Story: Wong Fei-Hung (Jet Li) has just arrived in Peking, right on time to learn about an upcoming social event of great importance. As national pride has taken a noticeable downtick of late, officials have decided to raise morale and spark a new wave of patriotism, or at least try, with the return of a popular tradition. A lion dance competition will be staged and of course, the event instantly generates a huge burst of attention. To win the martial arts showdown would be very impressive, so the competition is certain to be intense. Wong intends to win the competition of course, believing he can outmatch anyone and take home the crown, though some local tough guys seem to pose more of a threat than he might want to admit. As he faces off with the best in the Lion’s Dance event, can Wong defeat his rivals and keep up with all the twists and turns along the way?
Entertainment Value: While the first two entries in the Once Upon a Time in China series were great movies, this sequel falls short of the mark set by the previous two, though it remains a decent overall picture. The narrative drops a good deal of the deeper, more political threads and opts for a brisker approach, which is going to please some viewers, but I was left kind of cold, as the political elements were so integral in the previous two pictures. The pace is more kinetic in this sequel, so things move at a faster clip, but the run time is also shorter, in addition to the softer focus on deeper narrative threads. Another shift happens around the action scenes, with less emphasis on martial arts showdowns and more of the Lion Dance type, performance martial arts. Again, this comes down to preference, but it is a shift and for me, not one that works as well. I think the action scenes helped make the first two movies so popular, not to mention there were some remarkable choreography and set pieces on showcase, so that is missed here, in my opinion. This might all sound negative, but there is still a decent film here, I just think it is a marked step down from the original two installments, so while it is worth a look, it doesn’t pick up as strong of an endorsement.
The cast is headlined by Jet Li, back as Wong Fei-Hung for the third time in Tsui Hark’s franchise and while I wouldn’t call this a showcase of his talents, Li is fine here. He has less to carry this time around, with a lighter narrative and less emphasis on action, so he doesn’t get pushed much, though he does what he can with this material. I think Li improves the material in most scenes, making it work better than it might otherwise and that is a strong compliment here. I do wish he was let loose more with the martial arts aspect as well, given that he is an elite tier action star and all, but he isn’t given as much time to shine in that regard, sadly. But Li does all he is asked to do and then some, so the movie benefits greatly from his presence and fans should still find plenty to appreciate in his performance. The cast also includes Siu Chong Mok, Rosamund Kwan, and Shun Lau.