AKA: Tai Chi
Director: Yuen Woo Ping
Producer: Jet Li
Cast: Jet Li, Chin Siu Ho, Michelle Yeoh, Fennie Yuen, Yuen Cheung Yan, Lau Shun, Yu Hai, Sun Jian Kui
Running Time: 94 min.
Note to Yuen Wo Ping: Stop renting out your justly famous talent as a fight choreographer to other directors and make more of your own movies. They may not be as polished or as sophisticated but, in this era of fecal matter smeared on celluloid getting passed off as entertainment, they’re great fun (“fun” being something that far too many “popcorn” movies fail rather miserably to provide).
Additional note to Yuen Wo Ping: Stop selling the rights to your movies to Disney if it is within your power to do so. Maybe you liked their treatment of Iron Monkey, but what they have done to THIS movie… releasing it dubbed only, under the false title of “Twin Warriors”… is a slap in your face.
Note to the reader: See this movie in its untainted form or not at all.
Two kids, Tianbao and Junbao (“Tempo” and “Jumbo” according to the DVD package) become inseperable while studying at the Shaolin temple. Tianbao (Chin Siu Ho) is ambitious and competitive; Junbao (Jet Li) is more relaxed, but still a devoted student. During a kung fu tournament, Tianbao’s opponent brazenly cheats, but the Sifu does nothing about it. Tianbao is understandably perturbed and proceeds to kick the cheater’s ass. The Sifu then decides that Tianbao is too vicious to study at Shaolin and expels him. Junbao tries to intervene, but the Sifu shoves him aside and attacks Tianbao. He underestimates the youngster and orders all of the other disciples to demolish him. I’d say the man has a problem with double standards, wouldn’t you?
At this point, you know this movie is gonna be cheesy, but way cool. Junbao and Tianbao have to fight their way out of the room with about 50 guys armed with staves trying to stop them. That done, they flee the temple and get a taste of civilization (which is usually anything BUT “civil”, but let’s not nit-pick). As they acquaint themselves with city life, they get involved with a number of rebels who hang out in an inn, including a girl named…get this…Little Melon. Can you fucking believe that? Little Melon. I mean, what’s her brother’s name, Big Banana? Yeesh.
(If you’re wondering whether or not Little Melon does, in fact, have little melons, you’ll just have to see for yourself. It’s a good movie so you’ll thank me anyway.)
Our two exiled monks part ways when Tianbao decides to sell out and start working for the tyrannical eunuch who controls the region. While elaborating on “his” position and how “he” attained it, this eunuch says: “I’m successful because I don’t need a woman.” Amen, sister! Uh…brother! Uh…whatever the hell you are!
Junbao prefers to keep his scruples and his dignity. You can see the showdown coming a mile away (actually there are two of them) but you don’t watch movies like this for plot twists. You watch them for the fighting, and that by God is something The Tai-Chi Master has in spades. There are some half-assed “every other scene must be a fight scene” flicks out there, but THIS film doesn’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Every battle is a keeper, especially the one where Junbao and his handful of allies take on about 200 soldiers at once. No shit!!!
“What about those damn wires?” you ask. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the term “wire fu” is insufficient to describe “accentuated” fighting because it’s not all the same. There are some clueless individuals out there who think it’s a good idea to have people in a so-called martial arts movie effortlessly floating in the air and all sorts of other ridiculous shit, and then you’ve got Yuen Wo Ping, who uses wires WITH RESTRAINT and does not allow them to overshadow the raw combative prowess on display. They’re two entirely different styles and in my opinion, this is far and away the superior one. You need not worry about excessive, limp-wristed cartoon super powers. Good, solid action here, and in generous portions to boot.
The presence of Michelle Yeoh can benefit any movie, and although she doesn’t get second billing here based solely on the selling power of her name, I couldn’t shake the feeling that her role could have had a bit more impact. She plays Qiushe, a wine-guzzling musician who is befriended by Junbao. She certainly does her share of the ass-kicking, but, disappointingly, she only gets to hold the head eunuch hostage for the film’s finale, leaving Jet to fend for himself in a one-on-one duel (which is as it should be, but it would’ve been nice if she could have taken on a head crony or a second-in-command or something).
As usual, Yuen Wo Ping inserts bits of humor here and there, some of which work (Tianbao letting people hit him for money), others of which don’t (Junbao going temporarily insane…for too long…after being betrayed by his former best friend). There are also a few things to laugh at that weren’t intentional, like the huge amount of dust that covers everything (watch the powder fly when the fight in the temple breaks out) and the breakneck pace at which Junbao and Tianbao get their hair back. Plus, there’s this little exchange:
“I had to pee.”
“I wanna pee too.”
By the way, the 1996 Yuen Wo Ping film Tai Chi II is a sequel to this one in name only; the two movies have no major cast members or plot elements in common.
A strong film on many levels for three of the biggest names in Hong Kong cinema. Recommended for anyone who feels like going out and hitting somebody but doesn’t want to get beaten up.
Numskull’s Rating: 8/10