Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Jetruary #5: The Master (1992)

It's now time for my final review for this year's Jetruary. To conclude the theme of Jet's earlier career I'll be looking at a film he made before he was launched into super stardom with the Once Upon A Time In China series, The Master. Directed by Tsui Hark and filmed entirely on location in Los Angeles Jet stars in what is essentially a prototype movie for the afore mentioned film series.

Jet plays Jet. Hong Kong films of this era sometimes didn't go the trouble of giving their stars character names. A young martial artist arriving in LA to help with his master's  medicine shop only to find he's been the victim of a brutal assault at the hands of a violent gang of fighter led by the psychotically violent Johnny. Jet attempts to re-establish his master's livelihood while fending off attacks from the gang looking to end their lives.

As I said before this film could be viewed as a prototype to the Once Upon A Time In China series. First of all the Cantonese title is Wong Fei-Hung '92. Jet strikes the trademark Wong Sifu fighting stance throughout the film and the name of his master's clinic is called Po Chi Lum. Named after the clinic run by the Wong Fei-Hung. It's possible Tsui Hark was experimenting to see how Jet could play the role of the famous martial arts master and he must have been satisfied with the result because Jet would go on to depict Wong Sifu in 5 different movies. What makes this film different is the way the story plays out and how the characters interact with each other.

Jet displays a more quick-tempered and lively personality. More in tune with how he acted in Shaolin Temple and Swordsman II. He does display the very familiar mannerisms he would show in his later films and it's here that he truly establishes his on-screen persona. While he would play Wong Fei-Hung more seriously, His youthfulness and energy would show themselves in the delightfully mad Fong Sai-Yuk films. He gives a good performance here and really does come across as the righteous hero type audiences would come to know him as. 

Jet also gets to work with a fairly decent supporting cast. Yuen Wah plays his master, Uncle Tak and it's funny seeing him donning make-up to appear older then he was at the time. I had no problems with his acting as I always thought he did fairly well whenever he was given dramatic material to work with. Crystal Kwok, who also appeared in the rather thankless role of Jackie Chan's secretary in Dragons Forever, plays the love interest but much like Nina Li in Dragon Fight, Jet never really displays any romantic feelings toward her throughout the film. Given that this was filmed on location a number of non-Asian actors appear. Anne Rickets plays a young woman who helps Uncle Tak back to health. She appears in a number of scenes but oddly enough her character was never all that integral to the plot but she does well enough for someone on a film where the crew could barely speak English.

There's a few other actors but the only one really worth mentioning is Jerry Trimble. A former world kickboxing champion and Tae Kwon Do expert, Jerry got his start in the industry working on the film King of the Kickboxers. He made another film afterwards, Fist of Fire. Which starred a teenaged Jonathan Ke Quan. Here he really gets to break out and show what he can do in the numerous fight sequences he gets to partake in. Acting wise he just gets to pull angry faces and make threats but he does look magnificent when throwing a kick. Jerry is still very much involed in the industry. Most recently in the Hollywood adaptation of the television/radio series The Green Hornet.

Despite the film's story not being particularly memorable, a lot of martial arts action is thrown in to keep your interest through out. Choreographed by Yuen Wah and gentleman by the name of Brandy Yuen. Their style of screen fighting isn't particularly intricate or flashy. They seem to focus more on power moves, limb locks and takes downs. Practical is a word I would definitely use to describe the fighting. Which works as this is meant to be a realistic and grounded street movie as opposed to a hyped up almost comic style adventure film. Having said that. Jet and Jerry do get to show their full repertoire of moves. When you have two people like that working on a film like this it would be foolish not to. The opening fight between Yuen Wah and Jerry is very good. It establishes right off the bat the type of action we're going to see. Much like Trimble's contemporary Loren Avedon, he has a penchant for fancy kicks. That's natural given his chosen style of fighting but he is a joy to watch and it's amazing to see him really get to gripes of Hong Kong style fight choreography as many western practitioners seem to really struggle with the style.

Fortunately we don't get that with Jerry and when you see him and Jet face each other in the final reel they seem to click very well. Much like his earlier films Jet gets to do more realistic and ground based martial arts. This the style I prefer to see Jet perform as he just looks absolutely astounding. Stunt man/author/fight choreographer John Kreng, who worked on the film, recounted in an interview on the DVD that when he worked with Jet he would hit extremely hard and he was every bit as fast, if not faster then how he was depicted on screen. He also told a story how during production Jet broke his arm and was forced to film with a cast and during a fight scene John had to attack and recalls how the subsequent blocking technique coupled with the cast on Jet's arm felt like he was being hit the arm with a rock.

This was young Jet in his prime and like I said in the review for Born to Defend he's very rarely ever looked better then during this period in his career. Even in his later classics like Fist of Legend or Fearless, you always got the sense he was putting the brakes on and never really pushing to his full potential. Maybe this was the spare any of the stunt men he worked with any due pain or to avoid any further injuries upon his own person. For whatever the reason. This was the last time, in my view, we would ever get to see full on Jet Li.

That's an excellent way to describe his fighting in here. Full on. His final bout with Jerry is absolutely fantastic. They really hit it off, for want of a better a phrase, during this scene and you can see both men are really trying to best each other. With Jet's low and painful punching combinations and Jerry's stiff and painful looking kicks both their respective styles mesh complimented by Yuen Wah's more practical fight choreography. It's a great fight and should be viewed by anyone who has yet to see it.

So that is the end of Jetruary for this year. If I'm still doing the blog next February (Which is likely) then you can rest assured that Jetruary will return. Thank so much for everyone who has taken the time to read my reviews. I hope you enjoyed them all. Be back next week for what will be the start of the Mao March Marathon!

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