Release Date: May 28th, 1992 (theatrical) / September 28th, 2020 (blu-ray)
Run Time: 1 hour 32 minutes 54 seconds
Region Code: B (locked)
Picture: 1080p (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Sound: Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (remix), Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (original), English DTS 5.1 (remix), English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono (original)
Slipcover: Yes (limited)
Digital Copy: No
Starring: Jet Li, Yuen Wah, Crystal Kwok, and Jerry Trimble
Written by Kee-To Lam, Tai-Mok Lau
Rating: BBFC: 18 (contains strong violence)
Uncle Tak, owner of the Po Chi Lum herbal shop was on his way home when bad-boy ex-student Jonny shows up challenging him to a match. Jonny has defeated and killed every master there is and is now trying to prove he is the best to his street-gang disciples by killing his own master in unarmed combat. A fight begins (with the shop getting halfway demolished in the process) and Tak is badly beaten and wounded. Anna, a young college student on vacation shows up and rescues Tak and takes him to her home to get better. Enter Jet, Tak's disciple, who remained in China because he was afraid to come to America. Finally getting the courage, Jet comes to L.A. where he tries to understand American customs and ways of life and to reunite with his master. But he gets sidetracked when the Barrio Boyz (Rolando, Chui, and Fernando) take his bag after he gets off the bus and Jet chases after them (using gymnastic skills along the way). The Barrio Boyz are amazed by Jet's skill and ask him to be their teacher. Jet refuses and then he meets up with them again and helps them when a rival gang torches their home and bullies them. Jet decides to look after the Barrio Boyz and they in turn help him search for Uncle Tak. Things get even more hectic when he meets May Hong, a woman who Uncle Tak pays his rent money to at the bank so his shop can stay open. May is having problems of her own with her sleazy boss, Paul Lee and the fact that Jet is around the shop that she was supposed to foreclose on doesn't help matters either. May and Jet get off on the wrong foot twice when they meet each other, but they eventually learn to get along. When Tak and Jet are finally reunited, Jet teaches the Barrio Boyz some of his fighting techniques and together, the group prepares for battle when Jonny sets deadly sites not only on finishing Tak, but Jet as well. And pretty soon, Jet is forced to turn from student to teacher and the City of Angels will never be the same!
THE MASTER is a fish out of water story told so poorly that the excellent fight scenes can't save this thing.
The film begins promising enough. We see a girl get kicked out of her gymnastics school for tripping a classmate. We also see Yuen Wah as a herbalist as he is healing a man who got into a fight. So, we are set up with two people we are meant to believe are our heroes. We then meet the villain who has the most glorious of mullets. This golden boy was a student of Yuen's coming to challenge him. After a fairly brief but cool fight scene, the gymnastics girl comes to Yuen's rescue and both drive off with the villain and his goons giving chase. The gymnastics girl takes Yuen to her place so he can heal up.
This is a pretty decent set up to what could have been a decent film. We are both our protagonist and antagonistic and we know why they are at odds. The problem is the film introduces our real protagonist in the form of Jet Li. This wouldn't really be a problem but it throws the film off by adding more plot to a film that didn't really need it. Li has his stuff stolen the moment he gets off his bus and when he confronts the guys who had taken his stuff all of sudden want to become his students. Even more useless characters are added to this because of this.
The film grinds to almost a halt during the middle portion. Nothing of real consequence happens other than Jet Li becoming more and more annoying throughout and a few short fight scenes here and there. The film really picks up during the third act where Li is attacked on a bus by a Rick James impersonator that puts Dave Chappelle to shame. This scene brings life to a film that flatlining, but then the finale comes about and really tries to salvage the film.
The film’s finale takes place on the roof of an office building in L.A. Jet Li and the golden boy showdown, but not before Li puts the hurt on many a henchman. Li’s body double makes many appearances here and he does throughout the film, but the fights are nonetheless thrilling. The scene climaxes when Li and the golden boy jump out of the building as an explosion goes off. They end up hanging from hoses wrapped around the logo on the outside of the building. This climax is so big that you wonder why the rest of the film had to suffer. I mean, the filmmakers clearly wanted the film to go out in high style, but this climax isn’t really worth sitting through the slog of a film that precedes it. I think it would have been better to pepper the film with better fight scenes to keep the audience engaged, but that’s just me talking.
THE MASTER is not a good film at all. There are way too many characters with too many scenes for some and not enough scenes for others. The film opens strong but then settles into an almost 80’s sitcom feel before giving us a climax worthy of a far better film. Jet Li is pretty annoying here (I happen to like him, just not in the film) and I wished that the film had focused on Yuen Wah’s character. Skip this one.