Analysis Of The Movie Once Upon A Time In China

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The movie I will be examining is Once Upon a Time in China. It is directed and produced by Tsui Hark. The main actors were Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, and Biao Yuen, this movie was produced in August. 15th, 1991. A summary of Once Upon a Time in China follows the martial arts master Wong Fei-hung and his fight against the Shaho Gang, who terrify local businesses and cause trouble around the town. He has to defeat the Shaho group, “Iron Vest” Master Yim, as well as the British sailors to save 13th Aunt. I argue that through the cinematography and plot details, Tsui Hark’s final fight scene shows themes of transnationalism, temporality, and colonization.

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The scene that I will be analyzing will be the final fight scene, where Wong Fei-Hung and Master Yim were fighting inside the building, while Leung Foon is fighting one of Jackson’s men. The theme of temporality and transnationalism is visible in the cinematography. For example, when Leung is fighting against an Englishman on the ship. In Tsui Hark’s films, the representation of transnationalism is present, as the director implements the local Chinese contexts through his choice of setting and clothing. “There seems to be an underlying tension between the image of a multicultural China and its ‘local’ scenes of conflict and incompatibility” (Yau 2001). The clothing that Leung wears is tattered and baggy, made of only beige colours, which represents dirtiness and lower-class lifestyles. Whereas the English man, is wearing a red buttoned coat, a white collared shirt and well-fitted black pants. This could represent the difference in wealth between the two individuals. Their clothing represents how the colonizers show a significant amount of superiority towards the colonized Chinese. Within the warehouse, Wong Fei-Hung uses Master Yim’s knife to cut off the end of his hair. The next shot incorporates a non-diegetic tiger’s roaring, as Yim whips his hair around like an untamed beast. This could represent how the colonizers view the Chinese, as animals who have yet to understand modernity. In the following scene, Master Yim gets killed by gunshots. He had previously bragged that with his training, not even bullets could pierce through him. In this scene, the camera centers on Master Yim, and there is a cloud of dust that surrounds the scene. The lighting of the background is extremely dim, so the audience’s eyes are drawn to Master Yim with his arms stretched out. As many gunshots are fired at him, the scene cuts to the worried face of Wong and then, a close up shot of Leung to show his emotions of agony while he screams out his Master’s name. The respect from disciples for their martial arts Master is clear in all wuxia films and this scene is an example of that. The fact that Master Yim was killed by being shot and says “our kung fu is no match for their guns” represents that no matter how much you train your body in Chinese martial arts, you will still lose against the British and their technology of guns. The dichotomy of human bodies versus technology is shown and is a clear example of how China was conquered by the British in history.

In conclusion, the final fight scene in Once Upon a Time in China depicts the transnational style of Tsui Hark’s films, the temporality of Chinese martial artists, and the contrasting view of modernity and tradition through colonization. These themes and ideas are visible through the director’s settings, cinematography style, and fight plots. 

10 Jun 2021

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