Tai-Chi Master (1993)
Directed by Yuen Wo-Ping
Written by Ip Kwong-Kim
Starring Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Chin Siu-Ho, Fannie Yuen, Yuen Cheung-Yan, Lau Shun
Release Date: July 29, 2008
As children and later as young men, Buddhist monks Jun (Jet Li) and Chin were furiously inseparable at their monastery, and used their friendship and competitive natures to better each others teachings and martial arts skills. But when Chin’s rash temper leads to a brawl between all the monks, both Chin and Jun are banished from the monastery and sent out into the world for the first time. Their journey brings them into a nearby town, and no sooner do they arrive then they witness the power of authority that the local Governor has on the town.
Jun tries to help a few of the locals being bullied by the soldiers and later joins a growing underground rebellion including an alcoholic scorned by her husband (Michelle Yeoh). Meanwhile, Chin becomes obsessed with obtaining the wealth and power he sees being used by the Governor and joins the local military to begin his ascension toward greatness, but only finds himself corrupted by his desires. Now on opposite sides, Jun and Chin have become the worst of enemies. As Chin, who has now gained control of the military, seeks to crush the rebels once and for all, Jun makes a singular attack against Chin using his newly mastered technique of Tai Chi!
Jet Li’s early collaborations in Hong Kong during the eighties and nineties, including work with renowned visionary Tsui Hark in the Once Upon A Time In China series and Ching Siu-Tung in Swordsman II, helped to set him apart from the rest of his movie compatriots as a solitary actor but even more so as a martial arts master. However, it was his first work with legendary martial arts choreographer and director Yuen Wo-Ping in 1993 including Tai-Chi Master that truly unleashed a fury that had been building in him for the better part of twelve years.
Under the guidance of Yuen Wo-Ping and with the aid of his talented his stunt team, Jet Li gives a performance that was arguably unparalleled at the time of the film’s release (but would be universally surpassed the following year with Fist of Legend). In the approximately dozen fight sequences that make up a majority of the film, Jet Li proves his versatility in one-on-one combat and group brawls, both bare-handed and with weapons. Whether using his own incredible skills or the use of wires, Jet Li is in control as he performs moves almost too quick for the camera to capture. From an early melee against his entire monastery to the final showdown, Li brings the absolute best in martial arts entertainment to the screen.
Jet Li is joined on the screen by two additional masters of martial arts entertainment, whose presence gives the already powerful story of honesty and corruption just that much more power. Chi Siu-Hou, as the monk Chin, gives Jet Li a run for his money as they dish it out blow for blow. Chi was a supporting actor through the later days of the Shaw Brother studio, and became a mainstay in the Mr. Vampire series throughout the eighties. The other is kung fu goddess Michelle Yeoh (billed here as Michelle Khan) who had just returned to acting after initially retiring in 1988 and had just completed work on five other films in 1993. Yeoh, who was never formerly trained in martial arts, is mesmerizing in her role of alcoholic-turned-rebel.
Aside from jaw-dropping action sequences that helped to mark a high point in Hong Kong’s modern film industry, Tai-Chi Master also boasts a powerful message about staying true to your teachings and never succumbing to the temptations of greed and the hunger for power. Tai-Chi, which is a form of martial arts that relies foremost on balance, plays heavily into the character Jun as he finds his way through troubled times, including insanity. It is especially interesting to note that he teaches himself Tai-Chi, rather than learning from a master. It is as if to say that the power to stay noble and persevere is in all of us, and it is up to us to find that strength within.
Originally released in the United States under the title Twin Warriors by Dimension Films in the late nineties with English-only dubbing and several minutes cut from the print, the genre arm of The Weinstein Company, Dragon Dynasty, is now making up for the sins of the past. This new release features the movie now completely uncut with the print itself looking slightly improved over the hard-to-find Hong Kong import. Included is the Cantonese soundtrack in both the original Mono and remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 along with easy-to-read English and Spanish subtitles. The English dub track is also available here.
The special features start off with Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan giving a particularly energetic audio commentary. As always, keep a pen and paper handy to take notes and remember movies for checking on later. Next up, Chin Siu-Ho is put in the interview chair as he discusses his career. Director Brett Ratner and critic Elvis Mitchell are on hand to share their thoughts on Yuen Wo-Ping, Jet Li, and Michelle Yeoh. Ratner’s fanboy shtick, while energetic, gets old pretty fast. Mitchell, on the other hand, has a few keen points well worth listening to. Next is a short documentary on the history of Tai-Chi and the form’s birthplace in Chen Village, China. Finishing up the extras is an embarrassing preview for the VHS release of Twin Warriors pulled from the vaults of Dimension.