Yes, yes I know. What’s with all this kung fu all of a sudden? Well I’m on a martial arts kick and its my blog so I can write whatever I damn well please. This time I’ll be looking at the 2012 film Tai Chi Zero and its sequel Tai Chi Hero. The director, Stephen Fung, was interested in breathing new life into the martial arts genre and decided to do that by combining steam punk, comedy, and the video game stylings of Scott Pilgrim vs the World. The result is a really strong first film that succeeds in style, action, and laughs and a second film that’s ok but really nothing memorable.
First let’s look at Tai Chi Zero.
Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao) may not seem like anything special, but if you were to smack him in the horn that was growing out of his head, you would see exactly what he was capable of. When his master informs him that the only way he can live with his condition is to learn the art of the Chen style martial arts, Lu Chan goes to Chen Village to learn from Grandmaster Chen Chang Xing (Tony Leung), himself. The villagers, especially Chen’s daighter Yu Niang (Angelababy), reject Lu Chan’s wishes to learn from their grandmaster, but when a mechanical behemoth led controlled by Fang Zi Jing (Eddie Peng), begins uprooting the village to build a railroad, the villagers turn to Lu Chang to help with the defense against the steampunk monster.
So, Tai Chi Zero is downright ridiculous, and that’s why it’s such a success. Xiaochao, Angelababy, and Tony Leung were all completely enraptured with the roles they were given and pulled off the kung fu with ease. This is one of the most kinetic martial arts movies I’ve ever seen. Think Crank meets Scott Pilgrim meets martial arts. Text flies all around the screen, crazy CGI effects flash before your eyes, and clips that seen to be taken straight from a video game breaks everything up. This movie is an absolute blast. People have said that this film is style over substance, and that may be true since the story is only so-so, but everything else is amped up to 11 which makes Tai Chi Zero the definition of a wild ride.
The makers of this film said that their goal was to completely change the rules of the martial arts genre and create it anew for a modern audience, but that’s not really what I think Tai Chi Zero has done. Don’t try to make this movie something that it isn’t. What it is is a hyperkinetic martial arts film that whizbangs all over the screen hardly giving you time to take everything in. That being said, it’s original and a hell of a lot of fun.
But it was not meant to last…
Since this is planned to be a trilogy, it was inevitable that a sequel would be made, but hardly as soon as this one. Turns out that Tai Chi Hero was filmed back to back with its predecessor, but is nowhere near as entertaining.
Picking up right where the first film left off, Lu Chan and Yuniang are married, but far from in love and Fang Zi Jing has returned to his British employers saying he wants to not only complete the railroad, but get his revenge. Meanwhile, Chen Xing’s son, Zai Yang Chen (Feng Shaofeng), returns home claiming to be ready to start a new life in the village, but it turns out he has much more nefarious plans. As all of these forces begin putting their plans into action, Lu Chan, Yuniang, and Chen Xiang begin finding it increasingly difficult to protect their village.
Remember just a few paragraphs ago when I was describing how quick, kinetic, and fun Tai Chi Zero was? Yeah, well forget all about that for Tai Chi Hero. I can sort of compare my disappointment with this movie to the disappointment I have for Ong Bak 3. Where’d all the action go? It’s almost nowhere to be found save for a few scenes. Where’s all the comedy and style? Again, save for a few scenes, there hardly is any. I was actually enjoying this movie until about halfway through when the stakes are raised a bit higher, which is a weird reaction, but it actually just got more boring. To perfectly illustrate my point, there’s a scene where Lu Chan has to fight a bunch of people, but it all happens in a very brief montage (much like the first), but this time without any style of humor to make it memorable.
Tai Chi Hero isn’t a terrible movie, it just isn’t all that it should be compared to its predecessor. There are a few cool scenes, like when the Heaven’s Wings device gets thrown into the mix, offering more of the steampunk action from the first one, but that’s not enough to make the entire movie memorable. Only a few scenes are really worth any time, but for hardcore fans of the first, it’s a movie you should still check out.
So now we have to wait until God knows when for the third entry, Tai Chi Summit, which still doesn’t have a release date, nor has production even started. If it’s anything like the first film, I’m willing to wait. These movies have at least breathed some fresh air into the martial arts genre, but certainly not changed the rules completely.