The Master

The Master


Director: Tsui Hark

Stars: Jet Li, Yuen Wah

A student (Li) heads to America to visit his master (Yuen). Jet finds out that a American master has been trying to prove his school's superiority by beating up various sifus. As you might guess, Jet eventually has to take on the nasty American master to defend his own master's honor.

The Master is a film with a case of "good news vs. bad news." I'll start with the bad. The movie's low budget is readily apparent throughout the film. Li had headed to LA to kick-start his career after a series of semi-successful period films in Hong Kong and eventually met up with Tsui. Neither had very much money available, so they scraped together what they could (along with some cash from Shuki-Levy Productions, the company behind those dreaded Power Rangers) to film this movie. The film itself just looks horrible -- dark and grainy with poor lighting. There are numerous sloppy technical errors as well, such as being able to see boom mikes and other equipment reflected in windows. The script is horrible. There's one part where the cops ask Li to help them track down the naughty American master. Why? Did Li showcase his martial arts skills and beat up a dozen guys? No. He helped the cops get rid of their gas. Most of the actors are almost laughably bad (I seriously think Tsui just pulled in some of these jokers off the street) and the "costume design" (or lack thereof) is awful -- one of the villains goes around sporting a Rick James "Superfreak"-era braided wig. The main villain -- the guy we're supposed to be scared of -- has the most ridiculous mullet hairdo I've seen outside of a hockey rink. Ouch.

Basically, The Master really doesn't look or feel like a Tsui Hark movie at all. It lacks both the visual splendor and strong storytelling which have been Tsui's trademarks. It should come as no surprise that this movie was actually filmed in 1990, and released two years later after the success of another Tsui/Li collaboration, Once Upon a Time in China.

But, as I noted before, there is some "good news" about The Master, mostly in the form of its two stars. It was nice seeing Yuen Wah as a good guy for once, and Li is quite good as the naïve "fish out of water." The fights are excellent, with no wire use (I suspect because they couldn't afford it). Jet injured his back during the filming of Once Upon a Time in China, so this is one of the best examples of how well he can fight unaided. I'm talking either with wires or doubles, since after the injury Li began to be doubled extensively by Hung Yan-Yan, who played "Clubfoot" in the OUATIC films. So this film is "all Jet, all the time." The finale, with Li and Yuen taking on the American master's school is great fun to watch and makes up for a lot of the crap that proceeded it.


Note: keep an eye out for Mr. Tae-Bo himself, Billy Blanks as a thug during the parking lot fight sequence.

(Thanks to Darryl Pestilence for supplying some info for this review)

A review of the DVD for this movie can be found here

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