Written by Puño Estupendo
Even if you're not a fan of martial arts movies, you've probably seen the work of Yuen Woo-Ping at some point or another. As an action choreographer/director, he's contributed to all of your favorite scenes from films like Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2 and the entire Matrix Trilogy. As a director in his own right, he has close to thirty films under his belt, including Iron Monkey 2 (which I'm a big fan of) starring the always impressive Donnie Yen.
Tai Chi Master is a less impressive film of his from 1993, but it has quite an impressive cast nonetheless, including stars Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. Though audiences are now fairly familiar with Jet Li through his more than forgettable American flicks like Cradle 2 The Grave or Romeo Must Die, this is Jet Li in his more natural setting, a movie from Hong Kong.
Even with the story being really predictable and very formulaic, it still hits all of the beats to make it just as fun as any other "kung-fu" movie from pre-CGI days. It's a little cleaner looking but it has the same feel and angles of classic martial arts films from the '70s and '80s, giving you all of the pitfalls of an unoriginal plot, but all of the fun in crazy camera angles and awesomely choreographed fight scenes.
Beginning in a Shaolin temple, two boys begin their training under the guidance of a father figure/Shaolin monk. One is hot-headed, impulsive and ambitious, while the other has the completely opposite temperament. Best friends that are loyal to each other, both are expelled from the temple when Chin Bo (played by Chin Siu Ho) takes competition a bit too far and Jet Li's character Jun Bo sticks by him through thick and thin one too many times. Cast away from their home and out into the real world, they manage to come to a town that has all of the ingredients for the average kung-fu movie. There's a tyrannical governor taxing the townsfolk and a small rebel force that wants to help the people by overthrowing him. Several fights later, Chin Bo decides he wants to be somebody and becomes the governor's chief lieutenant while Jun Bo strays not from his heavenly path, thus setting up a series of fighting and training scenes that lead to their final showdown at the end.
Like I said, it's very formulaic and not a bunch of surprises are hiding in its plot. Michelle Yeoh is her awesome, beautiful and bad-assed self, playing Jun Bo's new partner in rebellion Siu Lin and (as always) doesn't let the viewer down. She's so graceful and quick; she and Li compliment each other really well here.
Most of Tai Chi Master is very run of the mill, but the final confrontation at the end is actually a pretty nice segment. That's not to say the rest of the action is lame (it's not), but they escalate through the course of the movie and it naturally makes the biggest splash at the end. The 96-minute running time actually felt a little longer, but I felt better about it once the final scenes unfolded.
Four featurettes are included on this single disc, along with a commentary by Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan. I didn't really think that the movie was so good that it deserved a commentary track, but what's even more useless is the fact that two of the featurettes are hack director Brett Ratner giving his take on the director and the stars. That feels a bit hard up to me, what with most of the geek community and fringe fans hating that guy's guts. Note to The Weinstein Company and Genius Products: If it's not a film directed by Ratner, then for Christ's sake, don't put him on your disc!
All in all, watching Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh in this is still pretty entertaining, despite some unoriginality in other areas.