Streaming Sleepers: Roman Perfilyev’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN UKRAINE, Historical Reverence Wrapped In Thrilling Vengeance And Energy
Writer/director Roman Perfilyev’s second film took a while to get to our side of the globe but folks looking to check out his sophomore feature can now do so in Once Upon A Time In Ukraine.
Samuel Goldwyn Films gave a theatrical and VOD release back in April. Featuring actors Roman Lutskyi and Sergey Strelnikov, the story is set in 1844 Ukraine where a serf named Taras, an aspiring poet and storyteller, finds himself captive and separated from his beloved Maria (Kateryna Slyusar) by an evil lord (Andrey Malinovich) who trafficks women to foreigners. Upon a chance escape, he befriends Akayo, a half-Ukranian Japanese ronin who previously wandered past the border following a scrimmage with a squad of lethal ninja assassins. As the story progresses, the two find a common goal in their respective quests, with Akayo taking on Taras as his apprentice to train him for the deadly battles that lie ahead, especially if he’s to save the woman he loves.
It’s worth noting that the role of Taras was inspired back during 2013’s “Revolution of Dignity” by Perfilyev’s own reimagining of the real-life poet on which Lutskyi’s character is based. Bearing in mind that plenty of directors have gone the derivative route when telling stories based on historical characters and that it can be a hit-or-miss move, I can appreciate Perfilyev’s effort given how new these characters are to much of today’s audience. The film throws in a colorful roster of supporting villains as well, including an unscrupulous freedom fighter (Yakiv Tkachenko) and his minions, and a Hasidic Jewish arms dealer, as well as a Japanese slave master named Harimoto (Gen Seto) and his right hand femme fatale (Li Berlinskaya).
It helps that the film comes wildly packaged with comical spectacle and action to boot, with the latter being the first to help set the tone proper between Strelnikov and his co-stars against a horde of deadly ninjas. High-flying stuntwork is doled out in spades between several action sequences contributing greatly to the escapist atmosphere courtesy of XGST Stunt Team’s Stanislav Babzhenko and Oleksander Panichuk. The fight choreography is carefully executed and performed beat-for-beat which removes spontaneity and elements of danger meant to pull you in, but you can tell the ambition is there with a page or two clearly taken from the likes of Yuji Shimomura and Kenji Tanigaki, and not for nothing either with the occasional moment of gore, blood splatter and severance of limbs.
If you love Westerns and Jidaigeki cinema, Perfilyev’s Once Upon A Time In Ukraine should offer you something plenty in your streaming library. I would even throw in Guy Moshe’s Bunraku and make it a double feature via Digital wherever available, or whatever title you so fancy.
As of this post, Once Upon A Time In Ukraine is available on FAST platform Tubi in the U.S. with English/French/Japanese-only audio and subs. If you’re keen on hearing the film’s original audio with optional subs, the film is also streaming now on Amazon Prime.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.