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Tai Chi Master (1993, Hong Kong)

24/02/2011

Director: Yuen Woo Ping     Starring: Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Chin Siu Ho

Otherwise known in the Western world as Twin Warriors, Tai Chi Master is an example of Jet Li on his home turf and in his prime. His attempts to break through in Hollywood may well have worked from a commercial point of view but nothing (much like Jackie Chan!) he has made in America can hold a candle to even the weakest of his Chinese work. This 1993 example of Hong Kong made kung fu action proves this point admirably. While you may be more familiar with the name of its director Yuen Woo Ping from his work as a fight choreographer on big budget blockbusters like Kill Bill, The Matrix and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon he is a prolific director in his homeland working with such kung fu superstars as Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen. If you are a fan of the genre you are definitely in safe hands.

Plot wise it is a fairly typical example of the genre. Li and Chin are orphans raised as kung fu brothers in the Shaolin temple as the grow up they become formidable martial artists but are expelled from the temple when Chin goes too far in a kung fu tournament. Out in the ‘real world’ Li pursues life in accordance to his teachings, using his kung fu to help others and lead an honest and decent life. Chin chooses a path of personal gain and selfish benefit for his kung fu and joins the oppressive government army. When Chin betrays Li and his friends things turn nasty and vengeance is on the cards.

All fairly standard stuff then but it’s in the fight scenes that the film comes into it’s own. From the early sequences in the temple to the mass battles with the Governor’s troops the fights are exciting and dynamic. If you are not a fan of wire work you may find it a little bit annoying in places (especially where the wires are still visible, even on this otherwise gorgeous 2010 remaster from Cine Asia) but then if you are not a fan of wire work why would you watch a Yuen Woo Ping film at all? There is great variety in the combat and some exciting confrontations, including what amounts to a giant kung fu version of Jenga, and the action sequences are nicely spaced in the film keeping everything at a jaunty pace.

Thematically (again quite typically of the genre) it is really about martial arts ethics and choosing to use your skills and powers for the right reasons i.e. to help protect rather than to bully the weak. Jet Li’s performance is excellent Chin Siu Ho does a good turn as his corrupted friend but Michelle Yeoh is a little under-used for my liking, her role amounting to little more than a way to lure Li in to a fight which is a real pity given the quality of her fighting skills that are on show in the couple of sequences where she gets to really flex her kung fu chops.

Overall it’s a fun film with that old school, Shaw Brothers style kung fu vibe that allows Jet Li to show off his impressive skills. If you are not a fan of the genre it’s highly unlikely that this will convert you (House Of Flying Daggers or Hero would be a better first stop in this instance) but for kung fu afficiandos it really is a must see.

For a different angle on Tai Chi Master check out Dangerous Meredith – Tai Chi Master and get a former dancer and choreographer’s take on it.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 06/03/2011 00:11

    Good review. I particularly agree with your first paragraph.

    I love this movie very, very much and so it is nice to read blogs like yours that give it its due.

    • 06/03/2011 05:40

      Thanks for your comment, this film was a recent discovery for me and an absolute delight.

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