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John Ary On TAI CHI ZERO!!

John Ary here with a look at new Chinese kung fu flick that’s now widely available here in the states. Tai Chi Zero combines Sammo Hung’s action choreography, steampunk technology, videogame homages and the philosophies of a slow moving martial art into this giant dragon ball of awesome. 


Yang has the unique ability to mimic and learn any martial art in the world. He also has a strange bump on his head, that can release an almost godlike power in battle. The downside... every time he uses his power, he loses part of his lifeforce.

In search of a martial art that will slow his oncoming death, he finds a small village that’s home to the worlds greatest Tai Chi martial artists. Too bad they don’t teach outsiders. In hopes of gaining the trust of the townspeople, Yang must sabotage a high tech metal fortress on tank treads that’s threatening to crush the village.

Director Stephen Fung seems to throw just about every cinematic, musical and technological inspiration he has ever had at the screen in the hopes of making it all stick together in a cohesive story. For the most part he succeeds. He employs silent film techniques, the screen titles from Street Fighter, Scott Pilgrim-like pop-up icons, varying music styles, old-school kung fu battles... somehow he takes all of these different elements and creates a distinct voice that never seems to get carried away with itself. It would have been easy to go overboard with some of these elements, but as soon as he begins to overplay his hand with one cinematic style he moves on to another. Sometimes the tonal shifts feel awkward, but just give it a minute or two. He’ll eventually steer the film back on course. 


You’re probably thinking, Tai Chi? Isn’t that the martial art that old people practice in the park on Saturday mornings? Sure, but Tai Chi martial artists can also kick ass. Famous Tai Chi’ers include Chun Li from Street Fighter 2, Michelle Yeoh from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the Klingons from Star Trek, and the blind guy from Mortal Kombat. Sammo Hung’s Tai Chi choreography teamed with Stephen Fung’s fancy arcade graphics create some really fun action scenes. The fighting styles and objectives of each battle remain varied throughout the film and at no point does a fight resemble any of the action scenes that have come before it. 


Unfortunately, some of the romantic aspects of the story and the main bad guy seem flat and weigh down the plot. With so much thrown at the audience throughout the film, these aspects of the story feel the least interesting and in turn, fumble up the pacing. Eventually these issues work themselves out and in the end, position themselves nicely for the sequel... Any ideas what they’re calling the follow up film in the series? Perhaps Stephen Fung took inspiration from Cool as Ice...

I’m now eagerly awaiting Tai Chi Hero’s release in the states later this year. Tai Chi Zero releases this week on Blu-ray and DVD. 


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