The Master (1989 film)
Poster ad for The Master home video
|Directed by||Tsui Hark|
|Produced by||Tsui Hark|
|Written by||Tsui Hark
Lam Kei To
Lau Tai Muk
|Music by||Tang Siu Lam|
|Cinematography||Chan Jun Git
|Editing by||Kam Ma
|Distributed by||Golden Harvest
|Running time||92 minutes|
The Master (traditional Chinese: 龍行天下) is a 1989 Hong Kong martial arts film written, produced and directed by Tsui Hark, and starring Jet Li, Yuen Wah and Jerry Trimble. The project was released in Hong Kong in 1989, but it was not released in the West until after the success of Once Upon a Time in China in 1992.
The story occurs in Los Angeles, where a fight between Master Tak (Yuen Wah) and Johnny (Jerry Trimble) destroys Tak's herbal medicine store. Johnny is prevented from killing Tak when Anna (Anne Rickets) comes to save him. During his recovery he stays in Anna's camper van.
Jet (Jet Li) arrives from Hong Kong on the airport bus. When he arrives at Tak's store to resume as Tak's Kung Fu student, he finds the store shuttered and three thieves steal his bag. He chases their car on foot through the streets and eventually catches them. The thieves are so impressed with Jet's physical skills they beg him to be their master. They take Jet to their home (an abandoned municipal building) but they're attacked by a larger gang. Jet reluctantly steps in to defend his new friends, but their home is set on fire.
Johnny and his gang are closing down kung fu schools and making a name for themselves. Jet meets May (Crystal Kwok), a bank worker responsible for the loan on Tak's store - but neither knows where Master Tak is. Jet finds himself in the middle of a robbery at a carpark. He finds himself fighting beside Johnny, but Johnny recognizes him from one of Tak's pictures and makes it clear he intends to kill both Jet and Tak. Anna and Jet's friends get beaten up, so Jet trains his friends to defend themselves. Jet is eventually re-united with Tak, but Tak claims he's no longer interested in either teaching Kung Fu or doing herbal medicine.
Jet and his friends go to Tak's store and prepares to deal with Johnny's gang. The three friends put their newfound skills into practice fighting four members of Johnny's gang. Jet and Johnny fight outside the store until the police step in.
Jet and Tak argue, and Jet decides to return to Hong Kong. On the airport bus he's attacked by the dreadlocked man armed with a shotgun who was at the carpark. Jet manages to defeat the man and regain control of the bus despite a shotgun blast killing the driver. May has been following the bus in her car, possibly intending to express romantic interest in Jet. In the meantime, Tak and the three friends make their way to a rooftop where Johnny and his gang are holding Anna hostage.
Jet and May go to Tak's store to find a note and a will. They quickly make their way to the rooftop where Tak has disabled 15 or 20 of Johnny's men but is beginning to tire. Jet fights Johnny while Tak and the friends defeat the rest of the gang and rescue Anna.
Jet boards the airport bus, once again intending to go to Hong Kong. He finds May on the bus, planning to go to Hong Kong with him for a holiday, but the three friends and Master Tak drive up beside the bus: Master Tak has stolen Jet's passport so he can't leave.
- Jet Li - Jet
- Yuen Wah - Chan Hou Tak / Uncle Tak
- Crystal Kwok - May
- Jerry Trimble - Johnny
- Rueben Gonzáles - Cito
- Guy Fadollone - Ruben
- Derek Annunciation - Mouse
- Michael Burke - Oscar
- Camille Carrigan - Jeannie
- Wayne Post - Jimmy
- George Cheung - Paul
- Pamela J. Anderson - coach
- Steven Ho - Johnny's student
- To Wai Wo - martial arts teacher
- Cheung Ching - Clerk of International Publication
- Billy Blanks - Black Thug (uncredited)
- Glen Chin - taxi driver
- Anne Rickets - Anna
- Corey Yuen
Miramax's North American version of The Master, which was distributed on home video and DVD, was dubbed in English, and the dubbing often strayed heavily from the original dialogue. Four minutes of cuts were made, including:
- The opening scene, in which Anna fights a gymnastics student.
- A scene of Anna being banned from gymnastics school.
- A scene of Jet walking through Los Angeles is cut slightly. Also, acoustic guitar music replaces the original, more somber score, changing the intentions of the scene significantly.
- A scene in which Jet, after the clinic is raided, finds Anna beaten up.
Upon initial release, The Master was not particularly successful. In his audio commentary for the Hong Kong Legends DVD release, Bey Logan gives possible explanations why, citing characters' ridiculous behaviour and contrived situations. He explains that the characters' motivations are unclear - there is no clear reason why Johnny and his gang repeatedly go to Uncle Tak's store to intimidate him, and close down other kung fu schools. Also, if the bus driver is shot by the dreadlocked man with a shotgun, why does the bus keep moving while the action is still going? Lastly, the Hong Kong film crew doesn't have the same luxury as the American film crew which lead to certain scenes that didn't work too well.
Despite the flawed plot, the film did give signs of what was to come from Jet Li's appearances in films with modern settings. Li's actions style in The Master was an early example of what was to come in his Hollywood Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave. 
The Master earned a weak HK $8,096,542 in Hong Kong.
- The Master, Audio commentary Bey Logan (DVD featurette) (DVD). Hong Kong Legends, UK. 1989 (film), 2001 (DVD).