The Young Master (1980)

D: Jackie Chan
S: Jackie Chan, Wei Pei, Li Li-Li

Entertaining martial arts melodrama with strong comic elements featuring Jackie Chan as a disgraced student searching for his brother who has fled their kung-fu school having made a deal with a rival school to win a tournament. His adventures bring him into contact with a variety of colourful characters including the local chief of police and his family (which happens to consist of Yuen Biao and Li Li-Li), and a villain with whom he fights in the film's incredible twelve minute climax.

Chan directs with great energy, matching his on screen antics with rapid zooms and edits which emphasise physical action. On screen he is inventive and graceful, but also exhibits an appealing comic persona which Hong Kong's previous most successful martial artist, Bruce Lee, never had. The film is episodic, but the sheer variety of combat scenes in different locations does keep it moving. Chan also liberally peppers both action and non-action with comic asides, and on the whole it never becomes tiring.

Upon its original release in Hong Kong the film was a massive hit, and remains among the essential Chan movies. It is more logistically straightforward than his more contemporary adventure films, but it is still a joy to watch him in action in scenes such as his fan duel with a local bully and a running series of confrontations with Yuen Biao armed with a wooden stool. It is best appreciated in widescreen of course, with Chan's leaping, falling, kicking and punching ranging all over the frame (and beyond it in panned-and-scanned videocassettes), but fans of this particular cinema will have become used to badly dubbed full frame versions. Not a film for all tastes, but great fun if you're in the right frame of mind.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.