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Film / Once Upon a Time in Shanghai

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Once Upon a Time in Shanghai is a 2014 martial arts drama based off a previous 1972 Hong Kong film The Boxer from Shantung, itself based on the real life story of a Ching Dynasty boxer. Starring Philip Ng, Andy On and martial arts legend Sammo Hung.

The story is set in Shanghai during the 1930s, a laborer, Ma Yongzhen comes to the city with a friend comes to the town looking for a opportunity. Ma is a extremely gifted and strong martial artist but made a promise to his mother to not to use his incredible strength to become just another gangster. After arriving in the city he learns of the various rival gangs that control the area including the young but extremely powerful Long Qi, who himself is also incredibly powerful and used his martial arts to gain half of the city for himself and the other half to a fraternity of older bosses.

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Despite trying to just get paid for honest work and stay true to his morals, Ma winds up getting dragged into the conflict as he begins making a name for himself among the more powerful players in town with his skills.

Not to be confused with the Once Upon a Time in China film franchise.


This film provides examples of:

  • An Axe to Grind: The collection of old gang bosses are known as the Ax Fraternity and a number of their underlings and they themselves use axes in battle.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Master Tie and Ma Yongzhen are generally nice guys unless you start trying to hurt people around them.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Ma beats all the bad guys but Long Qi is dead, as is apparently his whole living area save Tie Ju and he gets arrested at the end. The only thing keeping it from being a straight downer ending is Tie Ju telling him, she would wait for him and the cops don't appear corrupt or trying to kill him.
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  • Chekhov's Skill: Tie Ju's chain weapon she uses it to not only save herself but also helps save Ma from a sneak attack at the climax of the film.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Long Qi
  • Heroic Sacrifice: All of them one after another. Long Qi's girlfriend, who actually was working for the Japanese government and the Ax Fraternity does one to give Long Qi the ability to escape. Master Tie does one for his daughter by taking the shuriken aimed at her to his back, enabling his opponent to finish him off. And Long Qi does one for Ma, locking the gate after Ma goes through it so that he alone faced the enemy group that was just behind them.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Chen Mao, one of the old bosses and original owner of the club is impaled by his own sword early in the film while fighting with Long Qi.
    • Ma is stabbed right through the chest in the final fight to land the finishing blow on the Big Bad but he seemingly survives it.
  • Made of Iron
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Master Tie's other daughter appears to die from the thrown shuriken.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Ma gets to give one at the climax against the big bad, when his final opponent tries to discuss things and comment on their similarities with him before the final fight.
  • Tsundere: Tie Ju
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