The Young Master Review
The Young Master was Jackie Chan's triumphant return to the Golden Harvest studios after achieving stardom with Drunken Master and Snake In The Eagle's Shadow. Thanks to these successes, Golden Harvest gave Jackie the freedom not only to star in, but also to write and direct the film, so for the first time Jackie was in complete control of a project. Golden Harvest weren't entirely happy when he turned over a three-hour cut of the film, though, and so it was re-edited and shortened into separate versions for the Hong Kong and international markets. Hong Kong Legends have decided to provide us with the longer 102 minute Hong Kong cut, which features the action scenes in all of their unedited glory.
Jackie plays one of a pair of orphan brothers who were taken in by a martial arts master during their childhood and have lived in his martial arts school ever since. Jackie's on-screen brother, played by Shaw brothers star Wei Pei, is constantly getting into trouble that Jackie gets the blame for. Eventually Wei Pei's character is discovered to have betrayed the martial arts school and is expelled, but this only signals the beginning of even more trouble for him and Jackie.
Jackie Chan took advantage of the freedom granted by Golden Harvest to experiment both with styles of action and filming techniques. True experimentation will always produce as many failures as successes, and The Young Master is no exception to this rule. On the one hand, Jackie used some innovative editing techniques to produce one of the most memorable introductions to a Hong Kong villain ever. On the other hand, Jackie's use of the zoom lens is a little over-enthusiastic and in some cases inappropriate.
But a Jackie Chan movie is about action, not filmmaking techniques, so how do the action scenes measure up? Again, Jackie's commendable willingness to experiment has produced mixed results.
The film starts with a Lion dance competition and while this doesn't provide as dazzling a display of physical ability as some of the other action scenes, it certainly adds variety and aesthetic appeal.
Another winner is the famous scene where Jackie does battle with that least threatening of weapons, a white fan. This scene is testament not only to Jackie's skill but also his patience - one particular stunt where Jackie throws and then catches the fan required over three hundred takes to complete and saw Jackie entering the record books.
The following action scene is arguably the highlight of the film - the aforementioned sequence that introduces Wong In-sik as the main villain of the piece. In the Director's Workshop included on the disc, Jackie explains how he wanted to emphasise the power of Wong In-sik's Hapkido style, and he certainly succeeded.
Also successful is the introduction of non-martial arts based stunts, with Jackie's attempted escape from a dead-end alley being particularly memorable. As fans will know, this was just an early sign of greater things to come.
However, it's not all good news. Jackie's fight with a remarkably young-looking Yuen Biao is disappointing given the talents involved, but of course even below-average Jackie is still worth watching. The biggest disappointment is reserved for the final epic twenty-minute battle between Jackie and Wong In-sik. Wong In-sik steals the show here, with Jackie displaying little of the talents for which he is so renowned. In fact, for the majority of this fight Jackie appears to be nothing more than Wong In-sik's punching bag. Although Wong In-sik is undeniably impressive, the action could have been taken to a higher level if Jackie had utilised more of his own remarkable martial arts skills.
As well as this pair of disappointing action scenes, there are also minor inconsistencies in the plot, probably due to the drastic cutting the film underwent. However, nobody watches a Jackie Chan movie expecting a great plot, so this is relatively minor issue.
Despite its flaws, the good ultimately outweighs the bad and The Young Master is still a worthy addition to the Jackie Chan catalogue. If its weaknesses had been addressed, however, it could have been up there with Jackie's greatest.
The DVD is dual encoded for regions 2 and 4.
The Young Master is presented in an anamorphic transfer matching the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
The Hong Kong Legends restoration team have done their usual excellent job of removing any print flecks and scratches, as well as producing excellent colour levels.
However, there are some problems with the print that even their magic couldn't solve. At some points, the image on the original negative was slightly squashed on one side, leading to some geometric distortion. Black levels could be more accurately described as charcoal levels in some scenes, and low-level noise is present, most noticeably in the dark interior shots when Jackie is trying to conceal the prostitute visiting his brother. During the final fight, damage to the print has resulted in a black squiggle appearing at the bottom left of the frame for a few seconds. There is some slight horizontal shaking of the image during some scenes, but whether this is due to telecine wobble or a fault in the original camera mechanism is difficult to say. Finally, there is slight exposure flicker throughout much of the film, but it's entirely possible that most viewers wouldn't notice this.
The transfer isn't as bad as the above catalogue of flaws make it sound. In fact, there are no problems significant enough to detract from enjoyment of the film, and this is certainly the best that The Young Master is ever likely to look.
The original Cantonese soundtrack has been remixed by Hong Kong Legends into Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The rear speakers are mainly used for ambient sound effects such as fireworks preceding the Lion dance and bird song in some of the rural scenes. Although the effort to produce an interesting surround track is commendable, the rear effects are sometimes a little too distracting from the foreground action. As ever with Cantonese soundtracks from this era, the sound is a little thin with not much happening in the high and low frequency range, so don't expect to see any action from your subwoofer. The accompanying English subtitles appear to be flawless.
The English dub, also presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, had to be specially produced by Hong Kong Legends, as none existed for the longer Hong Kong cut of the film. Interestingly, though it features the same score as the Cantonese track, it here sounds a lot fuller and richer. Despite this, the dub is still only recommended for those who enjoy the additional amusement these things can supply if you're too drunk to read the subtitles.
Bey Logan, the grandmaster of the martial arts commentary, is on top form here. Bey has so much information to impart he barely pauses for breath. Starting out with cultural background on the Lion Dance that starts the film, Bey then goes on to talk about Jackie Chan's return to Golden Harvest, the different cuts of the film, the background of the supporting actors, and finally discusses Korean master Wong In-sik and the Hapkido style of martial arts. As ever, Bey Logan is as entertaining as he is informative, and we can only wish that all DVD commentaries were this good.
Master Wong In-sik himself is the subject of a half-hour interview in which he discusses how he became involved in martial arts and then the Hong Kong film industry, and the differences between working with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Wong In-sik explains that he focuses on the internal aspects of martial arts as much as the physical when he teaches at his Eagle martial arts school in Canada. As well as footage from his film appearances, the interview is interspersed with interesting footage of Wong In-sik training some of his martial arts students.
In a six-minute Director's Workshop, Jackie Chan explains the techniques he used to produce Wong In-sik's introductory sequence in the film. Jackie is his usual affable self and could easily have sustained interest for a much longer segment.
A three-minute deleted scene from the international cut of the film is also present. It's a shame this didn't make it into the film itself, as not only does it help to establish the close relationship between the two orphan brothers, it also allows Jackie to display his skills with the pole. Being from the international cut, the scene is only available with an English dub soundtrack.
As is standard practice with Hong Kong Legends releases, the disc also includes both the original Hong Kong theatrical trailer and the UK promotional trailer for The Young Master. Although neither of these could be accused of spoiling the plot, they do both show clips from most, if not all, of the major actions scenes, so those who would prefer to be surprised are advised to watch the main feature before viewing these.
Trailers are also included for Project A, Project A II, Police Story 2, Iron Fisted Monk, Dragon From Russia and Bichunmoo.
Hong Kong Legends have provided an excellent set of title-specific extras here, all of which are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
While not held in such high regard as Project A, Police Story or Drunken Master, The Young Master would still make many people's list of the best Jackie Chan films. It shows Jackie in the process of developing the style and persona for which his is known today, with his unique brand of physical comedy entering the mix with traditional-style Kung Fu. Hong Kong Legends have lavished this release with their usual high levels of care and attention, providing a restored transfer and quality extras that make this disc an essential purchase for Jackie Chan fans.