Following on the heels of Fong Sai Yuk and its sequel Fong Sai Yuk II, Tai Chi Master crafts a similarly structured period piece with our hero (played by Jet Li) working through plots of political treachery and fighting for the underdog with fiercely choreographed action married to comedy that at times lands firmly in slapstick. In that bonding of action and comedy, they honor a filmic tradition going back to Buster Keaton (minus the politics, of course) and avoid the dead spots that can drag these things down – never bogging down too much in plot mechanics (even when they get complicated) or sappy romance (silly romance is more how they play it). So, there’s certainly no reason to take them too seriously – they’re meant to be fun. And even though Jet Li’s character is in all three films aligned with a political underground against a domineering and violent ruling party, it doesn’t mean that it is necessarily an allegory exploring anxieties of Hong Kong residents of what will happen to Hong Kong when it goes under China’s control in 1997 in the wake of the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 – if so it’s certainly kept as subtext, never interfering with the pure kinetic energy of the films. And maybe they’re not political at all – the Fong Sai Yuk films are based on a legendary folk hero and Tai Chi Master’s good and bad guys are strictly drawn as good and evil from the get-go, there’s no nuance that suggests a deeper reading is necessary.
- Patrick Brown