Thursday, March 26, 2009

Review: Tai Chi Master (1993)

Tai Chi Master is the story of Junbao (Jet Li) and Tienbao (Chin Siu-Ho), two young friends growing up together in a Shaolin temple. Junbao is at peace and content with the life of a monk, whereas Tienbao is always looking for excitement and causing trouble for both of them. During a competition between Tienbao and another fellow student, Tienbao gets cheated and loses his cool, taking his anger out on his opponent. When the opponents Sifu steps in, Tienbao uses the Sifu's own Iron Palm technique (which he learned by spying) against him. Junbao tries to defend his best friend, but both end up expelled from the temple.

They go on their way, settling in a nearby village. In town, they meet Qiushie (Michelle Yeoh), who leads a group of rebels against the corrupt and powerful Eunuch Jin, the provincial governor. One day, Junbao & Tienbao are in the village trying to make money to survive, when Jin's army comes and demands all their earnings for taxation. Junbao resists, but Tienbao is intrigued by the power and money of the army and gives them all that they earned. The two remain friends but go their separate ways, Junbao joining the rebels and Tienbao joining the army.

Junbao & Tienbao remain in contact and eventually Tienbao, ambitious to rise through the ranks of the army, tricks Junbao and the rebels into thinking he'll help them. This betrayal leads to an ambush in which most of the rebel forces are slaughtered. Junbao, deeply saddened by the betrayal of his best friend, loses his mind. Qiushie and the Taoist Priest Ling attempt to bring Junbao back to reality with little success. Junbao is eventually enlightened by the forces of nature and learns the style of Tai Chi. This leads to the final conflict of Junbao vs. Tienbao, good vs. evil, yin vs yang.

This is a movie with a good story filled with action packed fights. The choreography by Yuen Wo-Ping is incredible, aside from a few hokey things here and there. Kung fu purists take note, being an early 90's film, this is full of wire work (much of the wires visible), but don't let that stop you from seeing it. There's tons of excellent martial arts besides the wire work. Some of the stand-out fights are Junbao & Tienbao fighting the other students in the temple, Qiushie's battle against her ex-husband's new mistress, and of course the final fight. Jet Li is incredible as Junbao, Chin Siu-Ho makes an excellent power hungry villain as Tienbao, and Michelle Yeoh, although underused, adds to the mix. In the middle of the movie, during the point where Junbao loses his mind, there is also some comedy thrown in. I feel that this helps lighten things a little bit, and keeps things from getting too dark and depressing. Overall, this is a great movie, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who has not seen it, even if they are not a big fan of the genre. So what are you waiting for? See Tai Chi Master!

4 ½ out of 5 Venoms

Kung Fu Cliches: Superhuman feats, wire-work

Original Hong Kong Trailer.

"Buddha bless you...


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