Title: Once Upon a Time in China: The Complete Films
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: Nov. 16, 2021
List: $124.95 | Price: $62.49 Buy on Amazon
The Criterion Collection has compiled 5 films that represent one of the pinnacles of Hong Kong cinema’s 1990s golden age in a six-Blu-ray special edition box set. Special features include “Once Upon a Time in China and America” (1997), rare alternate audio tracks, new interview with Tsui Hark, excerpts from audio interviews with Jet Li, deleted scenes, documentaries, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and more.
SIX-BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION COLLECTOR’S SET FEATURES
- 4K digital restorations of Once Upon a Time in China and Once Upon a Time in China II and III, and new 2K digital restorations of Once Upon a Time in China IV and V, all presented with their original Cantonese theatrical-release sound mixes in uncompressed monaural or stereo
- Alternate stereo Cantonese soundtracks for Once Upon a Time in China and Once Upon a Time in China II, featuring the original theatrical sound effects, and monaural Cantonese soundtrack for Once Upon a Time in China III
- Once Upon a Time in China and America (1997) in a 2K digital transfer, featuring 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio and monaural Cantonese soundtracks, along with a stereo Mandarin track with the voice of actor Jet Li
- New interviews with director Tsui Hark, Film Workshop cofounder Nansun Shi, editor Marco Mak, and critic Tony Rayns
- Excerpts from audio interviews with Li conducted in 2004 and ’05
- Deleted scenes from Once Upon a Time in China III
- Documentary from 2004 about the real-life martial-arts hero Wong Fei-hung
- From Spikes to Spindles, a 1976 documentary about New York City’s Chinatown featuring uncredited work by Tsui
- Excerpts from a 2019 master class given by martial-arts choreographer Yuen Wo-ping
- Archival interviews featuring Tsui and actors John Wakefield, Donnie Yen, and Yen Shi-kwan
- Behind-the-scenes footage for Once Upon a Time in China and Once Upon a Time in China and America
- Making-of program from 1997 on Once Upon a Time in China and America
- New English subtitle translations
- PLUS: An essay on the films by critic Maggie Lee and an essay on the cinematic depictions of Wong by novelist Grady Hendrix
ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA
1991 • 134 MINUTES • COLOR • MONAURAL • IN CANTONESE WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES • 2.39:1 ASPECT RATIO
Writer-producer-director Tsui Hark’s sprawling vision of a changing nineteenth-century China begins with this riotously entertaining epic, a blockbuster hit that cemented Jet Li’s status as the greatest martial-arts superstar of his generation. Li displays his stunning, fast-yet-fluid fighting style as the legendary martial-arts teacher and doctor Wong Fei-hung, who, with a band of loyal disciples, battles a host of nefarious forces—foreign and local alike—threatening Chinese sovereignty as British and American imperialists encroach upon the Mainland. Once Upon a Time in China’s breathtaking blend of kung fu, comedy, romance, and melodrama climaxes in a whirlwind guns vs. fists finale that is also a thrilling affirmation of Chinese cultural identity.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA II
1992 • 112 MINUTES • COLOR • MONAURAL • IN CANTONESE WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES • 2.39:1 ASPECT RATIO
Having chronicled the social upheaval wrought by Western influence in the opening chapter of the Once Upon a Time in China series, Tsui Hark turned his attention to the perils of unchecked nationalism in his sensational follow-up, the rare sequel to equal the dizzying highs of the original. Jet Li returns to the role of Wong Fei-hung, who here takes on the diabolical White Lotus Sect, a virulently xenophobic cult whose anti-foreigner sentiments unleash a wave of destructive violence. Fellow martial-arts icon Donnie Yen dazzles in a star-making turn as Wong’s nemesis, who faces off with the hero in a battle royal that showcases the kinetic brilliance of revered Hong Kong action choreographer Yuen Wo-ping.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA III
1993 • 112 MINUTES • COLOR • STEREO • IN CANTONESE AND MANDARIN WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES • 2.39:1 ASPECT RATIO
Jet Li’s third outing as the storied martial-arts hero Wong Fei-hung in the Once Upon a Time in China films is an exhilarating celebration of Chinese culture peppered with a dash of international espionage. This time around, Wong travels to Beijing, where he finds himself drawn into the intrigue surrounding an epic lion-dance competition, spars with a Russian rival for the affections of his beloved Thirteenth Aunt (Rosamund Kwan), and fights to foil a foreign plot to assassinate the real-life Chinese diplomat Li Hongzhang. The eye-popping lion-dance set pieces—which combine vibrantly colored, fire-breathing pageantry with martial-arts mayhem—rank among the most visually spectacular achievements of the series.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA IV
1993 • 101 MINUTES • COLOR • MONAURAL • IN CANTONESE WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES • 2.39:1 ASPECT RATIO
Though it picks up the narrative thread where the previous installment left off, Once Upon a Time in China IV introduces a new director, action choreographer Yuen Bun, and star, Vincent Zhao, who takes over the role of Wong Fei-hung from Jet Li. Once again, foreign skulduggery and a violent nationalist group—in the form of the fierce women warriors known as the Red Lantern Sect—swirl around a magnificent lion-dance competition, with Wong caught in the fray. Toning down the comedic and romantic elements of the first three films in favor of almost wall-to-wall kung-fu action, the fourth entry is the leanest and meanest of the series, highlighted by a gravity-defying fight atop a field of collapsing, domino-like planks.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA V
1994 • 101 MINUTES • COLOR • MONAURAL • IN CANTONESE WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES • 2.39:1 ASPECT RATIO
Tsui Hark returned to the director’s chair for the rollicking comedic adventure Once Upon a Time in China V, in which the indomitable hero Wong Fei-hung (Vincent Zhao) tangles with a band of ruthless, finger-removing pirates who are exploiting the political chaos created by the invasion of foreigners in order to terrorize the Chinese coast. The fist-and-foot kung-fu set pieces—including a showstopping, gold-hued melee set in a warehouse of pirate treasure—are plentiful, but Tsui ups the ante by introducing acrobatic gunplay to the proceedings, infusing this furiously entertaining crowd-pleaser with a bracing jolt of John Woo–style bullet ballet mayhem.