I’ve wanted to do a piece on Martial Arts films for a while now, but hadn’t found the right motivation or piece of work to start it off with. I recently bought the movie Tai Chi Master, released by Dragon Dynasty, and gave it a watch along with its Special Features. I have seen the movie once before, but it was of poor quality and I believe it was an English dub. Now, finally getting an excellent print of the movie, I thought it would be a good film to start off with. I’m hoping to do more than just movie reviews with this genre, same as with Tokusatsu. But for now, let’s get on with the review.
Tai Chi Master (known from its previous Western release as Twin Warriors) stars Jet Li (Once Upon a Time in China, Fearless), Michelle Yeoh (Supercop, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and Chin Siu Ho (Fist of Legend) and was directed by legendary director/stunt coordinator Yuen Wo-Ping (Drunken Master, The Matrix trilogy). The story revolves around two childhood friends who grow up in a Shaolin Temple until they are expelled and thrown into the real world. There, the two friends take different paths, one becoming a rebel and one becoming a general. Eventually, they will cross paths once again, resulting in some very impressive fight sequences.
The fight scenes in this movie, I have to say, are pretty amazing. They are very fast-paced, hard hitting, and some of the stunts pulled will make you rewind to see if you saw what you saw. Jet Li is in top form. I’ve always been intrigued by his prowess. The guy is extremely flexible, and so fast that I’ve heard that directors sometimes ask him to slow it down a bit so they will be able to capture it all clearly on film.
There are a few different fighting styles presented in this film, and Jet Li definitely showed good transition between the two main ones that he used. In the beginning of the film, his character learns Kung Fu under the Shaolin temple, which is very much grounded in its execution from what was shown. Later on in the film though, his character goes through a change in both philosophy and skill, which allows him to develop was is known as Tai Chi. This allowed Jet Li to show off his flexibility as many of the moves required him to move very fluidly but at the same time needed to show strength in his punches and kicks.
Michelle Yeoh plays woman searching for her missing husband, only to find out that he ran off to marry a very rich and powerful lady. This allows her character to join up with the rebels, and Jet Li’s character, to eventually help fight the Governor’s army. Now, personally, I love Michelle Yeoh. She is a very talented actress who is very confident in her abilities. The fact that she never trained as a martial artist and uses her training as a dancer to pull off all these moves and stunts always amazes me. And when you see her in this movie, you won’t be able to tell. She can deal the pain with the rest of them, and that’s what makes her so great.
Chin Siu Ho plays Jet Li’s childhood friend in the movie and later on, his opponent. I saw him in Fist of Legend first, and though that was made after this movie, I knew that I would enjoy seeing him in it. And, boy was I right. Something about his acting and martial arts skills makes me want to check out more of his films. He was great in this movie. I definitely enjoyed him in this semi-villainous role and couldn’t wait to see him face off against Jet Li in the end.
Yuen Wo-Ping definitely pulled off all the stops for this movie, and it shows. The fight scenes are very impactful and bring you into the scene. The movie flows at a good pace, and the acting was good. I also liked the story, which allowed me to get into the character struggles, which in turn made you more emotionally involved in the fight scenes.
I can only really hold two things against the movie, but both are more of personal preference. The first is regarding some of the fight scenes and the amount of wire-work used. I agree with Chin Siu Ho’s point of view expressed in the interview he did in the Special Features, that practical fight scenes are more appealing. You can see that kind of fighting style more in the beginning of the movie. But, there are fight scenes that have so much wire-work and everyone is flying around so much, that it just sort of bends the belief in the scenes a bit too much for me. I like fight scenes that are more based on reality than people pulling off unimaginable feats (despite me loving Tokusatsu. haha). The other thing would be the change that Jet Li’s character experience, which happens way to quickly in my opinion. But, that could just be due to them not having enough time to expand the scenes more. But I just felt that his transition was too abrupt and left me a bit stunned.
Lastly, I’ll comment a bit on the Special Features. There is a Feature Length Commentary by Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan (which as of this, I have not checked out yet), an interview with Chin Siu Ho, which I found very interesting. There are also two commentary pieces by Director Brett Ratner and Critic Elvis Mitchell talking about Yuen Wo-Ping as well as Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. These two pieces were pretty interesting to watch, though I’m a bit tired of seeing Brett Ratner popping up in these. Lastly, there is a piece on the Birthplace of Tai Chi, where they visit the Chen village and talk to one of the real Tai Chi Masters about the art, its history, and its application.
All in all, this was definitely a DVD worth the buy. I do wish I had bought it sooner, but didn’t have the chance or the money. If you are a fan of any of the actors, or of Yuen Wo-Ping’s work, you should definitely check this out. I think it’s a must-have.