Once Upon a Time in Ukraine (2023) Review



I had no idea what to expect with Once Upon a Time in Ukraine but it’s packed with ninjas, regular action scenes and appealing leads making it an absolute blast. I need to reiterate that it has ninjas so really, nothing else matters.

Plot: The samurai Akayo enters the Ukraine to retrieve his master’s katana from Harimoto, who is buying slaves from a Ukrainian master, Jaromir. On his way he meets the serf Taras, who agrees to help Akayo so he can rescue his beloved from Jaromir.

Review: I hadn’t watched any trailers and didn’t even read the synopsis for Once Upon a Time in Ukraine, so I went in with no preconceptions of what to expect. It really caught me by surprise when it opened with a group of Samurai battling Ninjas so I immediately knew this was going to be a film I would like.

At 86 minutes long it’s a quick and easy watch with regular fight scenes, violence and even the odd decapitation. Despite this the tone is quite light in places with several moments of dark humour. This explains why the film is described as Tarantino-esque but I also really took to the characters with Taras Shevchenko (Roman Lutskyi) making for an appealing lead but it’s Sergey Strelnikov who steals the show as the charismatic samurai Akayo who is out for revenge whilst also searching for a stolen sword. With Tamas wanting to rescue his sweetheart the two men have similar goals and team up to seek justice. The villains are suitably hateful too and watching them get what they deserve is endlessly satisfying.

Once Upon a Time in Ukraine is stylish and bloody and yet it never forgets that we are supposed to care for our characters and I found myself right behind them all the way. It’s an inspiring tale with action scenes every few minutes so the pacing never lags. There is the odd bit of wirework giving it a hyper-stylised feel but any movie featuring ninjas deserves an Academy Award for Best Picture as far as I’m concerned.

The music is also very Tarantino-esque which adds to the almost playful tone and it works well with the story and action scenes.

Overall, Once Upon a Time in Ukraine is a hidden gem that is a must-see for action fans with its countless ninjas and sword fights making for a fun ride.