You thought Once Upon A Time In China III had a lot of lion dancing? That’s too bad because this fourth installment is the definition of lion dancing. Jet Li didn’t return as Wong Fei Hung and is replaced by Vincent Zhao who does a fine job filling in Jet’s shoes. While Jet embraced fierce power in the role of Wong Fei Hung, Vincent Zhao incorporates elegance in the role. Even when he looks mad, he still has that little sparkle in his eye. Rosamund Kwan is also nowhere to be found and her “love interest” role is taken over by Jean Wang who plays 14th Aunt. I wonder what happened to the other 12 aunts. Tsui Hark stepped to the side from being director with Yuen Bun taking over. You can definitely tell that someone else directed this film even if you didn’t know beforehand.
Starting where the third one left off, the Deputy Governor invites Wong Fei Hung to participate in the international lion dancing tournament but before that he must contend with the Red Lantern Society who are a group of women that attack a church. Since Wong has to deal with the Red Lantern Society, the team that Wong was supposed to be a part of, starts the tournament without him. Lucky for him, the tournament turns out to be a massacre as several participants are killed. When Wong does arrive, he orders a rematch. After the tournament, he learns of an invasion of Beijing so he leaves and goes off to return to Foshan.
Since Tsui Hark isn’t in the director’s chair, it definitely feels like a completely different film. One thing that’s random is that at the very beginning of the film, it says that while the people in this film were real people, the events in this film are not historically accurate. Oh really??? Vincent Zhao does a fine job in replacing Jet Li. He had some really big shoes (or martial arts abilities) to fill but accepts the challenge and fights on. Jean Wang also does a decent job in filling in the role of “love interest”. A shame the material wasn’t a better starter for Vincent and Jean. They could’ve made a new story but instead they have to work on a “direct” sequel which follows the third film to the T even showing some footage from the final action sequence of the third film (making sure not to show Jet Li’s face). At the beginning of the film, Vincent Zhao gets to show off his martial arts abilities. After this cool display, you don’t see that ability anymore. Where did THAT ability go? The action scenes that follow are wire assisted and have the characters flying around like superheroes. I get it. Kung-fu films are legendary for having people fly around and do martial arts but when the first three films (with the first two being the main examples here) are more of a grounded display of old-school martial arts films then why all of a sudden do they have the decency to make all the characters fly around. Is this a fantasy film? Wong Fei Hung feels more like a man wearing a cape who flies around to save the day in this film even more so than in the dreadful third film. Wong Fei Hung should’ve said in a deep voice at one point, “Here I am to save the day!” I actually think that would’ve been funny because it would have suited this film perfectly. I guess Fei Hung is a superhero now, who knew? I thought he was just a physician who knew martial arts. Oh well, that logic is thrown out the window. Oh, I have to mention this. Wong Fei Hung does a bicycle kick like Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat around three times. Huh? I’m sorry Vincent Zhao, you really do a good job in your performance. It’s just the material you had to work with that this film is at fault.
Don’t get me started on the lion dancing. Like I previously stated before, you thought the third film had a lot of lion dancing? Don’t make me laugh! I’m not talking bad on lion dancing. It really is a beautiful thing to watch but it takes up so much screen time that you begin to forget that you are watching a Once Upon A Time In China film. None of the action sequences are memorable and believe me; you will not remember this film other than the long scenes of lion dancing. While the performances are good and the music still resonates well, you can’t help but see the faults at the center of this film. There is a fifth installment in the Once Upon A Time In China series so look forward to that and checking to see if the lion dancing is taken out completely. Oh, wait, there isn’t any lion dancing in the fifth film? Alright, well let’s get to it then!