Tai Chi 0 – A DVD Review

TAI CHI 0 – A SPECIAL DVD REVIEW FROM SALTY KERNEL, ANDREW BRUSENTSEV

Firstly let me say I love martial arts films. As a geeky teenager besides horror, manga and sci-fi – great Chinese martial arts flicks (especially Bruce Lee) were part of my staple diet. I was very keen to do this DVD review of Tai Chi Zero. How would I describe this experience to you the viewer?

 

Tai Chi Zero Movie Poster
Tai Chi Zero Movie Poster

 

I guess if you took a stereotypical martial arts movie and plot and then put it in a blender with a video game, a comic book and added a dose of the steam punk genre you would not be far off the mark with this one. It is like taking visual acid and turning a kung-fu flick well and truly on its head.

What you have for 98 minutes is a fast paced, very tongue in cheek, action movie with more fisty cuffs and bad dialogue than you can poke a stick at. This actually could be a martial arts “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”

Our hero Yang Lu Chan is a young man born with prodigy level talent for martial arts. Unfortunately this gift comes with a price, an unfortunate birth defect of a “horn” on top of his head.  He is spotted by a travelling kung fu master turned warlord, who harnesses him to fight in his army.  He does this by a quick hit to the horn which turns Yang into a killing machine. The catch is that this useage is also killing him and also leaves him unconscious.

After receiving advice from a doctor after one of these episodes he sets off for a remote mysterious village to learn “internal kung  fu” (tai chi) the only thing that can possibly save him.  Unfortunately this discipline isn’t taught to outsiders, and the villagers make that clear by subjecting our hero to fights at every turn. Not one to give up easily, the sweet natured Yang, who is referred to by everyone simply as the idiot, sets out to prove he’s worthy of the knowledge. He might even get a chance when a rail road industrialist (a former villager) backed by the government and evil Westerners sets his sights on running a railroad through the village. Backing him up is a monstrous tank / rail laying machine which is accompanied by a battalion of western soldiers. I won’t spoil the story too much but there is a bit of romance and revenge thrown in along the way.

 

Tai Chi 0
Tai Chi 0

 

Doing a bit of research I know this is the first part of a trilogy (Tai Chi Hero is the 2nd part and is out already as well). This would explain the incredible amount of plot threads that go absolutely nowhere but I guess may resolve themselves over the trilogy. The lead characters, while cartoony, are likeable enough even with the very silly dialogue that sometimes is delivered by them. Visually the film makes excellent use of comic-book framings both in transitions and in manga-style cut frames – for example when we first see the village it is presented to us as levels of a video game complete with obstacles and bosses that our hero will have to make his way through.

The action is probably too cartoony for the martial arts purist but combines novel uses of CGI with the obvious skill of the performers. There are some new things I have not seen before such as  x-ray shots of teeth being knocked out, a videogame “health meter” appearing over characters every once in a while. It’s not too overdone and this works really well with the tone of the movie.

 

Tai Chi 0
Tai Chi 0

 

For me what works in this film is the unusual and novel way Fung (director) overlays manga and video game elements into a traditional martial arts tale. The production values are very high and the fight scenes are interlaced with CGI but not to the detriment for kung fu traditionalists.

What doesn’t work for me is that it is really style over substance. The acting is quite terrible at times, the dialogue and the plot tend towards the ridiculous. Sometimes it seems there is just a smattering of something else before we are hurled into the next fight scene.

Overall I give it 6 out 10 (if you don’t like martial arts movies then probably a 4)

Cast: Yuan Xiaochao, Angelababy, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Eddie Peng, Qi Shu, Daniel Wu, Jade Xu.

Director: Stephen Fung.

Rating: PG-13, for violence and martial arts action throughout.

Runtime: 1 hour 38 minutes