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Original Title:
Shi di chu ma

Hong Kong 1980

Martial Arts, Comedy

Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan
Wei Pai
Shih Kien
Yuen Biao
Whang In-Sik
Lily Li
Tin Fung
Fan Mei Sheng
Tang Yan Tsan

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The Young Master

Story: Lung (Jackie Chan) and Lo (Wei Pai) have been taken in by their master Tien (Tin Fung) when being orphans and were taught kung fu. Like every year Lo, the most talented among the disciples, is supposed to participate in the lion dance contest. But he feigns an injury and secretly dances for the enemy's team. Lung takes his place and eventually finds out that Lo has betrayed his school for money. Even though he keeps the secret to himself, master Tien soon finds out about the betrayal, too, and banishes him. Thus, Lo looks for some shady work and frees the prisoner Kam (Whang In-Sik). Lung is wrongfully accused of the crime and hunted by the police. In the end, Marshal Kung (Shih Kien) and his son (Yuen Biao) manage to capture Lung. However, ultimately Lung's innocence is proven and he suggests that he captures Kam if his friend Lo is exempt from punishment. Lung is about to face the most difficult fight of his life.

Review: If you are looking for one of Jackie Chan's early gems you can't miss out "The Young Master". However, one thing needs to be pointed out right from the start: plotwise the movie doesn't offer anything more than the plot summary above. Which is also the strongest point of criticism. Furthermore, the film consists of at least 80 % fighting, or rather that's what it feels like. So those who aren't into this shouldn't read any further. Everyone else and especially kung fu fans will be blown away by the level of creativity concerning the fights and the charming characters. Since Chan is also sitting in the director's chair, he had a free hand in doing what he wanted. And you can tell from the movie that he had quite some fun doing so.

The lion dance duel, which in other movies rather makes me yawn, is pretty exciting to watch and innovative. Of course this is only the beginning and the real fights kick in only a little bit later. But when the first fight hits the screen there is almost no time to breathe afterwards. The little breathers we get are also very entertaing, though. Chan's and Shih Kien's chemistry (latter one should be a face not only Asian movie fans will be familiar with as he played the villain in "Enter the Dragon") is fantastic and is responsible for quite some laughters. Also, young Yuen Biao can make use of his very own charms in his small role.

But, let's finally get to the fights. What the filmmakers came up with here is really impressive. With the fight choreography in "The Young Master" you could fill three movies nowadays and yet any one of them would still be more original than 90 % of what we get to see these days. For example there is a wonderful fight between Chan and Yuen Biao during which both of them use a Chinese stool as a weapon. Moreover, Chan delivers an impressive fight with a fan. It's unfortunate that at that time there weren't outtakes to be seen during the credits yet because the fan surely must have been dropped countless times considering the complex movements Chan makes.

What's also fascinating is a fight with Lily Li who uses her skirt in a cleverly fashion to hide where her kicks are coming from. A technique Chan later on uses against two gangsters as well, of course. He also has a fight with Shih Kien, but here comedy is the name of the game. The different sets are as diverse as are the various weapons, enemies and fighting styles. But Chan's stunts are also adding a lot to the movie's diversity. Chan obviously could do what he wanted being the director and he enjoys it. Luckily, his fights not only consist of slapstick, after all we are talking about the young Jackie who also proves his extraordinary fighting skills.

At the end there is a 20-minute showdown against the escapist Kam. Obviously he is out of Lung's league, but Lung still takes him on, naturally. An unexpected miracle drug earns him the victory of course, but considering the film's nature this doesn't come as a surprise. However, what's in fact surprising is that the final confrontation is astonishingly rough and brutal. Only during the small breaks we get a few jokes, otherwise it's almost unbearable for the audience to watch Jackie Chan getting the beating of his life. Therefore, the diversity of the film becomes apparent once more. Martial arts fans will never feel bored despite the overlong fights, that's just how inventive and varied they are choreographed and the credits roll over the screen sooner than you would have hoped for. In this respect "The Young Master" surely has to be called a little gem of the genre.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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