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Tai Chi Hero - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Taiji yingxiong jueqi

China 2012

Action, Comedy, Fantasy

Stephen Fung

Yuan Xiaochao
Tony Leung Ka-Fai
Eddie Peng Yu-Yan
Feng Shaofeng
Stanley Fung
Nikkie Shie
Yuen Biao
Daniel Wu
Xiong Xin-Xin
Peter Stormare

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Tai Chi Hero

Story: Yang Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao) marries Yu-nia (Angelababy), the daughter of master Chen (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), in order to carry the family name and be allowed to learn Chen's martial art. The reason why no outsider is allowed to learn the Chen-style goes back to a Buddhist monk (Daniel Wu) who after the gruesome deeds of one of the martial art school's disciples predicts that the village in which the Chen school is located is going to be overtaken by great desaster if anyone not bearing the family name is ever going to be taught their martial art. After the sudden return of Chen's son Zai Yang (Feng Shao Feng) to the village the prophecy apparently is about to come true. After all the bell that announces the impending desaster sounds.
At the same time Fang Zijing (Eddie Peng) is seeking revenge after being beat by Yang and master Chen. With the help of Duke Fleming (Peter Stormare) he wants to attack the village of master Chen once again. However, this time he has an army at disposal and thus he actually could be victorious this time.

Review: "Tai Chi Hero" starts exactly where "Tai Chi Zero" was concluded. If the film hadn't been too long that way it would have been easy to imagine this action comedy to be brought on screen in one piece, after all it has also been shot without a break. Therefore, director Stephen Fung's decision to slow down the pacing and also gear down concerning the comic and video game references seems just the more odd. Instead he inserts more drama and draws the characters in a more elaborate fashion. Normally, that would be a very welcome change but since there have been raised different expectations for this sequel this seems to be everything but comprehensible. In the end you can't help but to feel a bit betrayed and the question remains: Where are all the fights?

This brings us to the biggest problem of reviewing this movie, because actually in cinematic terms "Tai Chi Hero" is more consistent, easier accessable for the "normal" viewer and offers more depth on an interpersonal relationship level than the first part, too. Still, as already stated I'm rather unwilling in this special case to call it a better movie. That is because compared to the first part the "colorful" aspects and continuous "winks" have become rather pale. No doubt, it's still there but only in a light version. If this had been the case in the first part, too, Stephen Fung's work as a whole might have been "better", even though the more I make use of that word the less certain I am that this really would have been the case with both movies. Nevertheless, the problem still is a pretty big discrepancy concerning the tone of both movies.

However, don't get me wrong: The world depicted feels the same as before and when it comes to the characters you instantly get the feeling of returning home. The steampunk element is still present, too, but sadly in a reduced manner. Instead the movie as a whole seems more like a typical martial arts flick. And surely not a bad one. Yang Lu Chang learns Tai Chi, but becomes a true master in it way too soon. Nevertheless, since he has been marked as an exceptional fighter by birth this can be forgiven. But where are the actual fights in the movie? There is in fact just one battle against a myriad of soldiers which isn't choreographed really breathtakingly, though, and a final fight which on the other hand and admittedly makes up for a lot.

Towards the end Yang has to face various masters of different levels in order for him to compete against master Li, who is played by none other than Yuen Biao ("Project A", "Iceman Cometh"). Something extraordinary could have become of this, but Yang climbs up the ladder in a matter of seconds, which is somewhat disappointing. Probably this is to emphasize the fight between master Li and Yang and make something really big out of it. And the filmmakers succeeded in doing so. Apart from that fight the movie more than anything else features more character elaboration, mainly the relationship between master Chen and his son realizes a good amount of drama in the film and contrary to expectations this story thread proves to be most effective. At the same time Yang always remains a stranger in the village which doesn't eat away at him thanks to his lack of intellect and his good-naturedness but at the viewer.

Greater focus on emotions can in fact win over the audience, but we are nonetheless missing that wacky something. There are still things to laugh about, but in this repect we get the feeling that everything has been reduced to a minimum amount, too. The first half of the movie we believe that director Stephen Fung just needs a bit of time in order to gather momentum, but even after that the pacing quickens in a rather slow manner. The ending delivers a satisfying conclusion to the story, yet there is also a small cliffhanger that really whets your appetite for more! Whether Fung actually planned his movie to be a three-parter or just a two parter after all, whereas "Tai Chi Zero" and "Tai Chi Hero" stand as the first part, isn't really important since another sequel is all but certain. You can look forward to that, but let's hope that the next sequel's tone maybe is a well-balanced mix of its two predecessors.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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