Writer/director Stephen Fung’s Tai Chi Zero, the first in a proposed trilogy of frenetic martial arts actioneers, is a glorious mess of styles with very little substance. It’s marital arts gone gonzo. Blasting across the screen with cartoon goofiness, Fung’s trippy attitude is completely fun and infectious. It’s not for everyone, mind you, but for any fan of martial arts or video games Tai Chi Zero delivers the loopy blows that count toward its final steam punk-infused TKO.
Set in China during the 19th century, Tai Chi Zero opens in mid-battle and flashes back to the story about the Freak (Jayden Yuan). Yang Lu-Chen, aka the Freak, was born with a special “button” of flesh on his forehead. Those in the know avoid him. Others make fun of the orphan until it is discovered his head “button” is actually part of his destiny as a total tai chi badass.
Known by martial arts masters as “three blossoms on the crown”, the special bump on the forehead, when pressed, turns the Freak into a rage monster of martial arts. Of course, he has to be trained in order to figure out how to stop his ability from weakening him and no one wants to mentor him in the style of fighting. Instead, the villagers want to keep it a secret tucked safely away from those Westerners who do harm to the town with a steam-punked out train.
Lu-Chen must find someone to help. Tai Chi Zero is the story of the first trial in his training.
There’s an inert and superfluous love triangle involving the ass-kicking Yuniang (Angelababy) and Fang (Eddie Peng Yu-Yen), a former villager turned to the dark side by an alliance with the rail road company, but the only real reason to give this film any attention is in the Tarantino-esque editing and hysterical kung fu theatrics that springboards across the screen in absurdly entertaining fashion.
The protected village is populated with strange faces and fancy machines, but they take their martial arts seriously. If a bizarre fruit attack from the villagers doesn’t get a chuckle from you, then nothing will in this incredibly ridiculous story. Although, I will suggest to you that the film is not as half-baked as it sounds. Even the laughs had forward momentum. The filmmakers know exactly what they are doing and know their target audience. They even know where the story is headed and all that works in its favor.
The comical-farce also turns on its head and settles into a mini-mythic quest film as the Freak becomes the town’s protector from Fang’s steam-powered train. Enormous in size and scale, the train itself is an example of steam punk design at its most interesting. Acting more as a throaty bulldozer, the train, a highlight of the computer-aided graphics, is a mechanical behemoth that offers this martial arts film with a glorious new direction as this spaghetti-western/martial arts mash-up meets the realm of sci-fi fantasy.
Complete with comic book inspired onscreen writing and Mortal Kombat-like scoring, Tai Chi Zero proudly wears its influences on its sleeve. From steam punk to classic kung fu of a by-gone era, it's all there. The movie, afilled with various cameos from denizens of the Hong Kong and Kung Fu world of film, also seems to act as a bit of a celebration of Hong Kong cinema. The action scenes are intense; the editing quick; and the humor on-point throughout. Turn off the old noggin and enjoy the ride.
This is gamers gone wild.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and martial arts action throughout.
Runtime: 100 mins.
Director: Stephen Fung
Writer: Kuo-fu Chen
Cast: Yuan Xiaochao; Angelababy; Qi Shu; Daniel Wu
Tagline: See the extraordinary life of founder of the Yang style Tai Chi.
Memorable Movie Quote: "How to become a Kung Fu hero, you need to have a tragic childhood."
Distributor: Variance Films
Release Date: October 19, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: Yang travels to Chen Village to learn a powerful form of Tai Chi. Though villagers are forbidden from teaching outsiders, Yang becomes their best hope for survival when a man arrives with a plan to build a railroad through the village.