3 October 2012 | caseymoviemania
Casey's Movie Mania: TAI CHI ZERO (2012)
Touted as one of the most anticipated Chinese movie blockbusters of the year, actor-director Stephen Fung's TAI CHI ZERO is a revisionist take of a classic martial-art movie with a steampunk twist. On paper, the concept sounds interesting enough. Even the trailer itself makes me believe it's a go-for-broke, martial arts comedy in the vein of KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004). But for all the colorful effort that Fung tries hard to be different than your regular martial-art movie, TAI CHI ZERO is strangely uninvolving and poorly executed in many ways.
The story centers on a martial-art prodigy named Yang Luchan (Jayden Yuan) who is born with a fleshy abnormality where he has a "horn" sprouting from his forehead. Whenever someone punches his "horn", he turns himself into a mystical warrior that able to take down a score of enemies in a short period of time.
One day, when his master, Zhao Kanping (Fung Hak On), who is a leader of the Divine Truth forces, ends up being killed by Qing army. The Divine Truth army physician Dr. Dong (Leung Siu-Lung), who also badly injured by the attack, urges Luchan to head on to Chen Village to study Master Chen's (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) unique martial arts technique that promotes internal energy. Apparently Luchan's "horn" has already turned red and he will die soon enough if it turns black.
But upon arrival, Luchan finds his presence is unwelcome by the villagers of the Chen Village. He finds out that nobody will teaches an outsider of their Chen-style martial arts. Worse, Master Chen is nowhere to be found. He only manages to locate Chen's daughter, Yuniang (Angelababy), who runs a local medicine shop. She also makes it clear that she will not teaches Luchan at any circumstances, and urges him to give up instead. But the hard-headed Luchan keeps trying to find way to learn Chen-style martial arts at all cost.
Yuniang's boyfriend, Fang Zijing (Eddie Peng), who recently returns studying from Europe, tries to convince the villagers to allow a railroad through their land and to install electricity. Unfortunately his visual presentation goes terribly wrong and ends up being an object of ridicule by the villagers. Zijing is upset about this, and subsequently joins forces with East India Company representative Claire Heathrow (Mandy Lieu) to persuade the villagers by force.
Meanwhile, Luchan befriends with an old laborer (also Tony Leung Ka-Fai) and secretly copying Chen-style martial arts from the villagers he's encounter from.
Then one day, Zijing and Claire returns to Chen Village with foreign soldiers, along with a giant destruction machine called "Troy No. 1", to teach the villagers a hard lesson.
On the surface, the movie is exceptionally busy with lots of fancy visuals. From arcade game-like screen graphics that has exclamation marks of "K.O.!", "Round 1!" to video game pop-ups (labels on people and location), as well as manga-like animated section, the movie should have been a fun-filled entertainment. Unfortunately, Fung's direction is terribly haphazard and he doesn't have sense of pacing. Despite clocking at a compact 97 minutes, the movie feels unusually overlong (as if watching a 2-hour movie) because of numerous expository-heavy scenarios that could have been trimmed short.
Another huge problem here is Chen Kuo-Fu's overcrowded screenplay that tries too hard to be everything. For a movie that supposes to concentrate on Yang Luchan's quest to learn Chen-style martial arts, his story here is more like an afterthought.
All the actors here are mixed bag. As the main star of the movie, real-life martial arts champion Jayden Yuan is terribly dull and wooden as a performer. Eddie Peng is unconvincing to portray the kind of character who is vengeful and filled with lots of hatred. Angelababy, who is best known for acting in romantic comedies, does quite an okay job as a strong-willed martial artist. American-Malaysian Chinese model Mandy Lieu, is all porcelain beauty but her acting skill is plain terrible, as well as her wooden English dialogues. Of all, only Tony Leung Ka-Fai is credible as the old laborer and Master Chen.
Technical credits are overall adequate at best, while Sammo Hung's action choreography is surprisingly average. The martial arts scene, which combined wirework and slow-motion, are all empty style but little substance. It's especially a shame that Jayden Yuan is given little chance to strut his stuff here.
Overall, TAI CHI ZERO is a huge disappointment for a movie that tries to expand into a planned trilogy. What's more, the sequel, TAI CHI HERO will be released in a few weeks' time on Oct 25. Hopefully we can see some significant improvement by then.