I wasn't expecting a made-for-TV version of Tai Chi Master (condensed two-dvd version 2003, but aired on television at greater length circa 1997). So I was gravely disappointed.
Fans of Chinese television might think better of it, but it was packaged as a movie, & as a movie it fails. There was a plethora of directors, since it was sewn together from bits of different episodes, & therefore not of one piece.
Mismatched footage pared down from the original twenty-eight volume series is to great extent the cause of this two-dvd version's unevenness. It has been issued in a twenty-eight volume boxed set as Master of Tai Chi, but without subtitles.
Condensing a much longer television series into one long movie makes for a herky-jerky Reader's Digest sort of tale. And yet I can't imagine the unedited complete series would be anything but even more boring.
The story, about the youth of the founder of Yang Tai Chi, made not an iota of sense in this condensation, & I suppose in the full series it wouldn't've been so choppy with important story elements missing. It might be unfair to judge the whole by this butchered version, but it's the butchered version tossed on the market, & it needs to be said, it doesn't overcome its cheapness.
The costumes look freshly made from Christmas fabric bought cheap at WalMart, well ironed & never worn before the hour the video-camera was turned on. It looks to have been filmed on a cheap video tape recorder without proper lighting. The world the characters inhabit never ceases to look phony.
It's at least not as much a soap opera or sit com like so many television versions of wuxia stories. In this rendering it is at least is very fight-oriented. But it simply doesn't compare to even a half-hearted cinematic production.
Despite my disappointment, the first couple of scenes managed to pull me in, & I decided, what the hell, at least try to enjoy it. Four pilgrims clad in white commit a minor intrusion into the hunt of an imperial lord's retinue. Although they interrupted the flight of an imperial arrow in order to save the life of a child, Lord Wu doesn't care about justifications. He demands the four men be arrested, or killed if they resist.
They fight & flee & are pursued, then strive to appease Lord Wu, who has witnessed just enough of their kung fu to be impressed. The eldest of the four (Yu Hai) is challenged by the lord, & as soon as he figures out the old gent's going to win, the old pilgrim pretends to be injured, admits defeat, & praises Lord Wu for his superior skill. The lord having saved face accepts this pretense so that his men will not know how close he came to being overcome.
As stuff & nonsense proceeds, however, it's soon all too clear that my momentary interest was misplaced. Some of the "moves" of the best fighters among the four pilgrims couldn't look any sillier if the Teletubbies were doing them.
Each fight sequence is thinly framed with minimalist story bits, every cliche excuse imaginable for yet another fight scene. Some of the fights don't even have excuses, except in "the martial world" people just can't greet each other decently. With such focus on action, the film can't help but now & then have an impressive battle, but the mediocre videography, lack of interesting sets or locations, & hastiness of the cheap production means most of the fights just mark time.
The set of six consecutive battles our Tai Chi youth experiences working his way up the tiers of a pagoda, with a different master from a different nation on each level, is familiar from a well-famed though unfinished Bruce Lee film The Game of Death (1978).
The set-ups on each tier make every effort to be novel & extreme, with one level having a ninja girl from Japan, another a pole fighter from India, & so on, but not one of the battles is well enough photographed to merit the vast amount of time spent on this series of fights. It comes off as the video game version of The Game of Death.
There are dashes of a love story thrown in, featuring a maiden (Amy Fan) likewise of great Tai Chi skill, teaching the young disciple her father's secret methods even after her father rejects him as a student. And a good thing she did because when her dad gets taken hostage, only a newly trained kid is strong enough to save him (like I bought that excuse). Like all elements that separate fight choreography, their romance is not well enough developed or acted to hold much interest.
The one thing in favor of this videofilm is the beauty of Jacky Wu as the young Tai Chi master. When he smiles, he's very sweet, & makes a nice embodiment of Tai Chi as a kinder gentler way to cripple one's opponent for life.
Still, when he uses his pigtail as a murderous whip, it looks ridiculous, & three-fourths of the film is tomfoolery that could only appeal to children.
After-the-fact, I checked some on-line reviews of this thing, & find some viewers praising it for the fight choreography, which I found mediocre, though I do appreciate the minimal use of hokey wire work.
It looks like some on-line comments have confused the redacted television version for the authentic film version starring Jet Li, Tai Chi Master aka Twin Warriors (Tai ji zhang san feng, 1993), or the Jacky Wu film of similar content Tai Chi Boxer (Tai ji quan, 1996) sometimes retitled Tai Chi II in order to coattail the unrelated Jet Li & Michelle Yeoh film. Both were directed by Woo-ping Yuen who was only peripherally involved with the television show despite his primary credit.
Another disappointing bargain-bin cut-out item was the made-for-television New Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2004), another double-dvd. It's a meandering soap opera remake of Ang Lee's great film.
Tedious & jabbery, it's too long despite having been condensed from the much longer television mini-series. The martial arts interludes tend to be brief & mediocre.
The stars are pretty young things who take nice "stances" when about to fight, but aren't really trained for it, & have none of Chow Yun Fat's & Michelle Yeoh's charisma.
It's really only a sampler of the full television version but nothing of the samples makes me sorry the whole unedited series isn't offered with subtitles. Conceivably it was more interesting in its full length.
But even if the incidents were to prove richer at much greater length, the acting, soundtrack, & fight choreography wouldn't've been any better, so for me, this one's just an unworthy dog.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl