Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh in a wuxia film directed by Yuen Woo-Ping.
If you’re me, those words were all it took to get Tai Chi Master (1993) in your queue. If you aren’t me and those names don’t ring a bell, let me explain. Jet Li is a former Chinese national wushu champion and a no-kidding master of two styles of northern Chinese kung fu. He made his first film in 1982, at the age of 19, and has been working steadily ever since. His best film, Fearless (2006), combines first-rate action with a retelling of the Buddha’s journey in a manner both ambitious and profoundly successful. Michelle Yeoh’s background is in ballet and choreography, and she's applied her training to a string of successful martial arts and action films dating from 1984. While best known in the West for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, she’s best known to me for jumping a motorcycle onto the roof of a moving train in Police Story III (alternately titled Supercop), thus making her the only stuntperson in history to upstage Jackie Chan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTv7HXqqqXA
Yuen Woo-ping, the film’s director, has directed and/or choreographed some of the most memorable martial arts films ever made, including Drunkenmaster, the Kill Bill movies, and Kung Fu Hustle. Folks, this is the A Team.
And the A Team delivers. With Tai Chi Master, they create not just an action film, but a testament to the remarkable athletic feats we humans are capable of achieving. Yes, the film relies on wires and hidden trampolines and creative editing to make its characters appear superhuman, but those wires are attached to real people bouncing off real trampolines and making it all look, if not exactly natural, then credible. I marveled at these performers’ flexibility, speed, endurance, and grace. I loved how Yuen shot them, I enjoyed the complexity of their choreographed fights, and I lost track of time for the hour and a half it took for Tai Chi Master to tell its story of medieval China.
Jet Li. Michelle Yeoh. Yuen Woo-ping. They’re as good as human beings can be at what they do, and Tai Chi Master showcases them beautifully. Enjoy.