When Judge David Johnson concentrates his Chi, he can throw fireballs. Well, okay, not fireballs. More like fireball-shaped Malomars.
Chi for two and two for Chi.
The Dragon Dynasty folks do it again: A top-shelf kung fu classic receives a top-shelf DVD treatment. Fans of Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, wire-assisted jump-kicking, and Asian action cinema are in for a treat.
Facts of the Case
Two best friends, Jun Bao (Jet Li, Unleashed) and Chin Bo (Chin Siu Ho) are talented martial artists, up and coming in the Shaolin temple. But their tomfoolery gets them expelled. Now fending for themselves in the real world, the friends embark on two radically different paths. Jun Bao befriends some rebels, fighting desperately against the oppressive governor and his army of cannon fodder. Chin Bo ends up serving that very same general, sworn to destroy the rebels and, ultimately, his one-time BFF.
Aiding in Jun Bao's quest for justice and social upheaval is a frisky, but oft-inebriated girl (Michelle Yeoh) who proves pivotal in his renaissance as the Tai Chi Master. Now with his new powers of making leaves swirl, Jun Bao will set out for his final confrontation with his former ally, now his sworn enemy.
Tai Chi Master (known also as, lamely, Twin Warriors) is a great slice of Asian cinema, crammed with huge and logistically stunning fight sequences and expertly directed by legendary director Yuen-Wo Ping. It's a must-see for fans of the genre.
But it's also schizophrenic. At one moment you're watching a hard-as-nails, gore-drenched beat-em-up and the next a slapstick comedy. Seriously, it's difficult to pin a genre on this thing. You've got scenes where Jet Li jumps on a horse backwards or dunks his friends' heads into a vat of water or where the comic relief sidekick plays dead while his rebel comrades are slaughtered and has his head stepped on repeatedly and then you've got dudes falling on wooden poles and getting impaled and mouthfuls of blood spit up and slashed throats and snapped bones and stabbings and hackings and choppings. Do you take the violence seriously? It's played straight, but in the context of the lighter moments, of which there are plenty, the brutality loses its edge.
If you set aside your confusion and gear up for the excellence in martial arts action that Tai Chi Master offers, you'll be wowed. This thing is literally non-stop, and each successive set piece is larger and more intricate than what preceded it. My favorites: the first showdown between Jun Bao and Chin Bo, while Michelle Yeoh's character is crucified (not the nails and hammer approach, but the softened "tied to the cross-beams"), leading to some frenetic wire work and an abundance of wooden planks getting kicked in the air; the second, and final, fight sequence between the two, an epic bout that combines wire work and grounded martial arts into a memorable closer—with a fantastic Final Bad Guy Death.
That's only a sampling of the kinetic chop-socky that awaits you. Truth is, all of this stuff is great, expertly set-up and executed with the level of eye-popping maneuverability that you expect from Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh and Chin Siu Ho (who also co-starred with Jet Li in Fist of Legend, another release that's getting the Dragon Dynasty treatment and which I couldn't be more excited for). While my kung fu taste tends more to the non-wire-enhanced fare, the skill of everyone associated with Tai Chi Mister can not be denied.
It's not a surprise that this reissue is a winner. The film looks terrific in its revitalized widescreen transfer and both the original Cantonese and dubbed English audio tracks accompany. I found the dubbed version to be significantly cornier. Extras are quality, starting with an awesome commentary track by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan, supplemented by an interview with Chin Siu Ho, a location featurette on Chen Village (the birth place of Tai Chi), and meditations on Yuen Wo-Ping, Jet Li, and Michelle Yeoh from Elvis Mitchell and Brett Ratner.
It's a crazy, kick-ass martial arts bonanza is granted a primo DVD release that's a required addition to a genre fan's library. Not guilty.
Not guilty, though—and this is awkward—your Chi is showing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
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