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Director Stephen Fung and screenwriter Kuo-fu Chen reach back to the over-the-top grindhouse kung fu classics of the ’70s and add in a little steampunk cool and comedy hip to bring the genre into the present for this wild ride. Mixing genres that borrow everything from the sci-fi films of the West to a re-importation of the Tarantino, interpretations of Hong Kong Cinema, Ta Chi Zero is bold, refreshing, and most of all, satisfyingly entertaining.
Lu Chan (2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Xiaochao Yuan) was born with an unusual birth defect – a fleshy horn on his forehead. This once in a generation occurrence also means that he is meant to be a great martial arts warrior. Before that, however, he is scorned by his father and the children he grows up with. When his mother dies tragically, Lu Chan is taken in by a ruthless martial arts master who abuses the power of his “horn” to concur others. When he is once again left alone as a young man, Lu Chan goes to seek out the martial arts master Chen in the reclusive Chen Village. It’s a matter of life and death – he must learn their style of inner martial arts to save his own life. He is burning out the power he was born with, and the horn on his head is turning black; when it does, he will die. Furthermore, it was his late mother’s wish that he become great in martial arts. Once arriving at the village, Lu Chan is met with nothing but hostility. The Chen style is not to be taught to outsiders, only those in the Chen family. And they let him know it by dishing out a series of beat downs, despite his persistence. One of the greatest comes from the unbelievably gorgeous Yuniang (Angelababy). Lu Chan then finds himself in the aid of an old man (Tony Leung Kar-fai) who cleans him up and secretly offers him some advice on how to fight back against the Chen style. Little does Lu Chan know, that he is in the company of Master Chen himself. This will come to prove crucial, when Yuniang’s spurned fiancé, the Western-educated “wimpy” Fang Zijing (Eddie Peng) returns to Chen Village atop a steam-powered iron monster threatening to raze the village in order to run a unwanted railway through. Lu Chan and Yuniang find themselves unexpectedly teaming up to destroy the leviathan.
Tai Chi Zero is an exhilarating experience from the very opening scene’s epic battle and unexpected introduction of the “freak.” Fung is playful right from the get go, using comic-styled pop-up credits to introduce the actors and their illustrious background credits in their roles. Plus he pulls no punches (no pun intended) when it comes to shaking up this staid genre offering us something we can laugh at, with, and about. The cast of great actors, including Xiaochao, who is surprisingly charismatic and enjoyable in the lead, is top notch.
The story for Tai Chi Zero may in fact be its biggest weakness, however. We’re not getting the greatest amount of depth and character development throughout. It may in fact be a case of style over substance, but that just may be the penalty for a film that is the first entry in a planned trilogy. The ending leaves things wide open, so who knows where things will lead? Personally, I’m looking forward to following this motley group of characters all the way through.
Tai Chi Zero was shot in high definition with the Red Epic and Red One cameras. Well Go USA has brought it to Blu-ray with a fine, reference quality AVC/MPEG-4 1080p encodement that is richly saturated, finely detailed, clean, and endowed with strong contrast and inky black levels. Textural qualities on clothing and skin is strong while the nuance of shadow details is quite impressive.
The Mandarin DTS-HD Maser Audio 5.1 (48kHz/16-bit) soundtrack is also a good one. The balance of sounds throughout the soundstage is effective, dynamic range is rather wide, and a healthy amount of low frequencies bolster the action. Dialogue is clear and remains above the fray of activity throughout the film.
Nothing on offer here is really worth sitting through, but the “behind the ‘zenes’ (sic)” featurette does include some interviews with the cast and crew.
- Behind the Zenes (1.78:1; SD; 00:05:43)
- Music Videoz (2.35:1; SD; 00:03:52)
- Ultimate US Trailer (2.35:1; 1080p)
- Online Trailer (2.35:1; 1080p)
- Teaser (2.35:1; 1080p)
The Definitive Word
I haven’t been this entertained by a modern martial arts film in a long while. Tai Chi Zero teases you with its period style, but then offers up an action laced comedy with steam punk fantasy elements. It all gels quite perfectly, even though, when broken down to its individual elements, it doesn’t seem like it should. Recommended, and can’t wait to see parts two and three.
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