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.
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.
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