1980, 106 minutes, 35mm in Cantonese with English subtitles
Directed by: Jackie Chan
Starring: Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao, Ting Feng, Shih Kien, Hwang In-Shik, Mars
Sunday, June 23 @ 2:45pm (buy tickets)
Wednesday, June 26 @ 2:15pm (buy tickets)
If Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow was the start of Jackie Chan’s career as a star, YOUNG MASTER is the start of his career as a director. Breaking his contract with Lo Wei, this was his first film for his future home, Golden Harvest, and they made him two promises: he would always have total control over his movies, and his schedule and budget could be as big as he wanted. After his string of kung fu comedies for Seasonal (Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, and Fearless Hyena for Lo Wei) he wanted to try a more traditional kung fu movie. The result is a film that purists recognize as one of the best attempts to put martial arts onscreen.
Jackie plays Ah Lung, a student at your standard issue martial arts school. When his sworn brother, Jing Keung (Wei Pei) throws a lion dance to let a rival school win, his master finds out and Jing storms away from the school rather than face punishment. Jackie begs to be allowed to go find his brother and bring him back into the fold and he reluctantly receives permission. But Jing has fallen in with a bunch of truly evil bad guys while he’s been away, and when Jackie gets framed in a case of mistaken identity he winds up having to take them all on.
Unfettered by budgets, Jackie was free to shoot up to 500 takes to get a simple shot of a fan being flipped up into the air and caught perfectly. He was also able to work with people like his opera school brother, Yuen Biao, who takes him on in a breathtaking scene with a bench. The action flows fast and furious, but the highlight of the movie is his climactic duel with Hwang In-Shik, the Korean master of hapkido. A grueling 18-minute scene, all shot from wide angles and in long takes so there’s no room for faking, this sequence took three months to film and is one of the most amazing fights ever put on film. Hwang is a physical genius and he uses painful-looking wrist locks to flip Chan all over the ground like a boneless puppet, before switching to his feet and dealing out some lightning kicks that look like they could take down an oak. But Chan shows us how a fighter thinks on his feet, using his brains to learn Hwang’s weaknesses then taking him down by absorbing more punishment than one would think is humanly possible.
While Jackie was shooting YOUNG MASTER, Lo Wei enlisted Hong Kong’s triads to force Jackie to leave Golden Harvest and come back to finish his contract. During the end of production, Jackie was being stalked by thugs, forced into sit-down, late-night meetings with Lo Wei, and he was eventually intimidated into shooting a second movie at the same time while under the watchful eyes of triad leg-breakers. But none of that strain shows in the final product. This movie was a massive hit when it was released, and Chan cites it as containing some of his favorite action. He should be proud. As the first movie that started his long and lucrative career at Golden Harvest, it’s a bravura farewell to the traditional kung fu movie, leaving it behind him in pieces, some of them still smoking.