Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (Blu-ray Review)

Once Upon A Time In ShanghaiFrom Director Wong Ching Po (Revenge: A Love Story) and acclaimed Action Director Yuen Wo Ping (The GrandmastersKill Bill Vol. 1 & 2,Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) comes ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI, debuting on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital. The modern action-packed fable features rising martial arts star Philip Ng (Young and Dangerous: Reloaded) as a country bumpkin who moves to 1930’s Shanghai in the hope of becoming rich, but ends up honing his kung fu skills to become a lethal fighting machine. ONCE UPON A TIME IN SHANGHAI also stars the legendary Sammo Hung (Ip Man franchise), Andy On (As the Light Goes OutWhite Vengeance), Michelle Hu (Mr. & Mrs. Player), Luxia Jiang (Ip Man: The Final Fight), Mao Junjie (Jackie Chan Presents: Wushu), Chan Koon-Tai (The Man with the Iron Fists), Yuen Cheung-Yan (Kung Fu HustleCharlie’s Angels franchise) and Fung Hak-On (Tai Chi Zero). Bonus materials include the behind-the-scenes featurette “The Making of Once Upon a Time in Shanghai.”  


Once Upon A Time In Shanghai


Once Upon A Time In Shanghai is a pretty basic story about dreaming big and hopefully bringing those brig dreams to fruition. Ma (Philip Ng) and what’s left of his family have boarded a ship and are on their way to Shanghai, where those dreams I mentioned earlier can come true. All Ma has is a will and a way and a really cool bracelet that he keeps on at all times in memory of his mother. Once Ma and his crew arrive in Shanghai they’re awestruck in how completely opposite the scenery is from what they were expecting. The laborers labor and those with the cash and status oversee them. Gangsters and shady types run rampant and make ‘ol Shanghai seem like the Wild West.

Long Qi (Andy On) runs things and those things include an illegal opium operation. He doesn’t take lip from anyone and is quite obnoxious when questioned or stood up to. You don’t need to be geniuses to see that Ma and Long’s paths will cross and they do and it’s actually the best plot point of the film, because it leads to some clever misdirection. Sammo Hung makes a special appearance and the man can still kick major ass.

Shanghai has the visual palette akin to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It’s a very dark and bleak looking film with only a couple of color embellishments. I was a fan of the film in this regard and I also enjoyed the martial arts choreography courtesy of the Master Yuen Woo Ping (The Matrix Trilogy, Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2.). Unfortunately, that’s all the film has going for it. The story itself is really weak and I don’t buy Long’s sudden change of heart once he gets to know Ma. Long is introduced as a coldblooded killer that toys with his subjects and all of a sudden goes from being the primary antagonist to one of the main protagonists? No, I don’t buy that rapid change of heart.

I enjoyed the production design enough and did notice that most of the film was shot using sets and basic props in addition to some clever CGI props, too. The fights, splinters, and slow motion used to add impact to the choreography lends itself well to the material, I just wished that the material were stronger. The trailer made the film look like an epic and the final product is anything but. If you must see the film then a rental is more than enough.


Once Upon A Time In Shanghai


Encoding: AVC/MPEG-4

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail: The Blu-ray is strong in terms of visual presentation. I did not detect instances of postproduction tweaking except for a few scenes that required it for stylistic purposes. It was not a deal breaker. Sharpness and contrast levels are up there in terms strengths and I only detected the subtle hints of softness here and there – nothing too distracting.

Depth: Once Upon A Time In Shanghai is a very muted film in terms of its aesthetics. I want to say its sepia-toned but its somewhere in between a “grey” film. It’s got a very stylish look and I was a fan.

Black Levels: Black levels remains steady and strong. Crush was absent and those black levels stayed deep and inky.  

Color Reproduction: The color palette is very muted, with only hints of color spread throughout. It borders on being a black and white film in certain spots – I guess that’s what the filmmakers were going for.

Flesh Tones: Flesh tones look nice and healthy.

Noise/Artifacts: I did not detect any instances of intrusive noise or debris.


Once Upon A Time In Shanghai


Audio Format(s): Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1, English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0, English Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: This lossless soundtrack is very aggressive especially during the fights. You will get a serious pummeling. Likewise, when there are no fights, the soundtrack keeps everything moving at a nice pace in terms of fidelity.

Low Frequency Extension: Again, the LFE subwoofer channel adds some serious low-end to the punching and kicking. You’ll feel your body turn to mush after the first hit. That’s all we can ask for in a quality .1 channel.

Surround Sound Presentation: The rear channels handle the background ambience and crowds scenes perfectly in addition to capturing the various spin-punch-kick moves on display throughout. Nothing gets muddled in this regard.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue levels are crystal clear and match up with the subtitles.


Once Upon A Time In Shanghai


Once Upon A Time In Shanghai includes a very short making-of that acts almost like a B-footage reel, with some interviews thrown in. The theatrical trailer is also included.


  • Making-Of (HD) – A super short making-of featurette that doesn’t amount to much.
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD) – The theatrical trailer is presented in highs definition.



Once Upon A Time In Shanghai


Once Upon A Time In Shanghai is a visual feast but that’s where the positive stops and the negatives weigh in. It’s not a very good movie at all. The Blu-ray has some above average video and a stellar soundtrack but gets brought down to size for its lack of quality extras. I would recommend the film just for the martial arts sequences but you’ll have to keep your finger on the fast forward button, because everything else doesn’t really work.



Once Upon A Time In Shanghai Released on Blu-ray January 13th!


Once Upon A Time In Shanghai


Gerard Iribe is a writer/reviewer for Why So Blu?. He has also reviewed for other sites like DVD Talk, Project-Blu, and CHUD, but Why So Blu? is where the heart is. You can follow his incoherency on Twitter: @giribe

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