This DVD The Master, with Jet Li, is wonderful. Admittedly it may initially disappoint, but this should only happen on first viewing. It is a movie that requires attention to detail (as all masterpieces do) and knowledge of other martial arts movies and legends. Nonetheless, after first viewing (during which time the proverbial penny should drop and deeper understanding commence), there are amazing viewing rewards! In fact, if you should ever want to show off your knowledge to others of the deeper purpose of martial arts and/or Jet Li, well, this is definitely THE movie to have!
First, though, to find the deeper story! So, to help the penny drop and to help find full appreciation of the consummate mastery of this Tsui Hark movie (especially its script), consider the possibility that the Master = Bruce Lee, the first internationally-recognized master of martial arts. On another level, to move closer to the story's higher purpose, consider the Master as the true spirit and/or reason for the practice of martial arts.
Second, consider the possibility that the movie is an extremely respectful criticism of the post-Bruce-Lee commercialism of martial arts (and the resultant use of martial arts in street violence).
Finally, consider the possibility that the martial arts people of the East saw a need to reinforce (via another master: Jet Li) the true spirit and/or reason of martial arts to the people of the West. This last point helps explain why the movie is set in modern-times and why it deliberately avoided the high-wire tricks; the movie is introducing to America the real martial arts mastery of Jet Li. In so doing, it is dealing with real social/cultural issues in a real way with a real and meaningful answer; for that answer watch the non-preaching and non-judgmental corrections to violence in this specific movie!
Now, to match the above viewing suggestions to the movie! The Master opens with the master as a doctor who is physically healing and attempting to mentally heal/warn/correct a macho streetfighter type. In fact, the movie actually links this doctor (via the Po Chi Lum herbal medicine shop) to Wong Fei-Hung. Wong Fei-Hung, you may recall, was the master from Once Upon A Time in China: an all-but-divine hero in Chinese martial arts history who was born in 1849 and who inherited a herbal medicine shop call Po Chi Lum, a shop where he also taught Kung Fu! The dimension and breadth of the movie should now start to tease sensibilities into a state of alertness! Jet Li, of course, had already starred as Wong Fei-Hung in earlier movies (and how!) but, because there is a higher purpose to this story than pure commerce-driven martial arts entertainment, Jet Li does not play the role he immortalized for cinema-goers. Instead, Jet Li plays one of this master's students! Why? Well, in brief, Jet Li is paying homage to the mastering spirits and legacy of martial arts. Why? Well, in brief, that's the lesson the West needs to re-learn; otherwise, the martial arts can be used for violence and destruction, not personal and community peace and safety.
At this point, consider the role that Jet Li plays in this movie: like his master, he is a healer (i.e. of the policemen's ulcers, which also suggests the authorities have not quite learned how to correct and stomach street violence! So, the movie has a social critique at work too! Truly, this story gathers to a giddying greatness the more it is meditated upon! It's great! Then, of course, Jet Li is a man of peace despite, and because of, his great martial arts skills. This is why he won't teach the Latino gang the martial arts (because they will use such skills violently for personal ends, not to help ensure personal and public peace; later in the story, Jet Li teaches them enough to protect themselves. This is a very fine edge of difference; but a critical difference! Jet Li is also a worldly innocent (as beautifully and humorously demonstrated by the one-sided romance).
Of course, all Jet Li's don't-call-me-master positive qualities are in sharp contrast to the call-me-master "bad" student's ego-driven mistakes (including the mistake of never having learned what the true purpose of martial arts actually is i.e. mastery over self and the resultant increasingly-perfected personal path to peace! So, as the bad student very capably shows, to challenge and/or kill a master = to lose directions to the true meaning of martial arts = to not be a master; regardless of physical prowess = to be killed by the self as a martial arts exponent). To become a true master (and, thus, find the invisible hands of non-terrestrial-power making you effortlessly invincible), this movie suggests, requires a full willingness to place martial arts in the service of humanity ....!
Actually, enough ... it is time to stop! It will take a book or two to explain this movie ... it is great! There are problems for viewers, certainly, because both before and after this specific movie, Jet Li starred in some of the most sublime action/martial arts movies in the history of world cinema; nevertheless, The Master is also an awesome achievement once the deeper story starts to become visible! Be patient with this movie, it will reward ... a masterpiece is patiently and respectfully waiting to speak to you! Be warned: when the glory of the story starts to gather momentum, your eyes will widen and smiles will arrive like a thousand chuckling sunrises! A masterpiece of reverence for life and community spirit has been scripted here and, as is clear from the fact that he doesn't play Wong Fei-Hung (the master), Jet Li clearly demonstrates his accord with the spiritual values offered by the infinitely disciplined, fully loving immortal heart of martial arts!