Starring Jackie Chan's Peking Opera school master Yu Jim Yuen in his only film role alongside former world karate champion Bill Louie, The Old Master presents a collision of two approaches to the martial arts film, as exemplified by its two biggest stars, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

The early scenes, establishing the set up, are pure Lee, coming straight from the likes of The Big Boss. The head of a Los Angeles martial arts academy is in debt to the Mob and calls on his old friend from Hong Kong, Master Yu (Yu Jim Yuen) for help. Difference is that the old friend comes in person rather than sending a Lee-a-like protege.

After Yu has discovered the head of the school hasn't been entirely honest about his activities and disowned him - but not before taking on and beating all comers from the rival schools - the film turns into Chan's The Drunken Master, as Master Yu is helped by Bill, the only honourable pupil from the school.

The two men train together, while Bill develops a bizarre fighting style by mimicking the movements of a toy robot, an original, if not entirely convincing, variant on the drunken boxing of Chan's film. Add in some low-brow humour, throw in lashings of Saturday Night Fever and bring to the boil...

The Old Master is one of those films that's so bad, it's good. You can see the filmmakers logic: Chan's comedy kung fu looks like the next big thing and we can get the guy who trained him. But, just to be on the safe side, we'll also use some Lee stuff, in case the Chan approach doesn't work.

The problem is that the martial arts sequences aren't that amazing and the comedy falls flat. It doesn't help, in particular, that a running gag about Yu's inability to speak English is negated by the fact that all the dialogue is in the language.

You don't laugh with the film, you laugh at it.

There's really no other way to respond to a movie in which the light levels have a tendency to change midway through a scene or where the same piece of porn funk is played half a dozen times. At the disco we do escape it's strains, but only to hear a Cantonese disco version of Popeye the Sailor Man...

The Old Master is a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 type film, best watched with a group of friends while suitably inebriated.

Reviewed on: 30 Jan 2003
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The Old Master packshot
An LA martial arts expert crosses the mob and calls on an old friend for help.
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Director: Joseph Kuo

Writer: Joseph Kuo

Starring: Bill Louie, Yu Jim Yuen

Year: 1980

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Hong Kong


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