Movie Reviews 253 – Tai Chi Master (1993)

Tai Chi MasterNever disappointed in any movie starring Michelle Yeoh, The Tai Chi Master, co-starring Jet Li captivates viewers with a barrage of novel and inspiring masterful martial arts moves on par with the best examples in the class. The acrobatics are not only relegated to the expected battles, but are also exhibited in more mundane scenes as well, delivering a character rich story dealing with life choices and the omnipresent battle between good and evil.

Two young monks grow up together in a Shaolin monastery in a friendly rivalry that nurtures their martial arts training and making both of them master practitioners. Opposite in nature, Junbao (Li) is the calm, cool headed thinking individual while his friend Tienbo (Chin Siu Ho) is the brash, obstinate one always seeking something better in life. When Tienbo dares to challenge a master at the monastery after a fellow student disciple cheats him in a battle contest, both he and Junbao are expelled together, forcing them find new lives outside the confines of the communal safe haven.

As soon as they get to the nearest village, they soon learn of the brutal and unfair tactics of corrupt gangs and tax collectors all at the behest of the governor and his henchmen. The men come to the rescue of Miss Lee (Fennie Yuen) a local restaurateur and another street merchant, Siu Lin (Yeoh) who has disavowed her former husband after he spurned her for a rich socialite. When the governor’s men extort the restaurant and the four newfound friends all ending up battling the governor’s representatives, they know this will be just the beginning of their troubles. Junbao decides that he will stay with the rebellious group associated with the establishment while to his surprise and shock, Tienbo takes up the recruitment offer by one of the governors captains. This pits the two men at odds with one another and their chosen paths in life. The entire movie plot reflects those virtues as the running theme like the art of Tai Chi itself which teaches patience and skill in order to train one’s mind.

As good as the story itself may be, it is enhanced at every turn by great action sequences and mesmerizing agile feats of physical prowess. Even imagining unseen wires and other photographic tricks, I found myself wondering how they filmed many of the spectacular sequences.

There are a few variants of English language releases for the DVD which was also released under the title Twin Warriors), mine being from Universe Laser (shown above and labelled as The Tai-Chi Master) suffered the always annoying, barely intelligible at times, ‘chinglish’ subtitles with no special features other than some equally terribly written bios for the stars and director Yuen Woo-ping. But even worse for me was the fact that I could not view the final chapter of the movie as my DVD kept faltering. While frustrating being deprived of the ending, there is no doubt that this is certainly of one of the most well rounded martial arts movies around.

On a side note, Woo-ping is the one who brought us Drunken Master and will be soon releasing the follow up to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, CTHD:Sword of Destiny which will have Yeoh reprise her role in the original. Yeah for more Yeoh!

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