East To West: Once Upon A Time in China & America
Three years prior to the “East meets West” hijinks of the Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson action comedy, Shanghai Noon, there was another film where a martial artist made his way to the wild, wild west. It was the ‘last film’ in a massively successful franchise and the talent in front and behind the camera is astounding – and it has essentially been an overlooked gem since it’s release. Maybe it’s not a fully overlooked release for readers of this site, but for more casual fans it’s certainly a forgotten diamond. Naturally, I’m talking about the oft misaligned Once Upon a Time in China and America.
When it comes to this foundational martial arts franchise, Once Upon a Time in China and America is a bit of a black sheep entry. Enough so that even in the most recent Blu Ray release by Eureka in the UK, the restored version of the film is added as a bonus disc while the box set is sold as a “Trilogy.” It makes sense to some degree since this is not the fourth entry into the series, but actually the sixth film and one that even follows a TV series. Still, after the series lost its leading star Jet Li, replaced by a decent run from Vincent Zhao, one would assume his return to the role of folk hero Wong Fei Hung should be more notable than history has treated the film.