Ever stop a movie and after it’s finished the first thing that pops in your head is “What the #*$@ did I just watch?” It happens from time to time and even if the movie isn’t great, it’s still brought up a rung or two simply because it adds another layer of craziness to your life that you never knew existed. This is how I felt after watching “Tai Chi Zero”, a blitzkrieg of a film by director Stephen Fung. It is a blend of martial arts and Steampunk with a heavy dose of modern flair thrown on top. The closest movie comparison I can come up with is “Scott Pilgrim vs the World.” Though not as technically proficient, “Zero” has enough technical whiz-bangness to be brought up in the same conversation.
Before I mention the technical aspects, I’ll start by saying it’s not a terribly original story. Outsider comes to small town to learn forbidden martial arts; outsider is rejected by townsfolk; outsider is given advice from old wise man from the town; outsider helps the town against opposing forces. This is nothing new, especially in the martial arts film world. Taking place during the Mid-Qing dynasty right before the 1900’s begin, Yang Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao) was born special. He has a “horn” on his forehead that resembles a rather large mole that when pressed turns him into an unstoppable fighting machine with glowing eyes. However, the same ability is also draining his life energy and after his master dies, Yang travels to a small town to learn a specialized fighting style that will help him get his energy back. He is met with much resistance as the specialized Chen fighting style is never taught to outsiders. He then encounters Master Chen (Tony Leung Ka Fai). As this is happening, a young industrialist (eddie Feng), who was a former Chen town member, is helping build a new train system using brand new Western technology. He travels along in a massive iron tank that looks like a huge bell. It lays train tracks behind it as it slowly moves through the country side. It is coming straight for the town and will plow through it if need be. Yang must be taught the new fighting style to save himself and the town.
“Tai Chi Zero” employs numerous narrative styles to tell it’s story. From emulating black and white silent films with title cards, to a cartoon animated opening credit sequence to first person perspective angles to videogame visuals and sound effects. On top of that, it is all set ablaze with heavy metal death guitar songs during the action scenes. It is a comic book sprung to life. It was originally shown in theaters in 3D and it’s fairly obvious as it is loaded with gimmicky made-for-3D shots. There is some terrific fighting action throughout the film. Yang fights many of the townsfolk many times in trying to prove himself. The final fight scene is loaded with flying fruit and amazing wire work as actors are flung through the air and jump onto buildings. There are several catch-your-breath moments but the next action scene is never too far off.
What I found disappointing was that “Zero” starts off with great premise, a special person who has a small horn on his head, and when it is pressed he turns into a laser-eyed super warrior causing mondo amounts of fighting destruction. Alas, you only get to see one fight scene with it because every time it happens, his life energy depletes and when the horn turns black he will die. After the first fight scene his horn is almost black. The new fighting style he learns is exciting enough but feels anticlimactic after the introductory chaos that had ensued. However there are some neat moments like when some early western technology is introduced to the townsfolk like electricity and coffee. The ending is a bit of a headscratcher as there is only a minimal amount of resolution before the credits “almost” start to roll. After 90 minutes of inventive chaos I probably should not have expected the end credit sequence to be normal as well. When the real end credits begin, there is a trailer for its own sequel “Tai Chi Hero” shown next to the scrolling credits.
Well Go USA presents “Tai Chi Zero in a 1080p AVC encode using a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Shot with a Red One camera, the HD picture is nearly flawless. Colors, especially during the opening credits animation sequence, are stellar. All the action scenes at night hold up well and contrast is never an issue. There is no noticeable crush, aliasing or edge enhancement tampering. This is a very pleasing hi-def image.
There are two DTS-HD 5.1 options, Mandarin and English. Both tracks are sharp and dialogue is crystal clear. When the iron beast lurches and moves, there is some nice low end output that is essential when conveying it’s heft. I am usually a staunch proponent of listening to the native language track with subtitles but I did try out the English track and the dubbing does add some additional albeit unintentional humor to the film.
As this is a Well Go USA release, the extras are sparse and not nearly as interesting as the movie is. “Behind the Zenes” is a standard five minute look at the film. There is a “Music Videoz” extra that is a throwaway. Finally a trailer for “Tai Chi Zero” in HD.
Well Go USA’s “Tai Chi Zero” is a chaotic mishmash of style, action, early Western technology and humor. It is not a total success as it loses its way towards the end. It is like they felt they did not need to explain anything since there was a sequel already in the works. There are terrific fight scenes, beautiful cinematography and interesting ideas; however it just does not flow together nicely. Despite that, it has enough gusto to warrant valid curiosity. With pristine video and nice hefty audio, this comes recommended to people who need more movies like “Scott Pilgrim vs The World” in their lives.