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Film / Tai Chi Master

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Tai Chi Master (also known as Twin Warriors) is a 1993 martial arts films starring Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh. It tells the story of two childhood friends, the nice if somewhat slow Junbao (Li) and the more hot-tempered Tienbo, who grew up in a Shaolin Temple. They would often get in trouble either because of Tienbo's temper or for being bullied by other students. Only one Master in particular liked them, though he pretended not to.

Eventually, as adults, both are thrown out of the temple after Tienbo nearly kills another student who cheated during a fight.(This despite proving themselves incredibly formidable against an army of monks.) Their old teacher gives them as a parting gift a kind of wooden scroll that they are not supposed to read until they find themselves at a crossroad in their lives.

The two of them try to earn a living at a small town but end up involving themselves in other people's problems; first they help a female warrior called Miss Li when she tries to protect a man being harassed with unfair taxes by the army. Later they save another woman, Siu Lin (Yeoh) when she comes looking for her missing husband and finds him married to the governor's niece. Hilarity (and lots of fights) ensue.

Tienbo, fascinated by the power of the army, joins it, but Junbao refuses, so they finally go their separate ways. Tienbo soon rises up the ranks, while Junbao works at a pub and becomes close to Siu. It turns out however that the pub is the headquarters of the rebellion against the corrupt government, so the two friends are now on opposite sides.

Tai Chi Master provides examples of the following tropes:

