Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (恶战) is another action-packed drama film from the legendary martial arts choreographer, Yuen Wo Ping and HK action legend, Sammo Hung. The film sets in Shanghai in the 1930s, where the city once attracted many youngsters from different provinces in China to find fortune and fame. The film has a simplistic and straightforward plot, a story about a youngster, Ma Yong Zhen, well-equipped with martial arts and possesses incredible strength on his right fist, together with an unshakable sense of morality, comes to Shanghai looking for an opportunity.
While it's nothing new here, the story is predictable as these sort of movies been done countless times before in the past, but this is a well-made stylish action film that reminds me of the HK martial arts films of the 80s and 90s with stories about the criminal underworld and Japanese infiltration in China. The film features a lot of impressive martial art fight scenes...the intensity and swiftness of the fights between the actors were just astonishing to watch. You still cheer the lead character, saying 'Serves them right!' when he puts down the bad guys in the climatic battle near the end.
Although the brotherhood and romantic love themes in the films are not properly fleshed out or developed, the plot still engaging enough to hold the action scenes together for the audience to continue watching it until the very end. It seems that Andy On and Phillip Ng are further establishing themselves as rising action stars other than the currently famous Donnie Yen. Not a bad movie by any means, this is still a decent Chinese film to watch for martial arts action junkies.