The Young Master
(Shi di chu ma) (1980)
Directed by Jackie Chan

Artistic Value: * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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Dragon (Jackie Chan) and his brother Tiger are orphans who live and train at a kung fu school, until it is revealed that Tiger accepted money from a competing school to throw a dragon dance competition in which the two were participating. Having been expelled for accepting the bribe, Tiger goes to the opposing school and becomes involved in a plot to free a prisoner being transported by the police, as a consequence of which the authorities begin a search for him. Meanwhile, Dragon appeals to his teacher to be lenient with Tiger. The man agrees and sends Dragon to fetch his brother. Dragon, however, is mistaken for Tiger and is hunted and captured by the police. Fortunately, the authorities soon learn that the escaped prisoner, Tiger, and a number of other men are planning to rob a bank, enabling Dragon first to convince his captors that he is not the man for whom they are searching and then to try to defeat the despicable villains who have caused him and his brother so much trouble.

While no one is going to accuse Jackie Chan of demanding overly subtle performances from his actors, of making his comic scenes too cerebral, or of failing to film nearly every emotionally charged event in a wildly exaggerated, overly dramatic style, he has still managed to create in The Young Master a genuinely fun, often funny, and frequently exciting film.

I have to admit, however, that there is relatively little I can say about the movie that I cannot say about most of Chan's other works. As an actor, Chan is as likeable as he always is and has such an appealing on screen presence that the viewer cannot help but find himself involved with the film's protagonist. The comic moments included in the movie at regular intervals rely either on slapstick or wildly artificial misunderstandings, but are often quite funny. The acting is, to be honest, usually pretty bad, but, because it is so bad, it can actually be entertaining to watch. The story may occasionally strike the viewer as arbitrary or poorly thought out, but not only is it far more coherent than are the narratives related in many of Chan's other films, it is actually engaging as well. Even if it were not, the numerous fight sequences incorporated in the movie infuse The Young Master with such a sense of excitement that it is never slow moving. These routines are, in fact, among the best I have seen in any of Chan's films. All are remarkably well choreographed and many are surprisingly inventive. What is more, it is unlikely that any person is going to watch the film for its deep insights into human relationships or emotions rather than for these action scenes.

Although I certainly will not claim that The Young Master is anything more than a fun diversion, it is a real delight to watch. It is, undoubtedly, one of Chan's better efforts.

Review by Keith Allen

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