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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

My Top Hong Kong Films of the 1990s — Once Upon a Time in the Cinema


Best Jet Li movie ever. I will fight you if you say different.

If I voted today, perhaps Once Upon a Time in China 2 would be my number one choice. As I’ve written before, Once Upon a Time in China 2 was the gateway film — it opened the door to Hong Kong cinema for me, and I jumped right on through and never looked back.  I saw this sequel in Singapore back in 1992*, and was instantly smitten. My relatives kept back issues of an entertainment magazine called Eight Days, and I rummaged through them, clipping out reviews for any similar movie I could find. I would then take these clippings to the Chinese video rental place for reference, coming back with VHS copies of  Fong Sai-Yuk 1 and 2, Swordsman II, etc. When I came back to the States, I bought VHS tapes through mail order (those damned 2 tape sets!), and then, because I was afraid I’d wear out the tape, I’d record those two-tape sets to a single VHS tape using a second VCR. I even printed cool stickers to make the tapes look professional. I bought books! I bought soundtracks! I was obsessed.** When Once Upon a Time in China finally showed up on region 1 DVD, I was in complete disbelief. “Cult films” had gone mainstream.

Once Upon a Time in China 2 is on my recommendations list, and here’s what I had to say about it back then:

Admit it, you think the first film is pretty boring. The truth is that Once Upon a Time in China 2 is Jet Li’s and Tsui Hark’s real epic masterpiece, actually surpassing the original as the best of the series. Sure, I had reservations about putting yet another sequel on the list, but OUATIC 2 is a great flick and also the first Hong Kong film I ever saw that didn’t star Bruce Lee (or his clones). Part of what makes this movie a standout is the addition of the very funny Max Mok to the cast (replacing Yuen Biao) and the fact that Jet Li battles two great villains at the end - the evil gwailo-hater Kung and a corrupt official played by Donnie Yen. While the original film experimented with a lot of themes and genres, Once Upon a Time in China 2 successfully melds spectacular martial arts, chivalric romance, and social commentary into one great picture.

If my top twenty list is any indication, then this was the decade of Jet Li. After all, four of his films made the top ten, and seven of them made the top twenty. Swordsman 2 was a revelation, introducing me to not only the beauty of Michelle Reis, but also to the concept of a transgendered swordsman. It was actually one of the first movies I reviewed for the site, which you can read here if you like.

Fong Sai-Yuk is another of my favorites; it’s not only the funniest movie Jet Li has ever made***, but it’s also the one film in his career that boasts a villain (Vincent Zhao) who made me scared that Jet might actually lose.

As heretical as it may sounds, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Fist of Legend is an all-around better film than its legendary predecessor, Fist of Fury. Jet Li is a better actor than Bruce Lee, and the film’s more evenhanded approach to the Japanese is more interesting than the one-dimensional “Japs are evil” cariacaturization in the earlier film. I know that Fist of Legend didn’t do that well in Hong Kong when it was first released to theaters, but it’s a film that garnered instant respect and admiration the moment it was released overseas. And with a proper release on US DVD with the original language track not too long ago, I’m sure its reputation will continue to grow as it garners a new generation of fans.

Last but not least is The Tai Chi Master. It’s great to see Michelle Yeoh and Jet Li together, and Chin Siu-Ho holds his own remarkably well as the film’s hero-turned-villain. In my mind, The Tai-Chi Master is the best Star Wars movie George Lucas didn’t make. Think about that the next time you watch the film.

I don’t think Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow, or Chow Yun-Fat can claim to have acted in as many good movies during the 1990s as Jet Li has. They still hold up really well. And so, once again, I pronounce the 1990s as the Decade of Jet Li.

*     *     *

Introduction: Top Hong Kong Films of the 1990s
Part 1: Tian Mi Mi
Part 3: Jackie Chan, Man of Action
Part 4: A Cop Named Tequila
Part 5: WKW is A-OK
Part 6: Epilogue


* The version of OUATIC 2 that I saw included the Wong Fei-Hung vs. Iron Robe Yim ladder match from the first film as a kind of James Bond-style pre-credit sequence. If this exists on DVD or Blu-Ray, please let me know.

**Off-topic, but DO NOT under any circumstances watch the the Beyonce Knowles/Ali Larter film, Obsessed. You may think you are going to have some trashy fun, but the movie is BAD. Not funny bad. Not “it’s so bad, it’s good.” It is an offense to the eyes. If you paid money to see this in the theater, I feel sorry for you.

*** The absolute funniest line Jet Li has ever uttered has to got to be the last line in The One: “I’m nobody’s bitch.”

2 Responses to “My Top Hong Kong Films of the 1990s — Once Upon a Time in the Cinema”

  1. b3n1 Says:

    I didn’t know ‘Fist Of Legend’ not doing well in Hongkong. I thought it was very popular back then in my country Indonesia. It played in Cinema for more than a month and it’s always crowded. For the record, I have watched ‘Fist of Legend’ more than 10x.

    I also watched the version of Wong Fei Hung Vs Iron Robe in OUATIC 2 pre-credit sequence. I think it only exists at cinema version with mandarin languange. I watched OUATIC 2 in Indonesia cinema.

  2. CeeFu Says:

    Wait…..the earth is going to stop spinning because, for once, in a blue moon, i disagree with you! I like OUATIC 1 better than 2. Don’t get me wrong, I like all of them with Jet Li, but the first one does things that the second one doesn’t do. It’s the teacher in me. Sorry! I would say something about Fist of Fury, but then I’d sound like somebody’s old crochety grandma…when i was a kid..etc…

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