Ah, the third entry in the Once Upon A Time In China film series. The thing that plagues all film series is that once you get to the third one, it’s a matter of what can you do that is fresh and new. Well, Tsui Hark decided that he was going to add lion dancing and I mean a lot of it. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to top the first two in terms of entertainment value so he just opted to make a decent solid flick. Did he succeed? The answer depends on how much you like lion dancing. Do you like to watch people holding lion heads and moving the lion head up and down which creates the illusion of the lion dancing? Do you like A LOT of lion dancing? Do you like when Jet Li holds a lion head and moves the head up and down? Oh, you like to watch Jet Li fight one on one with someone on film instead? Well, you may be very disappointed. But at least Jet Li returns as Wong Fei Hung with Rosamund Kwan back as 13th Aunt and Max Mok also comes back as Leung Foon. So you got that.
What is this installment about? Well, turmoil is still afoot in China so to try and instill some pride and display the beauty of Chinese martial arts, Empress Dowager and Governor Li Hongzhang decide that they will hold a lion dance competition and invite all in the country to try and become the “Lion Dance King”. Wong Fei Hung with 13th Aunt and Leung Foon arrive in Beijing to visit Fei Hung’s father. When they arrive, they meet with a Russian man from 13th Aunt’s past which frustrates Fei Hung because he keeps on trying to get her attention. This romantic subplot is one addition that makes this film stand out from the previous two. Fei Hung finds out a bit later that his father was attacked by a martial artist named Chiu Tin-Bak and his sidekick Clubfoot which further escalates Fei Hung’s behavior.
The lion dance groups who are competing in the lion dance tournament meet up and start fighting which Foon and another student of Fei Hung’s participates in and Clubfoot gets in on the skirmish and gets injured which then leads to Clubfoot being abandoned by Chiu-Tin Bak. Fei Hung finds him injured and eventually takes care of him and Clubfoot becomes his student as a result. 13th Aunt finds that the Russian man she knows is planning to assassinate Li Hongzhang during the Lion Dance competition, complicating matters. I have to say a few things about this film. First, if you want to show the beauty of martial arts, wouldn’t you want to hold a MARTIAL ARTS competition instead? Second, the fight scenes are nowhere near as fun to watch in this installment than the previous two. There is one scene when Fei Hung interrupts the lion dance groups who are fighting each other and one of the masters decides he’s going to fight Fei Hung one on one. Alright! This is going to be a sweet fi… wait, Fei Hung just does one kick? Is that it? Oh, come on!!!
In my opinion, the best fight scene is the one that introduces Clubfoot which doesn’t even include Wong Fei Hung. So you mean to tell me that the lead character doesn’t even get a good fight scene? There was a lot of potential for a fight scene between Wong Fei Hung and the Russian man but nothing and the fight scene that Wong has with Chiu is um, pretty pathetic. Chiu is an overconfident blowhard. I just had to add that. I will say that the political themes aren’t as in your face as the previous two and the music still does its job but it doesn’t help the film as much like the previous two. The performances were as good as you can get but when the fight scenes in the previous two are pretty much perfect and this installment just becomes lazy, that’s not excusable. There are some decent aspects to this film but overall, a huge step down from the previous two. You can still watch this film to complete the Once Upon A Time In China film series but if you skipped it, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.