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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Twin Warriors (1993)

(aka: The Tai Chi Master)



Reviews and Comments

I first saw Twin Warriors three years ago. My initial reaction was extremely negative. I cut it off with a star and a half and wrote:

"Weak martial arts stories can be made up for with jawdropping fight scenes and a campy, self-aware sense of humor. But while Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh are likeable enough, the fight scenes and stunts are beyond improbable and forging new territory into the impossible. When Jackie Chan rebounds off a wall to deliver two kicks to his opponents' heads, that's exciting, because we know he really did it. When Jet Li rebounds off a wall, flips upside down, and bounces around on his head to head-butt each of his opponents as they lie on the ground, that's stupid.

"Implausible action is a staple of Chinese martial arts films, and frequently we just have to accept that physical laws will be broken. But a good movie has to give where it takes. Twin Warriors doesn't. It takes itself seriously, and when we do not, it is stranded in a place we cannot follow."

I saw the film again more recently as part of a Jet Li kick (no pun intended) and have revised my rating upward. Nonetheless, my objections stand. Certainly Twin Warriors is not the most physically improbable martial arts film I've seen. I liked The Kung Fu Cult Master, which is unabashedly a superhero movie without the tights, and loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, whose physically impossible stunts are some of the most beautiful things ever put to film. Why, then, especially in the middle of a mostly enjoyable Jet Li marathon, do I continue to balk at Twin Warriors, which features people running along spears mid-flight, falling up, and so on? Probably because so much of Twin Warriors is compelling on a realistic level that the switch to superhero antics is jarring. More than one fight is convincing in a world where rules of gravity and inertia apply, only to be undone when a final move breaks all the rules that have been established. The film should have refrained from physically impossible stunts until after Jet Li's character learns the Tai Chi fighting style, which is when the superhero aspect of the movie finally makes some sense.

By revising my rating upward, I haven't so much excused these faults as come to terms with them. There is some good stuff amongst the bad in Twin Warriors. In my initial viewing, I was too distracted by the physical improbability. I would expect viewers unused to Hong Kong's martial arts films to have a similar reaction, but fans of the genre are used to it. In any case, I enjoyed maybe half of the fight scenes and the sequence where Jet Li learns Tai Chi. The story is still unconvincing, and the end is still too gruesome in tone, but what I liked was marginally worth weathering the rest for.