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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Once Upon a Time in China III (1993)

"A Hero Beyond All Others"
- Promotional tagline

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: August 31, 2001

Stars: Jet Li
Other Stars: Rosamund Kwan, Mok Siu-Chong, Xin Xin Xiong
Director: Tsui Hark

MPAA Rating: R for violence
Run Time: 01h:52m:13s
Release Date: July 17, 2001
UPC: 043396056749
Genre: martial arts

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B C+D-C D+

DVD Review

Previous films in the Once Upon a Time in China series have focused mostly on the invasion of Western thoughts, ideas, and influence into Chinese culture. The hero, Wong Fei Hung (Li) usually is caught between his love of traditional China, and the corruption of his fellow citizens. To be honest, while I can usually grasp the major themes the stories are aiming towards, I have quite a bit of trouble getting the actual plot down. Perhaps it is due to poor subtitling; perhaps the scripts aren't all that good to begin with. Overall, though, I'd definitely say that isolated character moments and fight scenes work better than the films as a whole.

OUATIC III is no different, except perhaps the plot is even more convoluted. The story begins, again, with traditional China being threatened by Western influence. In an effort to exhibit Chinese strength the Imperial Government holds a Lion Dance contest, with competitors from each Kung Fu organization vying against each other for the chance to win a large gold medallion. Of course, some of the Kung Fu organizations are less than honest, and they attempt to intimidate opponents and keep them from entering the contest. Wong is drawn into the scuffle when his father's shop is attacked by one of these organizations. Wong realizes that the competition is actually tearing the nation apart, rather than uniting it in a show of strength, and he attempts to bring the different organizations together. This seems to be enough story for any film, but tacked on is a subplot about a brewing war between Russia and Japan, and an assassination only Wong can stop.

OUATIC III continues the romance aspect between Wong and his relative-by-marriage Yee (or Aunt 13 played again by Rosamund Kwan) that was built up in OUATIC II, and once again their interactions provide some nice character moments. However, the "will they or won't they?" aspect has, by the third film, become a bit tired, and no real ground is broken with the relationship (plus some of their more "heartfelt" scenes are way over the top and melodramatic, with agonizing sequences involving shy, downcast eyes and repeated looks of longing). And unfortunately, Wong's sidekick Foon (Max Mok) has returned to provide annoying, purportedly humorous pratfalls and double takes. On the plus side, Xiong Xin Xin plays an excellent villain as Clubfoot, one of the devious Kung Fu organization members.

Director Tsui Hark once again does a good job balancing elements of drama and action, and the action scenes this time around are as frenetic and exciting as ever. Unfortunately, this installment in the series is, ultimately, a disappointment because of the more-convoluted-than-usual storyline and moments of overplayed melodrama.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Well, that makes it three for three—all three films in the OUATIC series have received horrible image transfers from Columbia TriStar. Usually, the studio delivers some of the best in terms of picture quality, but their Hong Kong releases have not. Like the other two discs in the series, this one suffers from a lot of edge enhancement and artifacting, no doubt due to the fact that two films and four hours of material were crammed onto the disc (both the original and the dubbed version are present). Aside from those problems, the print is also in poor shape, with frequent nicks and scratches and quite a lot of film grain. The black level is very poor, and darker scenes show a lot of digital breakup.

Image Transfer Grade: D-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
Mandarin, Cantoneseno

Audio Transfer Review: The Cantonese and Mandarin versions of the film have each received a 5.1 transfer, but the results are nothing to get excited about. The tracks sound rather harsh, with very little dynamic range. Surround use is aggressive, but sound effects tend to sound unsupported and grating. On the plus side, though, the action scenes really do come alive, with nice separation between the channels.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Once Upon a Time in China Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in China II II, Miracles, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. English dubbed version of the film
Extras Review: Aside from a trailer gallery and some brief cast filmographies, the sole extra is the English dubbed version of the film. The dubbed version has been trimmed here and there, and it features painful vocal overacting, but the video quality is much improved over the original version. There is little to no edge enhancement, and much less in the way of artifacting. Colors also appear much stronger, and while the black level isn't the best, it is again, much improved. The audio, on the other hand, is only 2.0, and the quality is on par with the 5.1 original mixes, minus the healthy use of the surrounds.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Once Upon a Time in China III is perhaps the weakest of the trilogy, but it still has its moments. Unfortunately, the DVD transfer is of the same pitiful quality as the other two films. If only the original version had been given the same treatment as the dubbed version, everything would be fine. Recommended only to huge fans of the genre.


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