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The Young Master
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |    

"Next time you shouldn't aim for his crotch."

Jackie Chan and Shih Kien in The Young Master.

Chinese: 師弟出馬
Year: 1980
Director: Jackie Chan
Producer: Leonard Ho Koon-Cheung
Action: Jackie Chan,Fung Hak-On
Cast: Jackie Chan, Whang In-Sik, Yuen Biao, Shih Kien, Lily Li Li-Li, Wai Pak, Fan Mei-Sheng, Lee Hoi-Sang, Tai Bo, Paul Wong-Kwun, Tin Fung, Fung Hak-On
The Skinny: Jackie Chan's first film for Golden Harvest and one of his best from the pre-Police Story era.
 
Review by
Calvin
McMillin:

After a failed bid for Hollywood success, martial arts megastar Jackie Chan returned to Hong Kong for 1980's The Young Master, a film that marked the beginning of a long and successful relationship with Golden Harvest. After a great deal of backstage wrangling thanks to Golden Harvest head honcho Raymond Chow and Jimmy Wang Yu, the young Chan was finally released from all contractual obligations to director/producer Lo Wei, and consequently became free to do his movies the "Jackie Chan way." And while The Young Master certainly hearkens back to the old school charms of his previous work in terms of plot and setting, the film possesses more than enough of Chan's trademark slapstick humor and high-energy stunts to make it a noteworthy transitional film in the Jackie Chan filmography.

Chan falls back into the familiar role (in name, at least) of lovable scamp Lung, who along with his brother Lo (Wei Pak), lives in a martial arts school run by the venerable Master Tien (Tin Fung). Things are going just swell until Lo, Master Tien's star pupil, fakes an injury and secretly lion dances for the rival school. After Lo's treachery is revealed (along with a prostitute he bought with his ill-gotten gains), Master Tien banishes the elder brother from the school. Grief-stricken, Lung vows to track his brother down and get him to make amends, but as Lo ventures out alone, he falls in with the wrong crowd, participating in a jailbreak that frees uber-baddie Kam (Whang In-Sik).

Unfortunately, Lung finds himself mistaken for Lo, and consequently has to battle the local authorities during his quest. Also, in a series of comic interludes, Lung meets up with Marshal Sam Kung (Enter the Dragon's Shih Kien), his fleet-footed son (Yuen Biao), and his beautiful, but deadly daughter (Lily Li). Lung eventually convinces the famous lawman to allow him to bring in the evil convict to nullify his brother's crime. What ensues is undoubtedly one of the most brutal fights in the young Jackie Chan's career, quite unlike anything Chan had done before.

When viewed within the context of Jackie Chan's pre-Police Story work, The Young Master is a veritable masterpiece. With the possible exception of the two movies Chan made for Ng See-Yuen's Seasonal Films, The Young Master is perhaps one of Chan's liveliest, most creative films of that early era. Though the humor and stuntwork might seem quaint for those more familiar with his later works, I have to admit that after personally wading through such early duds like New Fist of Fury, this movie is a definite breath of fresh air.

As director, Chan deftly weaves kung fu and humor in a far more extensive way than prior works, as evidenced in such scenes as Chan's fan-battle with the corpulent Bull (Fan Mei-Sheng), the acrobatic bench duel with an equally-talented Yuen Biao, and his quick fight with Lily Li, in which she uses her billowing dress to disorient our hero. Add to that the numerous comic setups between Chan and Shih Kien, and the definite chemistry between Chan and all the major players, and you're left with a film that could—but doesn't—coast solely on charm.

But still, even at this early stage of his career, Chan was savvy enough to know when to jettison humor in order to up the dramatic ante. A example of this is the opening lion dance that comes across as a surprisingly tense and riveting sequence, despite the fact that it's been done and seen many times since. Those weaned on the gravity-defying lion dances of Once Upon a Time in China series may be bored by the real-world constraints enforced on the performers here. But to my mind, the focus on realism is a definite plus.

Also benefiting from the upped realism is one of the most memorable parts of the film, Chan's final fight with Whang In-Sik. This duel is a first for Chan in that it actually feels real thanks to the hard-edged, street-fighting vibe of the action choreography. Unlike the fight-filled endings of Chan's previous films, this particular sequence doesn't come across as looking like just another rehearsed routine. This film marks the first time in a long time that I genuinely thought Chan might actually lose—contrary to my natural instincts, of course! The fight scene goes on seemingly forever as Chan's character constantly gets his ass handed to him by his superior combatant, but at each loss, he bravely and comically continues to rise to the occasion. And as a kicker to this stunning action sequence, the film concludes with a shot that is a laugh out-loud funny observation on the perils of kung fu fighting.

But despite all these compliments, I wouldn't say that The Young Master is a definite crowd-pleaser. Some viewers will find the fights to be a tad overlong and the plot to be meandering at best, and both are suitable criticisms. But then again, martial arts aficionados will probably appreciate the fact that the fight scenes actually make sense within the story and naturally evolve as each action scene progresses. And really, all that comic meandering in the story makes for quality entertainment as Chan dispenses with the clichéd plot and instead decides to just have a little fun. Though Chan would follow up the success of this film with the similarly-themed Dragon Lord, I like to think of The Young Master as Jackie Chan's temporary swansong to the kung fu period film and a fitting prelude to his later forays into the realm of modern action. (Calvin McMillin 2003)

 
Notes:

• Broke all-time box office records at the time of its release.
A scene in which Jackie Chan has a pole duel with his brother was deleted from the final cut.
In the final fight with Ken Lo in Chan's last great period film, Drunken Master II, the Hong Kong superstar cribs more from The Young Master than the sequel's actual predecessor, most notably in the "mania" that Wong Fei-Hung (and Lung in this film) exhibits to ultimately win the day. In addition, The Young Master concludes with a hilarious reveal that is in the same spirit as Drunken Master II, but is far more appropriate.

Availability:

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Joy Sales
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras

*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

image courtesy of Universe Laser & Video Co., Ltd.

   
 
 
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