Tai Chi Zero

Tai Chi Zero

aka 太極1從零開始 aka Tai Chi 0

Written by Chang Chia-Lu and Cheng Hsiao-Tse
Directed by Stephen Fung Tak-Lun

Tai Chi Zero
Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne are back, but darker and edgier!

A festive feast of visual excess that leaves you unsatisfied and full of regret, Tai Chi Zero is that mirage in the desert that looks good, but is nothing but sand when you get up close. The fun graphics and video game inspired editing are polish over a generic and predictable plot that doesn’t even do us the favor of trying to be creative. All the enthusiasm and cool effects are wasted, and that just makes me mad!

Now, I love cool looking visuals and razzmatazz editing. But you need something beneath that that’s just as creative. When the story is essentially something that has been done to death a thousand times, often more creatively, it’s just not exciting. The cast, the look, the effects, the wasted potential.

Tai Chi Zero
Chef Emeril Lagasse?

The main hero’s arc tale is set against a conflict that is essentially the modern West vs. the traditional East. Of course, tradition and kung fu wins out over technology and guns. One of the ways to get your film easily approved by Chinese censors is to make it about how awesome China is, so a lot like this is an easy pass. Creative films use that “China rules!” setting to say other things that censors are too dull to pick up on. Instead, Tai Chi Zero has characters saying how technology is bad in scenes with video game graphics and editing. It’s almost as if there is something else being said, but there isn’t. This expectation and disappointment exposes Tai Chi Zero as nothing more than a mannequin that can’t talk or move, but sure is wearing a pretty dress in the store display window. But it has encouraged me to go find some real people in real clothes, aka good movies. The East vs. West thing is even more hilarious because I can literally walk to the high school producer Daniel Wu went to school at here in America.

Tai Chi Zero
It’s the cover of one of those cheap shot on video horror films!

The action scenes I have little complaint with. The diagrams and arrows while the characters go through their stances were neat touches, and Sammo Hung and Andy Cheng Kai-Chung know what they’re doing to make things looks cool. The video game stylizing is incorporated into the choreography, which makes many scenes look like they are straight from a fighting arcade game. When each cast member first shows up, there are character cards for each of them as well as a brief one sentence bio. Besides looking cool, the biographies are good for beginners to Hong Kong/Chinese cinema, and good for those of us who don’t keep up with wushu stars who are making their first appearance in film.

Tai Chi Zero

Tai Chi Zero‘s tale is your normal hero’s arc story. Yang Lu Chan is The Freak, born with a super rare skin tag on his forehead which means he has super kung fu powers. Which is good, because he doesn’t have super brain powers. Discovered at a young age by a master, Yang Lu Chan is trained as a warrior and becomes his greatest fighter in the battles that come. But a chance encounter with Master Dong clues Yang Lu Chan in that his kung fu skills will prematurely kill him unless he learns negative kung fu, which is only taught in Chen Village, and then not to outsiders.

Yang Lu Chan/The Freak (Jayden Yuan Xiao-Chao) – A fictionalized version of real a tai chi master and teacher, Yuan Xiao-Chao is depicted as a martial arts prodigy with a growth on his forehead – the three crown blossoms – that gives him supernatural powers when smacked. It also will kill him if he doesn’t learn the style of kung fu taught in Chen Village. So he goes to learn. Is not very bright.
Chen Yu Niang (AngelaBaby) – Daughter of Master Chen, leader of the Chen School. She and her boyfriend Fang Zijing are trying to persuade Chen Village to accept the rail station that is planned to be built there. Until Fang Zijing goes bad and rejects her, then she tries to save her home from his plans.
The Old Labourer/Chen Chang Xing (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) – Gee, could this mysterious Yoda character secretly be Master Chen Chang Xing? Duh Doy! Of course, he’s just using Yang Lu Chan to save his village, but eventually is less manipulatively evil about it when the crap hits the fan. Is also a fictionalized version of a real person.
Fang Zijing (Eddie Peng Yu-Yan) – Chinese citizen educated overseas in England, who tries to bring modern technology back to the scoffing villagers. Is never accepted in Chen village and eventually rejects it in favor of not looking like a failure in front of the Emperor. Brings the giant steam machine to forcibly build the rails and reconnects with his overseas lover Claire Heathrow.
Claire Heathrow (Mandy Lieu) – Fang Zijing’s sweetheart from England who has come over as part of the East India company to lay tracks, and also to come with Fang.
Tai Chi Zero
I hate it when my steam-powered superweapon is infested with lady ninjas!t

Tai Chi Zero
He’s peeing.

