The movie starts with Junbao (Jet Li) and Tienbo (Chin Siu Ho), two children who begin to learn Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple. As they grow up they are constantly up to mischief, usually with Tienbo being behind it and Junbao being caught up in the action. By the time they become adults, both monks are extremely proficient in Kung Fu as they almost obsessively train with each other outside of normal training hours.
When Tienbo defends himself in an aggressive manner in a competitive fight, he takes things a little too far and a large fight begins. With both him and Junbao defending themselves against the other monks, they are eventually forced to leave the Shaolin temple and venture into the outside world.
From there the two’s differing priorities and ambitions take them in two completely different directions, and they meet many interesting people along the way (including Siu Lin, played by Michelle Yeoh)
Two men, two different directions.
Despite growing up in the exact same place, with the same experiences, this movie shows how slightly different goals and ambitions can take two people in totally opposite directions. Upon seeing the oppression of the regions General, Tienbo can’t help but wonder what such privilege and power must be like, whilst Junbao notices oppression and becomes very much against it.
Junbao decides to do his best to rebel, and fight against the controlling army, while Tienbo joins them. At first the two accept each others decision and seemingly work together toward the goal of overthrowing the oppressive power. But once discovered, Tienbo betrays Junbao, and hands them over to the general. They then fight their way out, and many of their group are killed.
Tienbo gets promoted and is eventually second in command, while Junbao fights hard for the cause until the two finally clash at the end of the film. This take on the direction of greed & morality heading down an evil path, while the other down a righteous path is very told exceptionally well, but the movie definitely has it’s flaws.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!
This movie has a strong story that’s simple and easy to follow. The themes in this movie are presented in a way that delivers the message perfectly. But in terms of entertainment, some parts made me cringe!
During the movie, after being betrayed by Tienbo, Junbao goes has some psychological issues. By saying that, I mean he goes ridiculously crazy! He talks to objects, thinks he’s a duck, and just does all sorts of ridiculous stuff which was meant to be comedic, but severely drags down the dignity of the movie and in my opinion, knocks it down a fair few notches. While some comedy in the movie is well done (ie, hiding in plain sight – dressed up during chase scenes, very suiting to the genre), this takes the momentum of the comedy and blows it out of proportion.
In saying that though, ignore this ‘crazy’ sequence and you’ve got a good movie!
The character development is awesome, you see a big change in both the main character’s and action isn’t too bad either!
The Action & Martial Arts
A mixture of fast paced Kung Fu with a bit of Wire Fu thrown in makes for a solid movie. Once again it has a few shortcomings (you can see the wires quite obviously), but it’s easy enough to ignore.
A lot of the fights are far fetched but this is chosen style of the movie and seems to work considering the tone & nature of the storytelling. In one scene Michelle Yeoh fights on stilts, and a lot of the battles overuse the environment they’re in to warrant any realism – but it becomes more of a performance than a realistic fight movie.
As a martial artist the ideas and concepts behind the fights and the fighting styles make for some really well thought out choreography. This movie takes certain mechanics of a fight and really make them more obvious, but is definitely something for the fans of ‘wire fu’ style fighting as opposed to people looking for realism.
Another very interesting aspect of the fight scenes is the clash of styles toward the end of the film. Junbao basically develops a Tai Chi style, which is soft and passive in nature. He uses the power of his opponents against them in a hard vs soft fight with Tienbo that he ends up winning (of course, hes the good guy!).
Would I recommend it?
Yes to Wire Fu fans, no to fans of realism. If you’re somewhere in between, why not – it’s not a bad film, just look away when Junbao goes crazy and you’ll be set
Find it on Blu-Ray
On DVD –
Region 1 (US & Canada)
Tai Chi Master on DVD
Region 2 (UK, Europe, etc)
Tai Chi Master on DVD
Region 4 (Australia, New Zealand, etc)
Tai Chi Master on DVD? No Sorry