Tai Chi Boxer isn’t trying to be a game-changer but it hardly puts a foot wrong

Much better known as Tai Chi Boxer (Other name: THAI CUC THAN QUYEN), this Hong Kong martial arts effort is quite historically significant. It was the last film directed by Yuen Woo-ping for 14 years, the debut of Wu Jing, the Hong Kong breakthrough for Darren Shahlavi, and one of the last films for Sibelle Hu before her retirement.

The story is relatively generic but does include some interesting elements – set in Hangzhou during the late 19th century. It involves the opium trade and the female lead (Christy Chung) is part. That of a group of activists who have been educate abroad and advocate democracy and western science. The overall feel is quite similar to films like the Once Upon a Time in China series. But must have felt quite relevant just a year before the handover.

Wu Jing and Chung are engaging leads, and even if not all of the romantic and comic scenes work there’s always Yuen’s dependable fight choreography. The climax is particularly ambitious, set within a familiar warehouse locale. But featuring some great wire work as well as more ground fighting. Yuen would not direct again until True Legend in 2010, and surprisingly it took Wu almost as long to become the major star he is today.

Wu Jing plays Jacky, a guy who desperately wants to learn kung fu, only his father, a retire Tai Chi master, refuses to teach him. Wu Jing learns kung fu anyway and sneaks away from home only to fall in love. That with the first woman he see’s, angers her fiancé, saves two children from a sacrificial ceremony and exposes an Opium smuggling ring. All in the space of one day!

Suddenly he has to balance the responsibility of becoming a local hero.

While keeping his kung fu talents under wraps from his suspicious father…… naturally, this doesn’t work out for him.

Story-wise, Tai Chi II (or Tai Chi Boxer, as my copy is call) isn’t anything we haven’t seen in Legend of Drunken Master or Once Upon a Time in China. But the movie rolls along at a lightning pace, it’s well act and it’s funny as hell.

The choreography is a little heavy on the wire-work but it’s still impressive to look at and full of energy. The character are all fully realise, apart from the main villain (Darren Shahlavi). Who plays a pretty one-dimensional British bastard (or Foreign Devil, as he’s awkwardly refer to here)

The best part of the story for me though was the romantic comedy subplot. The main romantic interest, Rose (play by Christy Chung) has a western education which baffles Jacky. That for half of the movie he mispronounces Rose’s name, continually calling her Rat. It’s amazing.

Tai Chi Boxer isn’t trying to be a game-changer but it hardly puts a foot wrong. The jokes all land, the choreography is amazing, the acting is solid all round, the villain is convincingly ‘Boo-Hiss’, the soundtrack is great. If the story was more original this would be a five star movie, hands down.

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