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This is my review of The Tai Chi Master, a Chinese action film from 1997. Not to be confused with the Jet Li movie from 1993, this one stars Wu Jing and is a two-hour film that was condensed from a 25-episode television series. Yes, you heard that correctly. A 25-episode television series (with each episode lasting 45 minutes each) was cut and re-edited to fit into a mere 2 hours. Such an endeavor may seem impossible, but it's emphatically successful here. Definitely one of the best martial arts movies you'll ever see, but it does have a few drawbacks.
First of all, the production values are not the best. The visuals are a bit hazy and the sound design could have been better. Not a big deal, because I find that I get used to it fairly quickly. Second, editing is a bit choppy – which is probably a consequence of editing a television series down into movie form. Third, the storyline feels a bit rushed at times. This is set during the 1800s and is basically about a young man who learns Tai Chi and clashes with a number of people, one of which is a vindictive prince. The overall story and conflicts are good enough, but its the side stories that are weakened by this condensed version. However, one positive aspect that helps to mitigate the weaknesses in story is the likability of the protagonists. There's a bit of humor that's used well, and the actors have good chemistry with one another and it's fun watching them interact.
But that's not the best aspect of this movie. The real reason to watch this is for the martial arts. I kid you not, this is one of the most action-packed martial arts movies ever made. The first hour is peppered with entertaining fights, but the truly spectacular scenes are found during the second hour, which begins with a pagoda sequence (lasting a whopping 20 minutes) that represents exactly what Bruce Lee was going for when making Game of Death. If you remember, Bruce Lee wanted his character to fight a different opponent with a different fighting style on each level of the pagoda. Now, the Game of Death that was actually released in 1978 only has about 15 minutes of Bruce Lee footage because he passed away before he got a chance to finish it. Well, the pagoda sequence in The Tai Chi Master forces our protagonist fight against a Korean kickboxer, a Mongolian wrestler, a Miao pole fighter, a master of inner chi, a Japanese lady ninja, and a drunken monk. Let me put this into perspective. It's a treat when you see one fight in any action movie that showcases opponents with completely different fighting styles. This movie gives you 6 in a row! Utterly insane.
And that's not all. Like they say in those infomercials, "But wait, there's more!" After all of this, we a three-phase duel between two practitioners of Tai Chi. So this time, you get two guys who use a very similar style, and it's just awesome. One of these fights takes place amidst hundreds of hanging swords.
These fights are so intricately choreographed, it will blow your mind. There are so many martial arts moves here that I've never seen before in any other movie. I am not an expert on martial arts, but even I feel like I have a much greater knowledge of the style of Tai Chi after watching this movie – because you see so much of it, and it's captured so well.
This movie and Kill Zone (2005) made me an instant fan of Wu Jing. I love this guy and I try to watch every action movie he's in. He's had a very inconsistent film career, with inexplicable patches of inactivity and/or quality. It's nice to see him reach some financial success in recent years. Both Wolf Warrior and SPL 2: A Time for Consequences made a lot of money in 2015, so he's on a bit of a hot streak.
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