  • A Lighter Shade of Black: The Eunuch Governor Liu-jin, just barely. He's still an evil and deplorable Jerkass villain, but his soldiers don't hate him like they do Tienbo. He also counts as a bit of a subversion of the trope because even though he isn't as psychotic or as unstable as Tienbo, he's still enough of a despicable Hate Sink character that when Junbao and Siu Lin hold him hostage and when Tienbo kills him for good, it's still a legitimate Pay Evil unto Evil moment.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Tienbo started off wanting to become number one at the Shaolin Temple. After getting expelled, he wants to make a lot of money and buy a house. His ambitions keep growing from there which leads him to betray the rebels, his former best friend and his superiors.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: After betraying the rebels, Tienbo demands Junbao join him, promising great career opportunities in the military. He doesn't take it so Tienbo decides to kill him.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Junbao and Tienbo fighting off the entire monastery after Tienbo's expulsion.
  • Bad Boss: Tienbo after his Face–Heel Turn. He applies Training from Hell which actually kills his soldiers and uses them as human missiles against Junbao in their final battle. They eventually desert him.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: During their childhood, Junbao mentions that Tienbo burned a rat but didn't get caught.
  • Bare-Fisted Monk: Junbao and Tienbo, literally! Sometimes they'll use (often improvised) weapons, but they mostly stick to just their fists.
  • Book Ends: Jun Bao begins and ends his story at the Shaolin Temple. He leaves a naive junior monk, returns as a master to teach Tai Chi.
  • Butt-Monkey: The rebel Taoist fortuneteller/doctor
  • Chaste Hero: Junbao during the first half of the movie was actually scared of touching Siu Lin. He was raised to be a monk, so this is understandable.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The scroll that Junbao's master gives him, from which Junbao discovers the foundation of Tai Chi.
  • Combat Medic: The rebels have one, who pretends to be a kooky fortuneteller.
  • Crapsack World: The government is corrupt, the peasants will kill you if you beg for money... even in the temple there were bullies.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Junbao's fights after developing Tai Chi become this.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Between Siu Lin and the governor's niece
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Junbao accidentally spills his rice when seeing Siu Lin for the first time.
  • The Dog Bites Back: The army turns its back on Tienbo when he tries to take over, slightly because his promotion wasn't exactly legal but mostly because they were sick of his treatment.
  • Dragon Ascendant: Tienbo goes from a soldier to overshadowing the man who gave him his chance, and eventually becomes the Big Bad.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: Tienbo cannot understand why he being expelled from the monastery for nearly killing a fellow monk when everybody saw the latter cheat. The fact that he cannot comprehend that he was supposed to show restraint in the face of foul play is completely lost on him and only foreshadows the majority of his actions for the remainder of the story
  • Enemy Mine: The army abandons Tienbo to his fate, and after he's dead, they let Junbao and Siu Lin go without another fight.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: The Eunuch Governor Liu-Jin. He even brags he doesn't need a woman to be successful.
  • Evil Debt Collector: The government raises taxes at the drop of a hat. After Junbao and Tienbo start making money as human punching bags, the government official He-kun extorts their earnings by charging a bevy of arbitrary taxes, then invites them to join the army which Tienbo accepts.
  • Foreshadowing: One of the Taoist rebels plays with a ball using Tai chi-esque moves and philosophies.
  • Henpecked Husband: The man married to the governor's niece turns out to be Siu Lin's missing ex-husband. Neither of them treat him with respect, especially after learning he abandoned Siu Lin.
  • Heroic BSoD: Junbao has a BIG one lasting several days after Tienbo's Face–Heel Turn. He refuses to eat while alternating between depression and acting childish.
  • Hypocrite: Liu-Jin makes his first appearance by having his soldiers kill people in his way while "paying his respects to Buddha". Not taking life is the first of the Five Precepts of Buddhism.
  • Indirect Kiss: Tienbo looks on enviously at Miss Li giving Junbao some bean-curd with her chopsticks. He perks up immediately when she hands him roast pigeon with those same chopsticks.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Tienbo. Until after his Face–Heel Turn.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: After Tienbo betrays the rebels into a trap and becomes the lieutenant, he quickly becomes Drunk with Power, to the point Junbao no longer recognizes his Evil Former Friend.
  • Klingon Promotion: Tienbo after killing Liu-jin assumes this, however it doesn't really take since The Dog Bites Back.
  • Love Interest: The two women seem to be this for our protagonists. However only Siu actually is; Li gets killed after refusing to be Tienbo's concubine. They're not specifically shown to have gotten together, though.
  • Made of Iron: Junbao and Tienbo. They initially use this to sell their services as human punching bags. A group of hired guards beat them up at one point. Their reaction? Pick the coins on the ground.
    "Earning money is so easy!"
  • Martial Pacifist: Junbao, especially after his powerup. He easily disarms and dispatches groups of soldiers without killing them.
  • Meaningful Echo: "The past is part of your experience. It shouldn't be your burden!" said by Junbao to Siu Lin to stop her binge drinking. Later she repeats it to him after his Heroic BSoD.
  • Meaningful Name: Junbao is renamed Zhang Sanfeng by the doctor who tries to treat his madness. Sanfeng was explained in-movie as meaning "3-times crazy". Junbao later interprets the Feng part to be prosperity.
  • Mood Whiplash: The movie feels like a comedy for the first half; afterwards... not so much. On a smaller scale, Junbao's Heroic BSoD alternates between him seeming broken and empty and slapstick.
    • Which is interspersed with scenes of Tienbo abusing his troops.
  • Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond: Junbao and Tienbo were somewhat more talented than the other junior monks training at the Shaolin Temple. Outside of the temple, they're practically the strongest fighters around.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Tienbo when he kills Liu-jin. Up to that point, the guy had spent most of the film being a Smug Snake with plenty of his own Kick the Dog moments so it's hard to sympathize with him.
  • The Pollyanna: Junbao, but even he has a breaking point (specifically his best friend's Face–Heel Turn).
  • Pragmatic Villainy:
    • He-kun, Tienbo's former commanding officer scolds him for abusing his troops and warns that they'll turn against him.
    • At one point in the movie, Liu-jin chastises Tienbo for still being attached to women and Tienbo in return kills Miss Li. Liu-jin says that he never actually told Tienbo that he had to kill Miss Li, implying that he didn't really care if Tienbo kept her as a love slave but simply meant for him to realize he shouldn't let a woman get in the way of his ambitions.
  • Sweet Tooth: Junbao's fondness for sweet-bean buns. Pity he never seems to get any.
  • A Thicket of Spears: Tienbo's personal army are armed with spears, which they use to form an advancing spiked wall when forcing Junbo, Miss Li, and the rest of the resistance into a retreat. The final battle between Tienbo and Junbo sees them fighting amidst a row of soldiers with spears held upright, with Tienbo at one point stealing a dozen spears and trying to skewer Junbo with it; the battle ends with Junbo instead flipping his opponent so Tienbo lands back-first into his soldiers' spears.
  • Training Montage: Several times. Notably Tienbo's Training from Hell for his troops plays this wildly differently than most martial arts movies.
  • World of Badass: After leaving the monastery, the first thing that happens to the duo is they encounter a street mugging thwarted by an Action Girl, then take refuge in a restaurant where a fight breaks out between a street musician and the governor's niece. That night they accidentally find out that the restaurant is a rebel base camp.