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If only Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby had been so willing to impale its protagonists. In Ching-Po Wong’s kung-fu jazz-age noir Once Upon a Time in Shanghai, the palate is mostly gray but neon-lustrous; the nightclub and city-street set pieces are elegantly composed and soon magnificently destroyed. And kudos to Phyllis Cheng and David Wong for their sound design: Every punch, kick, and headbutt lands with the crackling thud of a sledgehammer breaking an elephant skull. The setting is the mob-infested Shanghai of the early 1930s, and while the particulars are Chinese—triads, Japanese interlopers, rural-to-urban migrations—the seedy-beneath-the-sheen vibe is straight-up James Ellroy. Philip Ng stars as Ma Yongzhen, a good-natured, direct-from-the-sticks laborer with a right fist so powerful his mother placed a spinning bracelet on it to remind him of its deadliness; he’s soon sucked into the power plays of Shanghai’s mob bosses, the details of which are less interesting than the elaborate fight sequences they beget. The movie is a remake of the 1972 film The Boxer of Shantung, and its action, to its detriment, is more big-budget cartoonish and boom-splat violent than the kung-fu films of that era. One impressive thing, at least: By Shanghai’s blood-spattered finale, Ng is more fucked up than Bruce Lee at the end of Enter the Dragon.