With the success of the first part, both commercially and in terms of quality, a second part was bound to be produced. What was a surprise though, was the fact that the sequel was even better than the original one, particularly because the winning team of Tsui Hark, Jet Li and Yuen Woo Ping received a more than worthy addition, that of Donnie Yen. Let us take things from the beginning though.
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This time Wong Fei Hung arrives in Canton for a medical seminary, accompanied by the 13th aunt and apprentice Leung Foon. However, the situation in the area is chaotic. On one hand, there are protests in the streets against the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki. On the other hand, the White Lotus Sect, an extreme xenophobic cult, goes around attacking Westerners and destroying everything regarded as alien to Chinese culture. At one point, 13th Aunt is almost captured by the cult when she tries to take a photo of them, but Wong shows up, fights with the cult members, and saves her. Eventually, Wong gets involved in a duel between a team of guerillas and palace authorities, ending up meeting the guerilla’s leaders and becoming friendly with them. When they are arrested, he tries to free them, in an effort that results in a duel with military officer Nap Lan, a man of equal fighting abilities as Wong.
Tsui Hark enhanced the sociopolitical aspect of the film even more in this film, with him dealing with xenophobia and the reaction of the Chinese towards the British rule, in contrast to the first part, which focused on the “villainy” of the Empire. The various fractions that acted in the country during the Qing dynasty are also presented, particularly as powers of division among the Chinese population. A comment on religion and particularly Christianity is also present as is the case with the new technological advancements introduced by the British, such as the steam train. Furthermore, the relationship of Wong and 13th takes a brief but significant step further, in a concept that adds to the analysis of the characters.
Again, though, the most important aspect of the film is the actions scenes, with “Once Upon A Time in China 2” including many and quite impressive ones. The final fight with the White Lotus Sect highlights Tsui Hark and Yuen Woo Ping’s ability to direct many characters fighting simultaneously, but the one that truly steals the show is the final one with Nap Lan, which is considered the best in Jet Li’s filmography. Yuen Woo Ping takes full advantage of the impressive abilities, and particularly the speed of both Jet Li and Donnie Yen, while Tsui Hark induces the sequence with drama but also gore, which results in a majestic sequence that works in more than one level.
Rosamund Kwan as 13th aunt is allowed to shine more in this part, a tactic that definitely benefits the narrative of the film, while Max Mok as Leung Foon is great as a comic relief character, mostly.
Arhtur Wong’s cinematography is also great, with his highlighting a number of different setting, from universities to underground temples with equal prowess, while Marco Mak, Angie Lam and Andy Chan’s editing inducing the film with a very fast pace that suits its general aesthetics, and particularly the action sequences, perfectly.
“Once Upon A Time in China 2” is an even better film than its predecessor, and one of the greatest entries in the wuxia genre of all time.