Two childhood friends are expelled from their Shaolin monastery and find themselves on opposite sides of a conflict between freedom fighting rebels and the tyrant who is pursuing them.
With Woo-ping Yuen in the director’s chair and Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh as its stars, you’d expect a feast of martial arts mayhem from Tai Chi Master. You’d be damn right. Some of the frenetic action sequences are truly eye boggling – the amazing staff fights in particular, which were revisited by Yuen when he served as action director for The Matrix Trilogy – and the supporting cast including Siu-hou Chin and Fennie Yuen more than hold their own with the stars. There is also some nice Jackie Chan style humour in the opening scenes that has some genuine warmth and it thankfully avoids the kind of overwrought melodrama and sentimentality that can mar this type of film. It’s a shame that the story loses its way during the forced slapstick and silliness of Li’s mental breakdown towards the end as it stalls the pacing quite badly, but it soon gets back on track for a suitably spectacular final showdown.
Maybe not a world changer and Tai Chi Master lacks the artistry of the likes of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but it’s certainly worth the time for the astonishing combat scenes alone.