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Tai Chi Zero - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Taiji Zhi Ling Kaishi

China 2012

Action, Comedy, Fantasy

Stephen Fung

Yuan Xiaochao
Tony Leung Ka-Fai
Eddie Peng Yu-Yan
Bruce Leung Siu-Lung
Stanley Fung
Shu Qi
Andrew Lau
Xiong Xin-Xin

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Tai Chi Zero

aka Tai Chi 0

Story: Yang Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao) is a special child who has a mark on his head. This mark is said to be that of a future exceptional kung fu fighter. When his mother dies a martial art master, who realizes his potential, takes him in and teaches him. However, he uses him for his own war-centered goals until a physician tells Yang that he won't live very long now if he doesn't stop fighting and learn the inner martial art Tai Chi from master Chen (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) in order to regenerate his chi. But when Yang arrives at the village of master Chen he is informed that outsiders aren't taught and that the master isn't present at the time anyway. Chen's daughter Yu-nia (Angelababy) tells Yang that no one will teach him, except if he manages to defeat anyone in the village.
At the same time Yu-nia's boyfriend Fang Zijing (Eddie Peng) tries to persuade the villagers to build a railway line through the village. After studying abroad he wants to bring western progress to China. When the village refuses, officials send a steel colossus into the village which even the Tai Chi masters don't seem to stand a chance against.

Review: "Tai Chi Zero" tells a story in which east and west as well as traditions and modern times clash. Therefore, it's only logical that in this fantasy action comedy this is realized with the help of certain stylistic devices. Kung fu meets steampunk and a good amount of comic and video game references. Can this work out? Yes and no. If you can deal with that sort of stuff, you will have a lot of fun with the movie. Everyone else will find it bothersome that stilistically the director brings out just about everything he has in order to look original and cool, which naturally means that the story itself once again gets neglected. Maybe a few of those flaws can be eliminated in the sequel, as the film was planned as a two-parter right from the beginning. You might have a guilty conscience if you like "Tai Chi Zero" despite its flaws, but who cares! It still is a fun ride.

Right from the start actor and director Stephen Fung ("House of Fury", "Enter the Phoenix") leaves no doubt that he tells his story the way he wants. The introduction is told like a silent film, there is a small comic insert, the different houses of the village are labeled with descriptions from a bird's eye view and out of the book of a comic once again there are several Chinese characters implemented in invisible speech balloons in the movie. But the video game references never stop. In one scene we see things from the main character's view, in other words from the first person perspective, his fights in the village remind us of Beat'em Ups and that put aside you always feel like being part in an RPG. The different fighting stances are lettered while the pictures are moving and all of this is underlined by heavy metal, even though at times there is also an ordinary soundtrack by Katsunori Ishida to be heard.

Fung jumbles everything up in his movies. That might not feel right at all times, but in respect to the breakneck pacing and the visual allure you are exposed to this never really comes to your mind. Steampunk as an element embodying western technological progress does fit well into the movie, though. Also positive to note are the special effects. While many fantasy flicks just offer computer-animated colorful smoke and mirrors there is a purpose behind every special effect and it also underlines the comic style of the film. Yet, at the same time "Tai Chi 0" is also a martial arts flick with many typical elements like the rather boneheaded hero, who yet needs to become one, which strongly reminds us of novels by Jin Yong, or like the master who pretends to be an ordinary villager.

The kung fu fights naturally stand out with a lot of Tai Chi and especially thanks to the mix of modern visualisation and traditional movements the old story gets some more color. Sammo Hung is responsible for the choreography and of course he is a guarantor of quality. Maybe some more fights wouldn't have been bad, but probably we will see more of them in the sequel. Wushu champion Yuan Xiaochao cuts a neat figure in the lead role, but the actual star is Tony Leung Ka-Fai ("Eye in the Sky", "Double Vision") as master Chen. Apart from him there aren't really any noteworthy characters, because sadly they all turn out to be rather shallow. Instead we get numerous cameo appearances by directors, martial artists, actors and so on, thankfully we are told via on screen text who it is we are facing.

Aside from all the action "Tai Chi Zero" is most importantly a comedy and if it weren't all the winking in the movie wouldn't have worked out. With its very modern style and by breaking the fourth wall, which is how the director also shows a good amount of self-awareness and irony, this comedy as already stated might remain a mystery to some viewers, though. Similarities to the American movie "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", which this movie naturally doesn't stand a chance against, are without a doubt apparent concerning the style, and there are enough people who found this film a hard nut to crack as well. Nonetheless, it's true that despite all the ideas featured, which are supposed to win over a young audience, emotional depth and character elaboration are falling by the wayside. Still, I have to admit: "Tai Chi Zero" could entertain me in a very lighthearted manner and I enjoyed it.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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