Once Upon A Time - Shi Li Tai Hua - 三生三世十里桃花
Director: Zhao Xiaoding, Anthony LaMolinara
Starring: Liu Yifei, Yang Yang, Luo Jin, Yan Yikuan
Based on: Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles Peach Blossoms by TangQi Gongzi
Running Time: 110 mins
Once Upon A Time is the latest Chinese CGI-heavy fantasy-romance drama. Big budget Chinese films brimmed of CGI have become increasingly popular over the years but with many previous films not having special effects up to Hollywood's standard, how does Once Upon A Time compare?
This is the story of Bai Qian, a goddess and monarch from the Heavenly Realms. In her first life, she was the disciple of Mo Yuan. Due to a devastating war, Mo Yuan’s soul was destroyed while sealing the Demon Lord. Seventy thousand years later while Bai Qian was trying to reseal the Demon Lord, she was sent to the mortal realm to undergo a trial to become a High Goddess. There, she meets Ye Hua with whom she falls in love and eventually married. However, their love ends tragically. Many years later, the two star-crossed lovers meet again as deities but all her memories have been erased due to her request. Ye Hua, who is now a crown prince black dragon 90,000 years younger than Bai Qian, gets a second chance at love with her.
Sounds confusing? Well, it is. Prior knowledge of the original book "Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles Peach Blossoms" or maybe even the TV series would have helped. But with this being my first time discovering this story, I was left scratching my head a few times. The confused identities, the forced romance and the convoluted plot would work better over the 58 episode TV series. The enormous task of trying to cram all of this story into under 2 hours was always going to be tricky. That being said, the 2 directors almost manage to pull it off, with only a few of the ideas not entirely clicking. The story revolves around two seemingly star-crossed lovers who continue to encounter each other over numerous lifetimes, in its simplicity. Keep telling yourself that.
Surprisingly Once Upon A Time is actually beautiful to look at. Shot almost entirely against green-screen with limited physical sets and props, the visuals are stunning! Being co-directed with visual-effects artist Anthony LaMolinara, whose credits include Hollow Man and Spider-Man 1 and 2, appears to have certainly helped in that department. The backdrops all look mesmerising and seem to go on for miles; the visual-effects creatures look more real than what most Chinese films have to offer. The costumes are also exquisite with many remarkable embroidered outfits and complex hairstyles which are worthy of recognition. The same praise can be given to the music which is full of traditional sounding Chinese instruments and reminiscent of big blockbuster scores from films such as House of Flying Daggers.
Another exciting aspect of the film is the action scenes. There is more action in the film than the trailers and advertising would lead you to believe. Some of these are executed fairly well with fun wire-fu sword fighting magic and battles with CGI monsters including a tiger, a dragon and some bizarre giant earth-tree creature. All of these are a welcome break from the drama and they give your brain time to recover.
The film is flawed but still enjoyable overall. With many good elements to it, especially being a treat for your eyes and ears. The plot is bewildering but eventually, the main points become clear and allow you to relax and soak it all in. If you like big fantasy fairy tales then you will enjoy this one, but make sure you keep your thinking cap on!