Daz­zling vi­su­als with a dense plot

Los Angeles Times - - AT THE MOVIES REVIEWS - — Gary Gold­stein

Given that the lav­ish Chi­nese im­port “Once Upon a Time” is about as sen­si­ble as a one of the “Trans­form­ers” movies, it’s best not to at­tempt to fathom too much of what goes on in this col­or­ful fan­tasy-ad­ven­ture. It’s bet­ter to sim­ply take in its lushly shot and de­signed vi­su­als, eye-pop­ping ef­fects, lively ac­tion and of­ten lovely score.

“Once Upon a Time,” which is not to be con­fused with the cur­rent ABC tele­vi­sion show (ap­ples, meet or­anges), is based on the Xianxia novel “Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blos­soms” by Tang Qi Gong Zi, which also spawned the cur­rent Chi­nese TV se­ries “Eter­nal Love.”

The film, co-di­rected by Zhao Xiaod­ing, the Os­carnom­i­nated cine­matog­ra­pher of “House of Fly­ing Dag­gers,” and Anthony LaMoli­nara (an Oscar win­ner for his visual-ef­fects work on “Spi­der-Man 2”), in­volves the star-crossed ro­mance be­tween a 140,000-year-old god­dess and monarch (Liu Yifei) and a heav­enly prince (Yang Yang) 70,000 years her ju­nior.

The plot takes place over the course of sev­eral realms and life­times — and plenty of phys­i­cal and meta­phys­i­cal ob­sta­cles.

De­spite the many yards of ex­po­si­tion and many il­lus­tra­tive flash­backs in the script by Li Han, Liu Han, Mai Ling and Zhang Yaliang, this re­mains a dizzy­ing story, one that starts out a bit silly and broad and morphs into some­thing far more in­tense and pas­sion­ate.

“Once Upon a Time.” In Man­darin with English sub­ti­tles. Not rated. Run­ning time: 1 hour, 48 min­utes. Play­ing: In lim­ited re­lease.

Baixiaoyan Alibaba Pic­tures Group

LIU YIFEI por­trays a 140,000-year-old monarch in­volved with a prince who is 70,000 years her ju­nior.

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