I was recently given a rare treat to review – a martial arts movie made in the early 1990s starring Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. Tai Chi Master, also known as Tai ji: Zhan San Feng, was directed by Yuen Wo-ping, widely acclaimed as one of the greatest martial arts directors of all time. (Brett Ratner of Rush Hour fame talks about Wo-ping in one of the special features on the DVD.)
Watching Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh in a martial arts movie together is just amazing. Both are fun to watch as martial artists and can act. What a concept!
A pair of lifelong friends are expelled from their Shaolin temple after being accused of cheating. Tienbao (Chin Siu Ho) becomes a powerful and oppressive military leader while the other, Junbao, (Jet Li) joins the rebels. Only the discipline of Tai Chi can help Junbao defeat his former friend.
There are a number of great fight scenes, but what got me with this film is that it has a heart. Junbao does everything he can to avoid having to fight his friend Tienbao. But in the end, he must defeat him.
The story propels the movie forward (unlike some martial arts movies) and the acting and action are fun and frenetic. What’s not to like?
The only thing I’ll say is that there are little things about the movie that detract from it. Though the wire work is great, there are times where you can tell it’s wire work – not as smooth as something like Crouching Tiger or Hero. But other than that, this is a great martial arts movie faithfully reproduced on DVD.
So I’ll give this 3/4. Be sure to check it out if you like martial arts movies, Jet Li, or Michelle Yeoh!
Tai Chi Master will be released on July 29th! Be sure to look for it at Amazon or other retailers!
I had a chance to see The Forbidden Kingdom yesterday. And it’s kind of a mixed bag for me I’m afraid — sort of The Karate Kid meets House of Flying Daggers. Not that it didn’t have its moments and not that it didn’t keep me entertained, but I can see now why it was getting mixed reviews from the various early screenings it had.
What’s cool is that you get to see both Jackie Chan and Jet Li do some amazing martial arts sequences. If you like cool fight sequences (at least between Chan & Li), then this is a good movie for you. Some of the other fight scenes with Michael Angarano (who played Jason Tripitkas, the Seeker in this film and I last saw him in Sky High) left a bit to be desired. I think he gave it his all, but one towards the end fell flat for me.
That said, Yifei Liu as Golden Sparrow was a joy to watch. Not sure what it was about her, but she was the bright spot in the film next to Chan and Li.
Compared to Curse of the Golden Flower (the last martial arts movie I reviewed), the plot in this one was pretty weak. But some of the fight choreography was excellent (especially as I said, between Jet Li & Jackie Chan). Cinematography-wise, there were a couple of questionable cuts — one rather abrupt transition made me flinch. And though it was pretty scenery-wise in some places, it didn’t even come close to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or House of Flying Daggers, or Hero. Those seem to be in no danger of being knocked off my top 3 recent favorites for martial arts movies.
What did I like? There was some fun poked at wire-fu movies for sure in places. And there were some very humorous parts where all the guys in the audience said “ow!” when poor Angarano had to do the splits. The more touching parts of the movie were when Angarano and Liu interacted. And the best fight scenes were all with Jet Li & Jackie Chan together.
So though I enjoyed this movie, I definitely don’t need to see it in the theater again. I will probably watch it with my wife and girls on DVD, since they were also intrigued by it from the trailers. But I can’t say this is going to the top of my list of movies to buy.
I’ll give it a 2.5 out of 4. I enjoyed it, but there were definite flaws in the movie IMHO. Worth seeing? Not sure — I’ll recommend that folks rent it rather than see it in the theater.
Curse of the Golden Flower was another film I had a chance to see a few weeks ago but haven’t had time to write about… Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li played the leads in this colorful martial arts drama (heavier on drama than martial arts) about the unraveling of a Tang Emperor’s household.
If there ever was a Chinese Shakespeare, I think he would have written something like this film. There was enough back-stabbing and underhanded dealing going on to keep even the most insane theater goer wondering what was going on. Dark, depraved, incestuous, and dramatic, this film had it all.
And it didn’t skimp on the martial arts either… It wasn’t as laden with them as something like the House of Flying Daggers or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but I was impressed that the martial arts sequences worked as a part of the story, not just as a long series of action sequences thrown together. Each “fight” scene covered a pivotal part of the plot.
Even though we watched the subtitled version, I have to say I thought the acting was great. I believed Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li as the long-time feuding married couple who brought down their own house with their secretive ways.
But what left the biggest impression was the huge, lavish, colorful sets. Where House of Flying Daggers took place outside for the most part, this film was inside for the most part and the garish reds and golds were everywhere.
Was this film my favorite martial arts film in recent memory? No, probably not. But it’s probably in the top 10. I’ll give it a solid 3 out of 4 stars and suggest renting it if you like your martial arts wire-fu movies a little more dramatic than usual. 🙂