Tai Chi Zero
What We Liked:inventive fight choreography, wild creativity, fun visuals
The bottom line is, if you like kung fu and video games, you’re gonna like Tai Chi Zero.
As a child, Lu Chan (Jayden Yuan) was a martial arts prodigy. However, years of hard combat have left him drained of energy. A physician tells him he must journey to a remote village and learn Chen-style Tai-Chi to rejuvenate his chi, or he will not live long much longer.
Once there, Lu Chan finds out that village traditions forbid teaching Chen-style to outsiders. However, an old villager (Tony Leung Ka Fai) tells Lu Chan that if he can save them in their hour of need, they might accept him and teach him their secret techniques.
Tai Chi Zero draws influence from manga and anime, and looks and sounds like a video game, especially the fighter games of the arcade era. Blips and bleeps dot the sound design, and the soundtrack goes for the background music of Virtua Fighter or Tekken during fight scenes. Visually, Tai Chi Zero uses lines drawn on the screen to diagram stances and moves, and icons explain combat holds and grips. The Scott Pilgrim crowd is gonna get a kick out of this.
Fans of Ip Man will find frequent Jackie Chan collaborator Sammo Hung directing the action once again. As a martial arts film, Chen-style Tai-chi is unique and fun to watch. Hard, straight-on attacks are met with evasive footwork and circular, open-palm blocks. The stances and moves are elaborate, yet the performers make it all look effortless–there is something badass about that; a gentle push sends a staggered opponent falling to the ground. Tai Chi Zero is brimming with fight scenes, and the action is fresh and exciting throughout, drawing from a wide arsenal of Chen-style kicks, blocks, and throws. The camera dances around the fighters (as it were practicing Tai Chi itself), giving the fights energy.
Tai Chi Zero also finds a steam punk element. As kung fu films are often about western culture and technology encroaching upon a traditional way of life, Fang Ziging (Eddie Peng), a village outcast, threatens the city with a giant, steam-powered tank, the Troy No. 1. To the film’s credit, the iron colossus is a real, hand-built set, helping us to believe in its fantastic presence, using CGI only when needed. The massive interior–again, a real set–is filled with gears, levers, and valves that bring the Troy No. 1 to life, breathing steam and groaning when it exerts itself.
The story is lean and moves along swiftly, and Tai Chi Zero satisfies as a kung-fu movie, enough to want to see more–and there will be. Tai Chi Zero is the first part of a trilogy, and the film ends with a teaser trailer for Tai Chi Hero, which will come out next year.