Review: Tai Chi Zero (2012)

A steampunk kung-fu throwdown.

A steampunk kung-fu throwdown.

TAI CHI ZERO (2012)
Rated PG-13 / Color / 98 minutes
Directed by Stephen Fung
Also Known As: Tai Chi 0
Purchase it: Amazon.com (DVD) | Amazon.com (Blu-ray)

Martial Arts cinema is a realm I certainly don’t visit often enough. So when I was offered a screener of TAI CHI HERO from the folks at Well Go USA, I jumped at the chance to watch a contemporary kung-fu flick! But soon after procuring it, I realized that it was in fact a sequel. Undaunted I immediately ordered a copy of TAI CHI ZERO and waited patiently for it to arrive.

When I finally received the film, I eagerly inserted it into my Blu-ray player. I was excited to experience some good ole fashioned chop-sockey action, but what I got instead was a crazy martial arts movie chock full of steampunk technology and video game references! Was this China’s answer to SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD?!

TAI CHI ZERO centers on Yang Lu Chan (Xiaochao Yuan), a young man who was born with a strange deformity. He has a small horn growing out of his forehead, and whenever it is struck, he goes into “demon mode” and demolishes anyone that stands in his way. Unfortunately for Yang, every time this is done, it gives him a brain aneurysm, and his little “horn” (a.k.a. the “Three Blossoms on the Crown”) changes color. If struck enough times, said deformity will turn black, and he will die.

To cure himself, Yang is told that Chen-style kung-fu will do the trick, so he travels to the distant and isolated Chen Village to find a teacher. However, Chen-style is not taught to outsiders (for reasons discovered in the next film), but Yang remains determined to learn the forbidden fighting style. Though no one directly teaches him, Yang has the ability to memorize and mimic the movements made by each person he fights.

With every loss to the common villagers (including women and children), Yang is inadvertently gaining the knowledge he has come for. Yang’s martial arts “training” is soon interrupted when a former resident of Chen village named Fang Zi Jing (Eddie Peng), arrives to clear a path for an oncoming railroad. Fang attempts to do so peacefully at first, but when he fails, he returns to the gates of Chen Village in a giant steam-powered death machine!

Will Fang destroy the village before Yang Lu Chan fully learns the secrets of Chen-style kung-fu? Will someone rise to the occasion and fight off the steampunk invaders? Watch TAI CHI ZERO to find out!

Will our hero finally pop that infected zit on his forehead?! Find out during TAI CHI ZERO!

And will our hero finally pop that infected zit on his forehead?! Find out during TAI CHI ZERO!

TAI CHI ZERO is a surprisingly fun action film that has interesting characters, cool kung-fu battles, full-size steampunk-inspired machines (they actually built “TROY NO. 1” to scale!), romance (got to have something for the ladies), and a great (though rather eclectic) soundtrack. It’s a movie that tries to put a fresh spin on all the classic tai chi films that have come before it, and it totally succeeds.

This movie is also funny as hell at times (I particularly like the sequence where Yang tries to repeatedly sneak back into Chen Village after getting booted out) because our hero isn’t all that bright. Plus his frequent “what the hell?” reactions to the implausible events he witnesses, totally mirrors the audience’s.

And Yang is a great character because he’s one you can root for. He’s an idiot to be sure, but he’s tenacious and has an unbreakable spirit. He refuses to quit, even though his constant fighting could very well result in his demise. That’s mainly because he is out to fullfil his mother’s dying wish that he become the best at martial arts, therefore failure is not an option for this guy.

And when he finally manages to best one of the villagers using the skills he learned from getting trounced time after time, you feel as vindicated as he does. Conversely there’s Fang, who is only slightly less of a black sheep in the villagers’ eyes than Yang is. He grew up in the village, but he never learned Chen-style and has a love for technology and Western culture (and women).

Fang is considered to be a wimp, and gets no respect from his peers, which is why he resorts to threats of violence and destruction. But he doesn’t truly become a bad guy until his machinations get someone he loves killed. That event flips a switch and makes him the tragic villain of this tale.

TAI CHI HERO is a surprisingly fun action extravaganza! I had a blast watching it, and highly recommend it to all you action/kung-fu movie fans out there. TAI CHI ZERO hit all the right notes with me, and though I’ve already seen it twice, I’m ready and willing to give it another viewing already. I really enjoyed this movie and I’m more than happy to give it:

BLU-RAY REVIEW

The Packaging: TAI CHI ZERO comes in a standard Blu-ray case with cardboard slipcover. The cover art (seen at top left corner of this review) is satisfactory, but really nothing to write home about.

Audio & Video: TAI CHI ZERO is featured in 1080p HD in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the movie looks fantastic. This isn’t much of a surprise since it was released last year. The disc offers up Mandarin Chinese and English dubbed audio tracks and both are available in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby Digital 2.0.

I watched the film in its original language with English subs, and I have no complaints. I have yet to try out the English dubbed version, which I avoided since I despise most dubbed foreign films. All in all though, the audio and video presentation here is damned near perfect.

The Extras: There’s not much to get excited about here. The disc has a handful of cool trailers for the film, a music video for a Chinese rap/rock song called “The Stand” (watch it HERE), and a short six-minute behind the scenes featurette.

Final Ruling: The audio and video presentation of TAI CHI ZERO is pristine, but the disc is lacking in the extras department. Maybe I’m just super spoiled by companies like Shout!/Scream Factory, but I expected a bit more effort from Well Go USA.

A few more in-depth cast & crew interviews, or a few featurettes about the making of the film, or the creation of its fight choreography, would have been very much appreciated. Still, this is a rather inexpensive Blu-ray, and the movie is certainly worth a look, so I suppose I shouldn’t judge this disc too harshly.

You’re getting off easy this time Well Go USA, because I’m giving your TAI CHI HERO Blu-ray: