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