Chen Village is on the precipice of history, a hidden town in the mountains that is somehow also slated to be one of the main stations for the Emperor’s new train system. Of course, the town is not too happy about this, because machinery is the devil! Fang Zijing is the guy who promised the Emperor he would get Chen Village to accept, he was educated overseas in Britain and tries to bring some of the modern technology back to his village. His girl Chen Yu Niang eagerly accepts his newfangled things, her being the only person in town. But Fang Zijing is too caught up with succeeding to get the village to accept that he risks everything.

Undaunted by warnings, Yang makes the trek to Chen Village, and is immediately and repeatedly rejected as a student. But Yang is not one to give up, and tries and tries again. He eventually annoys some of the townspeople enough they begin beating the tar out of him, beginning with Chen Yu Niang. But Yang can remember their moves, and thanks to the encouragement of a peasant called The Old Laborer, Yang starts to use the moves back against the townspeople.

The controversy this causes is soon forgotten when Fang Zijing storms off and returns to town in a giant steam powered metal behemoth that lays tracks and threatens to smash through the town’s gates to do so. It’s piloted by Fang’s overseas lover, Claire Heathrow, for the East India Company. Fang is torn between his past and his future, between East and West, but he ultimately chooses Claire and working for the Emperor (and the overseas power behind the Emperor) over his home and Chen Yu Niang.

This sets off Chen Yun Niang on a quest to destroy the metal monster, which she unknowingly does at the same time Yang is attempting to destroy it. The two do so together, but the explosion kills Claire. Fang vows revenge.

Tai Chi Zero
I am Sideways Man!
Tai Chi Zero
There are men who would pay six figures for Shu Qi tears

Yang was encouraged by Old Laborer, who turns out to be the Chen patriarch who was on sabbatical and is Chen Yu Niang’s father. He intended Yang to destroy the vehicle so it could be blamed on an outsider, but Yu Niang’s involvement and the death of Claire means government troops will be arriving and looking for blood.
Yang also can’t do any more kung fu, or else he will die

So now the entire town must defend their village, which they do in manners comedic and serious.
it’s treated as a big tragedy when one of the random villagers is killed, but Claire and several of the villains were killed and not given any such big deal

Yang uses his powers to save the village despite the fact it might kill him, and he ends up in a coma
the village elders threaten to removed all his ligaments to cripple him for stealing their moves
but he’s saved when Chen Yu Niang agrees to marry him

Tai Chi Zero
I’m defined by my boyfriend in one scene, and am strong and independent in the next. It’s like they didn’t bother to make me a real character!
Tai Chi Zero
Take notes, I expect every one of you to be Chen style kung fu masters by next week!

We end on a cliffhanger note, the marriage about to happen with Yang still deathly sick, two strangers with good kung fu showing up, and Fang preparing for revenge thanks to some giant cannons arriving by ship. Sort of unsatisfying, but the cliffhanger means that the story isn’t really over, perhaps that’s why things feel so odd.

Good grief, I’m totally not going to learn my lesson and will be watching Tai Chi Hero. Maybe it can have an actual story arc that doesn’t end with a disappointing not ending. Will it actually be a hero? Because we could all use a hero. Remember the words of every audience member on Jerry Springer ever: “You need to drop that zero and get yourself a hero!”

Tai Chi Zero
You must be dumb if you can’t figure out my secret identity in two seconds!
Tai Chi Zero
The bluecoats are coming!

Rated 5/10 (I know a good dermatologist who can take care of that, Toonboom credits!, emblem of cool, the original rubix cube, Donkey wants to learn tai chi too!)

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Tai Chi Zero
No tears in the rain speech today.
Tai Chi Zero
Head of steel, combo of legend.
Tai Chi Zero
Our hero can’t defeat the greatest little girl fighter in the world, what a wimp!
Tai Chi Zero
You’ll hurt its feelings!
Tai Chi Zero
Angelababy spends most of this film just looking at things.

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Written by Tars Tarkas

Tars Tarkas

Runs this joint!