Stephen Fung‘s follow-up to “Tai Chi Zero” (reviewed here) picks up right where the original left off. “Tai Chi Hero” begins with a narration of how the last one ended using flashbacks during the opening credits. After that, we learn outsider Yang Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao) is going to marry village local Mother Yang (Qi Shu) in hopes that he can officially learn the Chen style traditional secret fighting style which is only taught to village members. That combined with his Divine Truth Cult experiences and his unique abilities (he was born with a tiny horn on his head called Three Blossoms on the Crown) can lead him to being a powerful warrior. Chan is taught by village elder Master Chen Chang Xing (Tony Leung Ka Fai) until completion. Mad Monk from the first film comes back to see his sister get married, or that is what he wants them to believe. All the meanwhile Fang Zi Jing (Eddie Peng) is organizing an army to once again invade his old village.
“Hero” deepens the lore established in “Zero” by adding in curses dealing with large bells, Mad Monk’s history with intricately made personal mechanisms and overall peppering little bits of family history through the course of the film. Also added is American known actor Peter Stormare who has have a small role with limited dialogue. His purpose is vague and reserved and it seems more like a way to market to Western audiences than anything else. All the actors from the original are back in their original roles and there are a couple of new, albeit minor players as well. Steampunk and new metal technologies are still very much part of the story as well as newer, emerging western technologies coming overseas.
Even though much of the same style is used once again in “Tai Chi Hero” it feels like a different movie. It dials back on the constant lunacy that was established in the first film. The video game like fight introductions are still present as well as the opening credits but the actions has a much different feel to it. In fact I would say that the amount of action has been cut in half. There is more story progession, which is a good thing, but it would have been nice to have some consistency with the action from the first film. I remember distinctly the giddiness I felt in “Zero” when Yang Lu Chan gets his forehead horn pressed on the battlefield and the visual carnage that ensued. It had a certain insane epicness to it. This time around, it is not nearly as impressive as he just sort of staggers about, knocking things over. This feeling could also be due to the fact that some of the action moments look cheaply done and not as well directed as the first time around. The slow motion effects seem to use the Half Speed technique which leads to a rough visual experience. On top of that, the storytelling is a bit choppy and lots of character actions are unclear. There are some nicely crafted scenes, the standout being a choreographed fight scene taken place on the tops of thin walls. There is much wirework involved and a crazy amount of balancing from the actors. And at times there are comically edited scenes that induce some nice moments of laughter. An example of this is when a father is having a serious conversation with his grown daughter on the roof of a house and at the end of the scene, he just sort of flys off. It’s unexpected but a great visual. The ending is intriguing in which the next film could even go in a third, more darker direction. We shall see.
Well Go USA’s presents “Tai Chi Hero” in 2.35:1 using a 1080P AVC encoded transfer. Like its predecessor, the HD video presentation is stunning. Close-ups show immaculate detail in faces and clothing and nearly everything else shown on the screen. The cartoonish font used during the film pops with rich color. There are some flashback scenes intentionally drained of color but the detail remains strong. The only mark against are some slight jaggies with tile roofs during some of the crane shots above the village, nevertheless it is not overly distracting.
The Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1 track also impresses with its HD sound design. This film is talkier than “Zero” and it mostly anchors the dialogue to the center speaker. When the action starts up, so do all the other speakers. The fighting scenes have a flurry of sound coming from all directions. Bass enters mightily when the cannons are fired and the impacts thunder nicely. The English dub track is easily understood with no major dialogue issues however many of the dubbed lines differ from the written subtitles. The subtitles appear on the image and are easily legible except for a few minor instances.
The lone big extra is an hour long “Making of” featurette which is not as in-depth as it’s running time would suggest. It is basically a lot of standard definition subtitled interviews broken up into segments detailing people’s experiences while making the film. There are some interesting tidbits. Aside from that there are only a couple of trailers, one for the film itself and the others are previous Well Go USA releases such as “The Four” and “The Guillotines”.
“Tai Chi Hero” is a more reserved film than its predecessor as it eschews much of the videogame atmosphere the first film had. That is not necessarily a bad move, however it makes for an uneven pairing. If indeed the third film gets released it will be interesting to see if it adopts the zaniness created in the original. With impressive video and audio and a long albeit tedious extra this is recommended for fans of the first film.