The last couple of years or so have been heaven for fans of classic Jackie Chan movies, with a slew released by Eureka! and 88 Films respectively. Now we have Jackie’s 1980 smash hit The Young Master in glorious HD and 2K. These formats mean seeing old low-budget martial arts movies in a completely new light, especially when it comes to what they were made for: the action.
In his second film as director, Chan plays Dragon, a young Chinese man who attends a martial arts school. After their rivals humiliate the school in a show-stopping Lion Dance, and Chan covers for his friend Tiger too many times, he is thrown out by the Master. The plot follows his comic adventures before he must face the ultimate showdown with a villainous super-kicker and criminal (Hwang In Shik).
It was around the period of Drunken Master to this film’s completion that Jackie was in his physical prime, and whatever you say about the man now, there’s no escaping the fact he created some of the greatest fight choreography in film history. Here his prop comedy was in its infancy, but alongside that we have some of the most intricate moves to ever have graced the screen. Incredibly fast and skilful, this is blink- and-you’ll-miss-it physical genius. From his ridiculous dexterity with a paper fan, twin swords, and at one point a massive skirt, to the gruelling brilliance of the final fight, this is the kind of movie martial arts fans point to when asked what all the fuss is about.
There’s a cohesion to the comic tone here that makes the film more accessible when compared with other kung fu comedies of the time. Add to that an incredible use of a classical music piece by Gustav Holst, and a worn-in, old-school magical atmosphere that entrances me to this day, and you have something very special. The lack of a good plot and the silliness of some of the comedy may be off-putting for some, but for aficionados that’s all part of the charm.
If you want to witness a golden age traditional martial arts film with arguably the greatest star of the genre, look no further than The Young Master.