Tai Chi Master

This period kung fu film directed by Yuen Wo Ping is primarily a Jet Li vehicle with a smaller but excellent role for Michelle Yeoh. It's considered a classic by many, but disliked by many others as well. In a sense, both camps have good reasons to feel this way. The film has some incredibly sublime and astonishingly creative action moments but others that go ludicrously overboard to the point of cartoonish exaggeration. The film is extremely wire enhanced - and as the film progresses one gets the sense that the filmmakers kept trying to up the ante by making the wire work grander and grander. But by the final showdown, it has almost reached a point of silliness. For the first 60-minutes of the film though, I think much of it is simply brilliant.
Jet Li, Chin Siu Ho, Fennie Yuen and Michelle Yeoh
The plot revolves around two boyhood friends (Jet and Chin Sui Ho) who grow up together in a Shaolin temple learning discipline and kung fu until they are kicked out (by Yu Hai - Jet Li's sifu in the Shaolin Trilogy) for fighting (and beating) the entire student body. This action scene never fails to amaze me. Yu Hai calls out "Luo Han Pole Formation" and the student body surrounds the two young men with long bamboo poles and attack them in perfect unison. Jet and Chin fight back with even more brilliant tactics. After leaving the temple and going out into the real world they soon come into contact with the oppressive forces of the Royal Eunuch and some opposing rebels. One of these is Fennie Yuen and Chin takes a large liking to her.
They also chance upon a wandering minstrel, Michelle Yeoh, who is looking for her husband who has disappeared. She finds him now married to the sister of the Royal Eunuch - and after a lovely fight - even using stilts at one point - she joins the rebels as well. Chin though is an ambitious lad and soon takes a different path that brings him into tragic conflict with his life long friend. I found this part of the film to be moving - neither friend really wanted to go against the other - but fate had a different song to sing.
One of the most poignant and powerful action scenes in HK film is when the rebels find themselves betrayed and surrounded by an overwhelming force and they fight valiantly on - but get killed off one by one. It's heart rendering and tragically choreographed.
After the disaster, Jet Li loses his mind and becomes a simpleton, but by discovering Tai Chi and with the help of Michelle, he regains his sanity and goes back to face his former friend. This "losing his mind" section has never been one that I liked - though it lasts for only ten minutes or so - it stops the film in its tracks and it never quite regains the momentum it had going. So though the film has its weaknesses - it still possesses enough fabulous moments and some tremendous wushu work from Jet that it is highly recommended. Though Michelle is certainly a secondary character, she still has two solo action scenes and is involved in a few group ones. The film also has a wonderful sound track.
My rating for this film: 8.0


 DVD Information:

Distributed by Universe

This is the Remastered version.

The transfer is sort of a half full or half empty question. It is certainly much better than what I had - a copy from a LD - but it is not nearly on par with most of Universe's releases. As evidenced from the pictures above, the transfer is not at all crisp,  the colors are muted and it feels overcast throughout much of the film. Considering that this is the Remastered version - one should have expected a first rate job - but this is clearly not it. Paul Kazee reports on Mobius that the first version is in many ways superior. The sound was a little distorted at times.

Letterboxed

Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks

Subtitles with 3 choices:  Chinese (Traditional), English, Chinese (Simplified)

8 Chapters

It includes it's own trailer and ones for Fong Sai Yuk I & II

Star files for Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh.