In the Shaolin temple two orphan boys are growing up, but through circumstances during a competition the two are expelled from Shaolin. Junbao becomes friends with an anti-government movement, while Tienbao, a gold-digger, joins the army. Initially there friendship that had developed over the years is still there, despite them being on opposite sides of the law, but soon power and greed take over Tienbao, and he will go to any lengths to further his career, including betraying his once best friend. This betrayal harms Junbao mentally, but this helps him come to one with his peace, and it is through this that he develops his style known as Tai Chi.
Some of the fight scenes in this are quite phenominal, and the pairing of Jet Li an Michelle Yeoh is something which has not happened before or since, and is amazing to view on screen.
This is the uncut, original language version, NOT the CUT, DUBBED and rescored version that has been released in the UK by Di$ney under the name of Twin Warriors.
This is one of those films that had me salivating at the prospect of what lay ahead. Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh in the same film - kicking ass side by side. What more could you ask for? Those two are two of my favourite martial art film stars and with them in the lead roles, and Yuen Wo Ping doing the choreography I thought this film just could not fail. And how right I was! Everything in Tai Chi Master lives up to its potential. The story is interesting and does not drag on, there are major character developments, funny moments, very brutal moments and of course outstanding fight scenes.
The film simply follows the lives of two monks Tianbo and Juanbo played by Jet Li and Chin Siu Ho respectively. We first see them as young children starting out their lives as monks, where we see quite clearly the two different characters - one obedient and kind, the other impatient and competitive. Soon they are in their early adult years, and they are just the same, except now they both train very, very hard, moreso than any of the other monks. As such their kung fu is among the best in their group. However, in a competition Juanbo is expelled from the temple for excessive aggression against his cheating opponent, and with Tianbo trying to intervene to stop things getting worse, they end up getting worse and the two end up being expelled from the temple.
With their lives in tatters, the two take to the streets where they have to figure out how to earn a living. In the end Tianbo is quite content with a simple, honest life, but Juanbo wants the power and wealth that comes with the miitary. Parting ways and sides the two monks begin to drift apart. Tianbo joins a group of rebels who are opposed to the local ruler, but Juanbo joins the ranks of this ruler's military aiming to rise as high as he can in the rankings. To do so he sacrifices everything, including his friendship with Tianbo.
The fight scenes in The Tai Chi Master, while in places relying a little too much on wire work, are superb. The opening scenes with the two in the temple are hilarious but also a marvel to watch. The speed and power of the two is quite something. When Michelle Yeoh and another kick-ass female join the fighting ranks things only get better. Two guys and two tough butt kicking females fighting in brilliantly choreographed fight scenes is not something you see often, especially to this high a standard. There are quite a number of fights scenes throughout the film so you never get bored, as you know that some action will come your way soon.
The thing that I found quite uneven about the film, however, is the contrast between the brutality that is evident in the latter stages of the film, and the humour. From having some very funny moments, especially in the early parts, the film turns very brutal with some grisly deaths and cold blooded murder, which when it first occurs comes as a bit of a shock! However, the brutality comes along with the change in Juanbo's character, and is a reflection on his current state of mind.
In all honesty I cannot think of a single aspect of the film which I was unhappy with. The story is good, and is constantly moving forward, the acting is decent enough, the fighting is brilliant, and the characters are all entertaining and funny at points. In my opinion this is one of Jet Li's better films, and given the standard of some of his other ones, I think that is a pretty good recommendation!
Audio & Subtitles
The sound in the film is pretty good throughout, although there is nothing special about it. The words are clear (I watched this one with my Cantonese speaking, now ex-girlfriend and she understood it all and never once complained!) and all the effects are crisp sounding. My only down point is in one place I recall the sound from one of the main speakers going a little quite, and leaving what should have been the background effects as the main sound at that stage. If I remember right this lasted for about a minute, and when the scene was over everything was back to normal. Mystery as to what happened, but if this is the case for all the DVDs released for this film, then I guess there has been a small techinical error somewhere. Also of noteworthy mention is the fact, yet again, that the speech is not in perfet lip synch with the mouth actions.
The subtitles were pretty good too. Bold white text, with a small black border made the text legible at all times, which was nice. The text was also of a good size, and positioned over the print enabling the full use of a widescreen TV's capabilities. Where they are let down a little is in the spelling and grammar stakes. The occurances of bad spelling or bad grammar were just a little too frequent in this film. On virtually every occassion what was actually meant was still clear, but due to the frequency the errors did becomes a tad annoying. What gets me is when one word is spelt wrongly in one sentence, but in the next the same word is then spelt correctly! There is no consitency!
The film print was pretty good, and on par with all other techincal aspects of the film. The detail level was decent and really it was like most other Universe releases. There was frequent speckles throughout the film, but fortunately there were very brief and very small and as such did not really obstruct or distract from the film's viewing. Everything else about the print was pretty good.
DVD & Extras
The Tai Chi Master follows the standard mould for a lot of Universe discs as far as the extras go. Aside from the usual menues for Chapter selection, language and subtitles, what you've got here are actor/actress biographies which give information on the relevant actor's/actress' past and a filmography, the film trailer and trailers for other Universe released films. Nothing that inspiring, but at least their is something!
I've got to say that there is absolutely no reason why you should not buy this film. In the UK the only released version that is available is a very crappy english dubbed version called Twin Warriors. If you want to see it cut and with terrible dubbed voices by all means go for that version, but if you want to see it in its original language and uncut go for this version. It is an outstanding film, with brilliant fight scenes, great characters and a good story. There are not many Hong Kong action films which can say all that! This is among Jet Li's best work, and you have just got to see it!