The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Tai ji: Zhang San Feng aka Twin Warriors aka Tai Chi Master (1993)

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We continue our DTVC Wild Card look at Hong Kong cinema with Tai Chi Master, a film featuring Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh, and directed by the legendary fight choreographer Woo-ping Yuen. You may see it listed with the title Twin Warriors, but the Dragon Dynasty version, which is probably on most shelves and the version Netflix offers, has the title we're using here.

Tai Chi Master is about two Shaolin monks in training, Jet Li and Siu-hou Chin, who leave their school to strike out on their own. They wander into a nearby town, run by a tyrant of a governor. Jet Li decides his lot is with the rebels looking to oust the tyrant, while Siu-hou Chin leaves his friend and joins up with the army, using his Shaolin training to take what he can and gain as much wealth and power as possible. Eventually this brings them at odds, and Jet Li must figure out how he can defeat his childhood friend, a foe he knows is more powerful than him.

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Woo-ping and Jet Li. I really don't have to say anything else, do I? The only thing I didn't like was a part in the middle where Jet Li had gone crazy, which went on much longer than it should've. It just kept us from getting to the end that we knew was coming, and the slapstick that came from him losing his mind got old quick. But you're talking like fifteen minutes of an otherwise stellar film. Woo-ping's directing and fight choreography is amazing, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, and Siu-hou Chin are all excellent; just a killer film.

Jet Li's kind of that third in line as far as Hong Kong action stars goes, after Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. You could make a case for Chow Yun Fat, but I think he's a different ball game. What I love about Jet Li is how he seems rather diminutive, until he gets his stare on. That one stare, and you know, you're in trouble. I'm curious to see what he's like in The Expendables, or rather, how well he's used. What we know for sure is, if anyone knows how to use Jet Li, it's Woo-ping.

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Along with the DVD came two featurettes where Bret Ratner and film critic Elvis Mitchell discuss Woo-ping Yuen and the pairing of Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. Mitchell summed up the latter by referring to Yeoh as the "Ginger Rogers to [Li's] Fred Astaire." I don't know that there's a better way to put it. As I've always said, for action fans, our Steel Magnolias is Commando; and you could go one step further and say Hong Kong action is our musical. Kicking ass and taking names. Also, this is the second Yeoh film we've done here, the first being Silver Hawk, which was one of our first reviews ever, and also starred Michael Jai White.

Another thing Ratner and Mitchell got into was why Woo-ping hasn't made a film over here, and they brought up the same issues we did about John Woo not having made the masterpieces here that he did there. Producers, insurance, agents, SAG-- all issues Hong Kong directors don't have to worry about. These actors in Woo-ping's films really get put through the wringer, but they know going in what's expected of them, and they want to do it to make the kind of magic on screen that we've become accustomed to. There are some benefits to making movies in Hollywood, just like there are benefits to making films in Hong Kong or elsewhere. What we need to understand is that just because Hollywood is the biggest and brightest, doesn't mean it's the best.

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Finally, something about this image struck me. It looks like 1988-92 more than from a period piece. The background isn't automatically a tent from this close in, and her make-up and hair are much more After School Special than historical Chinese shopkeeper. Of course, what happens next in the film is not After School Special at all. Scott Baio wouldn't approve.

The Dragon Dynasty version of this is great, so it's worth checking out. I didn't get too into specific scenes and images, because if you haven't seen it, it's worth going in cold. The one thing you should do, though, as you watch it, is ask yourself "how did he shoot that without big budget special effects?"

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108281/

6 comments:

  1. One of my favorite Jet Li kung fu movies, indeed that finale is just awesome. It's one of those movies that makes you weep for how lame Hollywood is. That said I did enjoy Li's work in Kiss Of The Dragon and Cradle 2 The Grave and as cool as The Expendables will be, and the one on one fight with Dolph will never be as good as anything in this. Just keeping it real. Jet Li was off the chain...I am glad you got to this one.

    Some of the best fight sequences i've ever seen.

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  2. In total agreement. I'm glad I got to it too.

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  3. Personally I think Hollywood and Hong Kong films are both good in their own ways, I don't really like or prefer one over the other.

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  4. Well Hong Kong does a lot of crap but in terms of martial arts, with the exception of the 80s and early 90s, we haven't been in the same league as the Asian countries for kung fu. Indeed if not for Isaac Florentine, the U.S would have no real answer. Indeed we have Bridge Of Dragons, Shepherd Border Patrol, Undisputed 2-3 and Blood And Bone but other than that movies like Fearless, Who Am I, Ong Bak, Protector and Chocolate are clearly the superior to the hyper edited shaky cam thing.

    I would apply your argument to the 80s in comparison to say the Bloodsports, Kickboxers, American Ninjas and such when compared to Dragons Forever, Police Story, Once Upon A Time In China,Wheels On Meals, Magnificent Butcher and such. Different styles that are equally enjoyable in their own right.

    I am mainly depressed that Hollywood feels the need to put in people who don't know martial arts and manipulate it with camera angles to sell the point they can fight when they cannot.

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  5. The reason why Hollywood follows the Bourne pattern is they can cast people like Damon, Travolta, or Cage, and not have to worry about insurance, etc. if they get hurt. They want the name on the top of the marquee. I mean, if you pitched an action movie starring Matt Damon to Hollywood studios before the Bourne series, they wouldn't know what you were talking about. Now they want their own Bourne movies with their own major box office draws.

    You can't get away with that kind of left hand bullshit in Hong Kong. You can't sell them the kind of crap you can here, because they'll just watch our left hand bullshit instead. We forget that everyone is competing in their home markets against Hollywood, and if Hong Kong cinema wants to stay viable in Hong Kong, they need to offer something autentic and uniquely theirs to their people, and as a result, we get some awesome whit and say "man, I wish they made shit that good here in the States."

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  6. If you want more Michelle Yeoh, then I would HIGHLY recommend you check out Supercop 2(it's Hong Kong title is Proejct S) as it's easily her best film IMO

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