up for any softer moments or filmmaking discord with just sheer visual opulence.

    Once Upon a Time in China III Blu-ray Sound

    Once Upon a Time in China III Once Upon a Time in China III Blu-ray Sound
    With the first two films, Eureka offered up numerous audio options, including the default - and arguably the cleanest and best track - a lossless Cantonese Linear PCM 1.0 mono offering - however, here the remaining options lose the Cantonese LPCM 2.0 track as one of the additional options, although still come with a Mandarin LPCM 2.0 stereo dub and an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 dub.

    None of the movies get the sync right (it's curious with this third movie because even the Cantonese language option spends the opening prologue in Mandarin) but that doesn't prevent enjoyment of the clear subtitles and superior visuals.

    A solid and faithful rendition of the movie's audio.

    Fighting scenes include the usual plethora of exaggerated kicks and punches (oddly, this time around, reminding a little bit of the sound effects to a button-hammering beat-em-up video game like Double Dragon), and the sweeping score brings back Jackie Chan's vocals after he sang out the end of the second movie.

    It's hardly expansive, but it's a solid and faithful rendition of the movie's audio, likely the best we'll ever hear, and you only have to stick on one of the alternative dubs (which clearly have less restoration work) to hear the tinny, noisy, echoey tracks we've generally had to contend with over the years.

    Once Upon a Time in China III Blu-ray Extras

    Once Upon a Time in China III Once Upon a Time in China III Blu-ray Extras
    As with the first two films, Once Upon a Time in China III comes as part of Eureka's broader ostensible 'trilogy' Blu-ray release, with each film afforded an individual disc with its own set of extras, as well as a further dedicated extras disc that actually includes the sixth film in the series (the only other one starring Li) as an 'extra'. This will be reviewed separately, along with its own set of extras, and here we focus on what extras are on the Once Upon a Time in China III disc itself, although the extras score takes into account the fact that, as a package, this Blu-ray release has arguably the best overall set of extras of any release this year.

    This release has arguably the best overall set of extras of any this year.

    The third film's extras are headlined by another Commentary from Mike Leeder and Arne Venema, as per the first two films too, also supported by an Interview/documentary, this time John Wakefield: Memories of Once Upon a Time in China III, as well as the third part of the Documentary The Legend of Wong Fei-hung (here given the III moniker), an Interview with writer/director/producer Tsui Hark, an Interview with John Wakefield, and a Behind the Scenes Montage, all rounded off by the Original Theatrical Trailer.

    Once Upon a Time in China III Blu-ray Verdict

    Once Upon a Time in China III Once Upon a Time in China III Blu-ray Verdict
    After their superb Jackie Chan box sets on Police Story I & II and Project A Part I & Part II, Eureka continue their must-have classic martial arts movies run with this fantastic 4-film 'trilogy' set including 4K restorations of the first three of Tsui Hark's classic, Jet Li-starring Once Upon a Time in China films, as well as the final Jet Li entry - the sixth film directed by Sammo Hung instead of Hark - Once Upon a Time in China and America, which is actually included as an 'extra' despite being given its very own 2K restoration.

    Even with the third film being the weakest of the trilogy, fans will find this an unmissable release.

    Once Upon a Time in China III enjoys some of the best visuals of the three, but its 4K restoration doesn't quite yield as consistently impressive results for this 1080p Blu-ray presentation as on Once Upon a Time in China II. Nevertheless, it is very good, with strong audio to boot, and another great selection of film-specific extras, further adding to what has to be the best extras set of the year. Even with the third film being the weakest of the trilogy (thankfully here afforded its longer near-2 hour cut), fans will find this an unmissable release.

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £39.99

    The Rundown

    Movie

    6

    Picture Quality

    8

    Sound Quality

    8

    Extras

    10

    Overall

    8

    8
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10
    You own this Total 1
    You want this Total 0
    You had this Total 0

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