The Wicked City (1992)

The Wicked City [妖獸都市] (1992)
AKA Mutant City

Starring Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai, Michelle Reis, Roy Cheung, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yuen Woo Ping, Carman Lee, Reiko Hayama

Directed by Peter Mak Tai-Kit

Expectations: Moderate. I remember not liking this, but I’m a different person now.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

After Stephen told me he was doing the Wicked City anime for October, I figured it’d be the perfect time to revisit the live-action Hong Kong version. I haven’t seen it since the late ’90s when it got a VHS release stateside amidst the craze for Hong Kong action and anime. This film brings the two sub-cultures together, so it’s easy to see why it got a US release. Perhaps our one-two punch isn’t the best way to handle the films, though, as I haven’t seen the anime since about the last time I watched this, and Stephen’s never seen this one at all. So while we offer reviews of both, neither of them contain any sort of contrast or comparison; I guess my idea was more misguided than I realized. I can say that from the vague, back corners of my mind I remember the two films opening very similarly, but diverging wildly from each other from there.

The Wicked City opens as night falls on the land of the rising sun, and HK superstar Jacky Cheung is taking a woman upstairs to his room. Things are not as they seem, though, as the woman quickly turns into a spider-ish creature with long clawed legs and attacks, but Cheung’s ready for battle! Then his partner (Leon Lai) bursts in through a window to offer his assistance and they quickly vanquish the foul beast. This scene doesn’t mean anything to the plot, but it does set up the world and our two main guys. From here they travel back to Hong Kong, and the real story begins.

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Once Upon a Time in China (1991)

My new friend J.P. and I share a love for Hong Kong movies. We are celebrating it with a special double-post, Siskel/Ebert kind of review for one film. Make sure you head over to his site when you’re done here to read his thoughts on the film. Now back to your regularly scheduled reviews.

Once Upon a Time in China [黃飛鴻] (1991)
AKA Wong Fei-Hung, Kungfu Master

Starring Jet Li, Yuen Biao, Rosamund Kwan, Jacky Cheung, Kent Cheng, Yee Kwan Yan

Directed by Tsui Hark

Expectations: High. I love this movie.

Bravery soaring! Magnanimity overflowing!

It has been at least eight years since I’ve seen this. Back when I was watching nothing but Hong Kong movies with my friends, this was one of our top films. Going into watching this again, I had incredibly high expectations. There was no way it could live up to those kind of hopes, and in some ways it doesn’t, but overall I still really love this film. My tastes have changed over the years and it struck me how old the film felt. It didn’t feel like 1991, it felt more like 1971. That was when it hit me. This movie has more in common at a base level with a traditional Shaw Brothers kung fu flick than I had ever noticed before. The fight choreography and wire work are completely modern, but it has the feeling and the charm of a classic from the Run Run Shaw studio. In this way, Once Upon a Time in China is a look back, while taking a step forward.

The fights are spectacular. They’re what you are here for, and if not, they should be. The umbrella fight early on is quite good, but nothing can prepare you for the final battle in the warehouse involving multiple ladders. Even with the wire-work, the sheer level of acrobatic and physical ability on display is amazing. I remembered this fight a lot better than I remembered the rest of the film because my friends and I used to re-watch this fight over and over back in the day. It’s truly fantastic. I was a little disappointed that Yuen Biao didn’t get more to do in the way of fighting, but as his character was a guy that wanted to learn kung fu, I suppose I can forgive this.

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