Two young boys Jun Biao and Tien Biao grow up the best of friends in the legendary Shaolin temple, growing up tobe experts in the martial arts. When a challenge match gone awry results in the two of them getting expelled from the temple, the two friends go their seperate ways. The adult Jun Biao (Jet Li) finds shelter with a group of rebels including a skilled fighter and musician named Qiu Xue (Michelle Yeoh). Tien Biao, meanwhile, seeks fortune with the government and his desire for wealth and power ignites a darkness in him that will put these two old friends into conflict.
The film features a number of memorable action scenes. The temple staff battle features wildly inventive wirework and choreography while Michelle Yeoh’s solo battle is graceful and reminiscent of her work in Wing Chun. The final fight is among the best of fight scenes from this.period and stands as a hallmark of the complexities and possibilities of wirework. For fight fans, this is a considerably action packed film with excellent fight direction.
A point of contention among detractors of the film is in the prevalent comedy and lightheartedness that exists in the picture. At times it is at odds with the seriousness of the plot but it infuses an energy that will be refreshing for Jet Li fans unfamiliar with his early work. The fact that the comedy is generally spot on helps, but it does take a backseat to the more serious final act which focuses on spiritualism and a decidedly more moral bend.
While the film is immensely entertaining, there are a handful of gaffs; there a number of times that wires are visible, some dialogue is splendidly corny, and the music, aside from the film’s main theme, is lamentably forgettable. While relatively minor, these elements do detract a bit from the film.
Directed by the legendary Yuen Woo Ping, Tai Chi Master is widely considered one of Woo Ping’s and Jet Li’s more beloved film collaborations. Boasting exhilarating martial arts battles and some highly entertaining comedy, this picture has a rewatchability factor that marks it as a classic of early 90s HK cinema. Of note is the highly edited USA release, re-titled Twin Warriors that features an atrocious dub and new music. Stay away from this version as it degrades the film and makes it nearly unwatchable.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Wing Chun, Fong Sai Yuk, and/or Iron Monkey