Michael Scott

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Apr 4, 2017
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Once Upon a Time


Movie: :3stars:
Video: :5stars:
Audio: :5stars:
Extras: :halfstar:
Final Score: :3.5stars:


There seems to be a plethora of pinatas….errr….mythic stories of gods and goddesses, among the Chinese film making wold. They have been coming at us so fast and furious that I’ve almost lost differentiating between all of them. They’re usually filled with over complicated story lines that are under developed, as well as tons and tons of CGI (which is always the weak spot in Asian film making as they don’t have the massively bloated budgets of Hollywood), to entertain the audience. However, Once Upon a Time is a bit of a unique piece of intellectual property. It is taken from a book titled Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms from author Qi Tang (who also wrote the screenplay for Once Upon a Time) which has gained much critical acclaim. Not only that, the book was adapted into a TV miniseries a while back (which was actually quite good), and even given a small hint at getting a stage play production (which supposedly fell through). After seeing the TV miniseries, I was hopeful for the movie, but also reticent at the fact that it was only 1 hour and 49 minutes. A move which was a bit risky considering how much dense material was needed for the movie to actually work.

Once Upon a Time will give audiences a bit of a pause right off the bat, as a seemingly divine princess jumps off of the heavenly arena and plummets to Earth, morphing into the 9 tailed white fox of Chinese lore, then back into a human form again. We’re introduced to this woman, known as Bai Qian (Liu Hifei), a 140,000 year old Princess who is betrothed to a prince that she has never met. After living in her magical little world that is nestled just out of sight of the rest of the human race, she decides to go to a party from the Heavenly realm, where she accidentally runs into a little boy named Ah Li and his father, who turns out to be the crowned Prince Ye Hua. The same man who she has been betrothed to for thousands of years but never met. Ah Li immediately starts calling her mom, and Ye Hua blurts out the name Su Su, only for Bai Qian to blow him off.

What happens next is a rather convoluted story line that winds in and out of reality at will. While I can’t describe EVERYTHING that’s going on without spoiling it, I must admit to having to really work for this one. It seems that Ye Hua recognizes Bai from somewhere else, but it turns out that she looks like his dead wife from 300 years ago, or maybe something even more. Not only that, but there are intertwined stories of Bai being someone other than just the princess, but a 10s of thousands of year old disciple to the god of war (whose frozen body she takes care of near her home) whose sole purpose is to guard her master’s body until his soul can re-coalesce after being sacrificed to imprison the king of the demon clan. However, Su Su is not just some figment of Ye Hua’s imagination, as it turns out that Bai Qian gave up her celestial powers at one time and formed a marriage with Ye Hua, only to come back down to earth in her goddess form and wipe all of that from her memory. A move which causes undue pain to Ye Hua, and further alienates her from the celestial realm
The second half of the movie clears up a LOT of the confusion from the first 30-40 minutes, but it’s just a bit too rushed. In my opinion, Once Upon a Time really needed to be a 4 hour epic film rather than crammed into 1 hour and 49 minutes. A LOT of the books material and the TV miniseries is constrained to the run time and so much is just crammed into that slot with minimal explanation. The second half exposition helps clear up a lot of the confusion, but if you’re new to the material then you will be left with a handful of major questions. Why is Qai Bai a mortal at one time (and becomes Su Su), and how does this happen to where the rest of the celestial realm doesn’t recognize her when she marries Ye Hau? Why is her role as the god of War’s hand maiden not known to them as well? There’s a few obvious ones that come through, but the interpretations of reincarnation, and multiple soul pieces trapped inside of one body aren’t explained nearly as thoroughly as they should have been for audience acceptance.

Once you get used to the fractured story telling that Once Upon a Time revels in, then the movie gets quite enjoyable. The film is nothing but a gorgeous piece of eye candy to watch, with high flying Wu Xiu action, and 3D oriented special effects (you can tell that it was obviously shot for 3D, something which the American release doesn’t get due to how fast 3D is fading from home video) that really to sparkle. The love story is sweet and gentle, and really DOES make sense by the time the credits role, but one that is severely hampered by the mess of exposition that needs to be hurriedly explained in the latter half of the film. The Chemistry with Liu Yifei and Yang Yang is fantastic to watch, and acts as the highlight of the film, and the direction is only hampered by the screenplay by Qi Tang (which is surprising considering he wrote the acclaimed novel as well).


Not Rated by the MPAA

Video: :5stars:
Shot on RED cameras and finished with a 2K digital intermediate, the 2.39:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray looks simply stunning on home video. Like I said up in the main portion of the review, this is OBVIOUSLY a film that was released in 3D over seas, but America was not given a 3D encode (probably partially due to rights issues, as well as the fact that 3D is fading so fast in America as to be almost nonexistent, even among the heavy hitting studios). There is some banding here and there (including the Well Go USA logo which ALWAYS shows banding), but it is so inconsequential as to not really be a problem at all. Other than that small issue, the rest of the film looks STUNNING. Colors are bright and vivid, with an overabundance of CGI that can look a bit goofy, but that is mainly due to how much CGI is actually prevalent in the film compared to its budget. Fight scenes are amazing, with luscious looking costuming and fantastic set pieces that really add to the surreal nature of the film. Blacks are deep and inky, while fine details is through the roof. I can’t rave about the visual presentation enough, as Once Upon a Time is nothing short of demo material for those looking for gorgeous looking film to show off.

Audio: :5stars:
Well Go USA has been knocking it out of the park with their use of DTS:X tracks lately, and Once Upon a Time features a very impressive track that really does put the viewer right into the middle of the action. The mix is very effectively, with a light and lilting score that flows evenly throughout all the channels, as well as a thunderous amount of bass that shakes the entire room on more than one occasion (the scene where the lightning strikes the demon army had my dogs throwing a howling fit as it shook the entire house almost). Vocals are always clean and clear to the ear, and surround usage is wild and active at all times. You can hear the little birds chirping in the background, as well as the whistling sound of demon clan arrows during the final battle. Needless to say, it’s a VERY effective and vibrant mix that I can find no fault with.

Extras: :halfstar:
• Trailer of the FIilm

• More Well Go USA trailers

Final Score: :3.5stars:

I always love a good fantasy epic from China, and while Once Upon a Time has some fantastic elements to it, the movie also suffers from cramming too much information into such a minimal running time. The film is entertaining to those of us who love the stories of gods and goddesses, but I can understand some of the frustration from fans who were expecting the movie to be as epic as the book, or as good the TV show. The Well Go USA Blu-ray is stunning to behold, with amazing video and audio, with the only weak link being the anemic extras (a smattering of trailers is the whole of them). Worth it as an interesting watch, and definitely worth checking out as demo material for the TV.

Technical Specifications:

Starring: Yifei Liu, Yang Yang, Chun Li
Directed by: Xiaoding Zhao, Anthony LaMolinara
Written by: Qi Tang (Novel and Screenplay)
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: Mandarin: DTS:X (DTS-HD MA 7.1 Core), Mandarin DTS Headphone:X, Mandarin DD 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, Mandarin (Simplified)
Studio: Well Go USA
Rated: NR
Runtime: 109 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: May 1st, 2018

Recommendation: Interesting Watch

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AV Enthusiast
Jul 13, 2017
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Thanks for the review. I will try and catch this one.
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