The Master

There must be something in the water or the food or the air in the United States that makes Tsui Harkís mind go blank. Or perhaps it is just being away from his Chinese roots.  Double Team, Once Upon a Time in China and America and this film would constitute a pretty weak track record. Thatís a little odd because one might think that Tsui, who went to film school in Texas, would have fewer problems than most of the talent from HK in adapting to the US.

By watching this, one would never guess that it was a Tsui Hark film. It displays none of his visual flair or dramatic mythmaking that many of his films do. It has the look and plot of a typical B American martial arts straight to video film. It does though have a few redeeming factors that still make it worth a viewing.

For one, it comes at an interesting point in Jet Liís career. He had realized some success in the earlier Shaolin film trilogy, but had floundered since then and had actually moved to San Francisco in hopes of kick starting his career. Sort of Bruce Lee in reverse.  He met up with Tsui Hark and they produced this film on a miniscule budget. The film though produced in 1990 was actually not released until 1992 after the two of them had collaborated on the much more successful Once Upon a Time in China series.

The plot is simple and has been done in various forms a thousand times. Jet comes to San Francisco to visit his sifu (master) who has opened a school. The sifu is Yuen Wah and it is a pleasure to see him as a good guy for a change (Yuen Wah is reason number 2 to check out this film). A competing martial arts school run by this huge American thug has broken up the school and badly hurt Yuen Wah. Somehow Jet, who has much to his dismay picked up three Latino barrio worshippers, is unable to locate his sifu and hooks up with Crystal Kwok.  He finally does find him and of course they have to face off against the other school. There are a few decent mid-level fights until the final big one. This would be reason number three to see this film. This last fight is absolutely terrific and therapeutic. Jet Li and Yuen Wah team up to take on the entire school of the bad guy Ė probably some forty students. They mow through them like a reaper through a wheat field or make that a bone field as they break bones left and right. In the end it comes to a showdown between Jet and the villain and it is quite a bash.
Yuen Wah and Jet and the fanboys
The forth reason the see this film is Jet Li without wires. I love good wire work and Jet probably does it better than anyone, but it is quite a joy just to see how fast and agile he was and what he could do on his own. Some of it is quite amazing.

And the fifth and final reason to watch this film. Jet is actually very charming and funny here in that  innocent, boyish, unworldly way of his and he shows what a great smile he has on a number of occasions.

Its true
So if you can get through a brainless plot and some dreadful acting by all the gwielo actors (what, they canít even find good gwielo actors in the States?) and non-existent sets, this is still worth ninety minutes of any Jet Li fanís time.

My rating for this film: 6.0