Part steampunk, part martial arts, part comedy, it's Stephen Fung's 'Tai Chi Zero.' I remember seeing trailers for this and thinking, wow, they finally merged the steampunk fad with a martial arts flick. After viewing it though, the combination was a let down. The whole movie fell flat, despite its epic battle sequences and amazing fight choreography. It just doesn't know what type of movie it wants to be. It strays from silly comedy to drama, to a martial arts to a weird 'Wild Wild West' vibe, and then back to silly comedy, with a pinch of the paranormal science-fiction genre in for good measure. It's just all over the place, and at times it's a complete mess. But, it's a lot of fun to watch if you're a fan of this mixed genre.
Actually, 'Tai Chi Zero' takes its cues from 'The Karate Kid' for the overall story arc. A young man is looking to learn the ways of a certain fighting style from an older master. This is a story that is told in virtually every martial arts film, and one that is way over done. We focus on Yang Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao), a young man with a sizable growth on his head that when pressed on, converts him into a paranormal super martial arts demi-god with glowing eyes and inhuman strength. Still with me? Good, because it's never really explained why this occurs and is not a very critical part of the story for some reason.
The story tends to switch over from the sci-fi genre to the straight-laced martial arts film where Lu Chan is searching for a magical and mysterious old master who might teach him some form of Tai Chi in a small village called Chen. This small town does not like visitors or strange people entering their scared village and turns away Lu Chan, telling him that this Master he seeks and way of martial arts are not obtainable for his knowledge. However, Lu Chan meets a mysterious day laborer and homeless man (Ton Leung) who then becomes his friend, but we soon see that this individual is more than meets the eye.
Meanwhile, in Chen, a suave young man named Zijing (Eddie Feng) is looking to bring the industrialized world to his somewhat primitive and laid back town and land. He is not alone in this as two women by the names of Yunia (Angelababy...yes that is her real name) and Claire (Mandy Lieu) are helping Zijing in his evil quest to tear down Chen and rebuild it with tons of buildings and factories. Yunia seems to be in this only because she is smitten with Zijing, while Claire is just out to destroy the village and its people by any means possible. And when they finally try to introduce a bit of electricity to the village, their efforts are not welcomed, which leads to Zijing turning into the pure evil villain, where he and Claire show back up in the village in a giant steampunk looking craft very similar to something we might have seen from 'Wild Wild West'.
This whole conflict between nature and industrialization reminded me of 'The Lord of the Rings,' where Saruman was destroying the forest in order to make large towers and factories. However, this martial arts film fell flat on its face when trying to convey this story. I think the only high point with 'Tai Chi Zero' is how good it looks. The visuals in the flick are incredible, and it almost seems that each frame of film could be framed and hung on a collector's wall. Plus, the fight choreography is top notch and the characters themselves have a lot of potential in that they could each have depth, but instead are written to the vaguest level and their stories really go nowhere. Overall, I chalk this up to being a very fun pop corn flick that is light on the mind with a few laughs.
'Tai Chi Zero' comes with an impressive 1080p HD transfer presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
Colors pop vibrantly across the screen with larger than life landscapes and characters. The detail is very good as you can make out every skin flaw on the characters and each plinter of wood and stitching of clothes. The battle sequences even show great detail in every aspect. The black levels are deep and inky and do not crush the shadows. I did not notice any edge enhancement nor did I see any aliasing crop up.
This is a fine video presentation and looks stunning all around. One of the better looking Well Go USA releases.
This release has a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix, which you can listen to in Mandarin or English, although, some of the film is actually spoken in English at times. If you listen to the dubbed English version, you can expect to laugh at the effort, which is usually the case in dubbed mixes. That being said, this audio track is quite loud and boasts amazing sound effects that rattle the room. The dialogue is crystal clear although you won't understand it if you don't speak Mandarin, and is perfectly situated on the fronts. The explosions and epic battle scenes are very intense and seem a bit loud. There is a wide dynamic range with tons of directional effects. I did not notice any hissing or cracks, although the sound effects do at times seem to drown out the dialogue. Overall, a very good audio presentation that packs a punch.
This is a fun film if you take it with a grain of salt. It doesn't know if wants to be a silly film or taken seriously. However, if you watch the scene before the end credits roll, it hints at a sequel, which has already been made. 'Tai Chi Zero' has some incredible fight scenes, good characters, and impressive imagery, however it lacks the execution of a smooth flowing movie or any substance. Despite that and the lack of extras, I do recommend this title to fans of the genre. It's definitely worth a look, as the video and audio are quite good. If this is the first film of the franchise, you can consider me a fan.