TO AUG. 23

Fans of prolific Hong Kong director Tsui Hark can’t possibly agree on which of his exuberant films is his best, but Once Upon a Time in China I and Once Upon a Time in China II are usually on the shortlist. The former has been seen here several times, including an underpublicized one-week run last spring, but this is the D.C. debut of its first sequel. (There are four more in the 1991-1997 series.) Both flicks continue the legend of surgeon, herbalist, and martial-arts master Wong Fei-Hong, an actual historical figure who died in 1924 and became a Cantonese-language movie hero with 1949’s The True Story of Wong Fei-Hong. Jackie Chan revived the character with 1978’s Drunken Master, but Tsui’s approach is less slapsticky. The director, who spent his early years in French-ruled Vietnam, takes the tale’s anti-imperialist politics fairly seriously: Wong (Jet Li, pictured) battles the members of White Lotus, a xenophobic sect that vows death to Westerners, while allying with Sun Yat-Sen, the architect of the Chinese republic that was to briefly replace the millennia-old empire. Tsui is known for an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink style, but this movie is unusually disciplined. Though Hong impresses the British with a demonstration of acupuncture, the highlights are two delirious action sequences, one involving a whip-wielding villain and an exitless alley, the other a battle between Wong and his nemesis atop a precarious stack of chairs. The film screens at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17; at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18; at 1 and 5:45 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19; at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21; and at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at the Kennedy Center’s American Film Institute National Film Theater. $7. (202) 785-4601. (Mark Jenkins)