SYNOPSIS: Possessing unique martial arts skills since childhood, Ma Yongzhen travels from his hometown to Shanghai to seek a livelihood. There he meets rising overlord Long Qi. The two youths share the same aspirations and quickly become brothers after going through difficulties together. The two brothers work hard together defeating numerous enemies to take down the largest triad gang, the Axe Gang in one swoop making them famous throughout Shanghai. At the same time, Ma also received assistance from retired kung fu master, the Iron Leader to fight their common enemy. The Axe Gang is not willing to fail like this. Bearing a grudge against Ma and Long, the Axe Gang finds a way to destroy them. Long is killed in a surprise attack. Ma witnesses his brother's death and is unable to help him. He decides to embark on a path of vengeance.


You may not agree with many of his movies but you got to admire his impressive work ethic. The prolific Wong Jing writes and produced Once Upon A Time in Shanghai with Wong Ching Po (Mob Sister) at the helm.   

Another revisit to the story of the legendary boxer, Ma Yongzhen, Philip Ng stars as the titular character that possessed a right arm that could easily deliver a fatal move to a cow! However not much is explained about Ma nor his powerful arm except that he is a poor immigrant from Shangdong who travels to Shanghai to seek a better living. And here he is, befriending a mob boss Long Qi (Andy On) while falling in love with the daughter of an ex-mafia boss, Master Tie (Sammo Hung) at a communal village.

Wong Jing’s scripting seems to be recycled from some 80’s movies or probably from discarded scraps from his early days working at TVB. The story is equally predictable and laughable. Despite his best attempt to rope in real-life martial-arts grandmaster Yuen Woo Ping as action choreographer, the action for the entire time is spoilt by Wong’s artistic merits such as applying unnecessary slow-mo effects, speed up frames and ill-conceived camera moves.

Occasionally working as an action choreographer himself, Philip Ng with a perfect Bruce Lee haircut demonstrates his impressive moves and kicks and together with Andy On makes a pair of dynamic duo in the action department. The same can’t be said of their acting, as Ng is obviously no match when it comes to emoting as compared to his girlfriend, actress Linda Chung. Andy On overacts every second he is onscreen and we thought the tiger actually performs better.

Once Upon A Time in Shanghai is a nostalgic nod to the martial-arts movies from the past. It even feature old timers liked Chen Koon Tai (who played the role of Ma in the Shaw Brothers’ classic, The Boxer from Shantung), Fung Hak On and Yuen Cheung Yan (Woo Ping’s brother) as members of the Axe gang. Unfortunately, it can’t salvage Wong Jing’s by-the-book scripting, bad acting and Wong Ching Po’s artistic treatments, which are totally uncalled for.  




The DVD is presented clearly in Wong’s intended washed-out, near black-and-white visual palette. The soundtrack with a choice of Mandarin and Cantonese audio tracks sounds strangely muted despite switching on to a higher volume.  



Review by Linus Tee



Genre: Martial-Arts
Starring: Philip Ng, Sammo Hung, Andy On, Jiang Luxia, Michelle Hu, Mao Junjie, Chen Koon Tai, Yuen Cheung Yan, Fung Hak On, Wen Chao
Director: Wong Ching-Po
Rating: PG13 (Violence)
Year Made: 2013




Languages: Mandarin/Cantonese
Subtitles: English/Chinese
Aspect Ratio: 16x9 Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0
Running Time:  1 hr 35 mins
Region Code: 3
Distributor: Scorpio East Entertainment