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|Index||23 reviews in total|
This is an exploration into the tropes of Gung Fu movies. Every single
line, every move, is taking apart kung fu cinema. I have waited for a
parody like this for years, and I mean all the way from Rudy Ray
Moore's Shaolin Dolemite to Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. They all missed
the point. This is a Tarantino film without Tarantino beating you to
death with it. A movie for true kung fu fans only. It is barely
accessible to outside audiences, which I think explains the negative
How does the master know how to do that? EXACTLY! Why does he gain skills for no reason? EXACTLY. It is dissecting the clichés and also telling a story.
Plus, Shu Qi is in it, and that's always a plus.
The boy Yang Lu Chan (Jayden Yuan) was born with a little fleshy horn
on his forehead and is called The Freak and is humiliated and rejected
by the other boys in his village. However, when the horn is touched, he
turns into an eminent kung fu warrior. When his beloved mother dies, he
follows his Master Lao Zhao (Hark-On Fung) that is the leader of the
Divine Truth army that fights the emperor army. However, every time
that Yang fight, his horn gets darker and Master Dong (Siu-Lung Leung)
tells that if it gets black, he will die. When the emperor army attacks
the Divine Truth, Dong is deadly injured and he advises Yang to travel
to the Chen Village to seek out Master Chen Chang Xing (Tony Leung Ka
Fai) and learn the martial art Tai Chi that would provide energy to him
to survive. However, the Master Chen is in a retreat and the Chen
villagers refuse to teach the technique to outsiders. Yang meets Chen's
daughter Chen Yu Niang (Angelababy) and she successively beats up on
him trying to force Yang to give up. But a laborer suggests Yang to
learn the Tai Chi movements while she beats him.
Meanwhile, Yu Niang's former boyfriend Fang Zi Jing (Eddie Peng), who was born in the village but has studied in Europe, returns to Chen Village expecting to convince the locals to allow building a railroad across their land. His proposal is rejected and he returns with the railroad representative Claire Heathrow (Mandy Lieu) in a lethal machine with British soldiers to destroy the Chen Village. Yang believes that if he becomes a hero saving the village, the locals will teach him Tai Chi.
"Tai Chi 0" is a funny adventure that uses the ancient Chinese tradition in the format of a video game. The good thing is that despite the difference of cultures, the story is highly entertaining and is worthwhile watching this movie. The bad thing is that the movie is to be continued. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "O Mestre da Guerra" ("The Master of the War")
I always love a good kung fu movie. Black Belt Theater was one of the
things that inspired me to train in martial arts and become a stuntman.
Of course being a stuntman means I get my butt kicked by the star 99%
of the time I am on film, but hey it's a paycheck for doing something I
love. I have been working in stunts for about seven years now and have
done everything from music videos and commercials to low budget indies
and big budget blockbusters. I perform and also coordinate and
choreograph fights so I tend to watch action films very carefully and
spot any flaws or miscues pretty easily during fight scenes. I figure
my kung fu fanboy persona is balanced by my professional stuntie
persona, making me a good candidate to give an honest review.
The film is written by Kuo-fu Chen who really hasn't written many kung fu movies, and has only written nine films total, but more on that later. Directing is Stephen Fung, an actor who I really like that has also directed a few good films including "House of Fury" and "Jump", the latter working with Stephen Chow of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle fame, which is obviously where he tried to go with Tai Chi Zero.
When I first saw the trailer for Tai Chi Zero it looked like another period piece kung fu movie where the hero is a dopey loser until he unlocks his inner kung fu genius, and for the most part it is. Mix in some slapstick comedy, and slick graphic elements along with performances from some old school kung fu legends and it seems like a recipe for success a la Kung Fu Hustle. Also add that the hero of the film is real life 2008 Wushu Champion Yuan Xiaochao with fights choreographed by Sammo Hung and that should ensure some great action sequences. And for the most part it does deliver on the action.
Where TC0 falls short, for me, is in the writing. And in fairness maybe I should reserve judgment until I see the sequel, Tai Chi Hero, because the film feels incomplete. It really felt like I only watched half of a movie. Yes it was very entertaining and enjoyable, but the characters lacked development and most of the story relied on the clichés of "Western influence bad, Chinese tradition good", and as mentioned above "dopey loser must unlock potential". And those themes work well when developed and executed properly, but here they seemed rushed. Again it seems like they were going for Kung Fu Hustle, and they succeeded in the visual aspects, but Stephen Chow is also a tremendous writer and storyteller and it is pretty apparent that Kuo-fu Chen has some learning to do before he reaches Chow's level. Again, maybe I need to see Hero before making final judgment.
The acting is good for the most part, considering the limited character depth. Tony Leung and Angelababy carry the film while newcomer Yuan Xiaochao plays the dopey loser role well enough. The action sequences are entertaining, but Xiaochao doesn't really get to strut his stuff, hopefully the sequel will showcase this man's true skills. There is comedy and cool video game overlays sprinkled in to add some flavor, as well as a few animated sequences to add some more "new school" style.
Overall it seems like all the ingredients were there for success, but the writing just wasn't up to par for a really engaging storyline. It was hard to feel emotional attachment to many of the characters because little time was spent developing them and building a bond with the audience. It all felt rushed leaving the actors and director little to work with substance wise.
I still recommend seeing the film because it is a fun ride. The story centers on the Chen village where Chen style Tai Chi originates and, historically correct, outsiders from the Chen family were forbidden to learn. The hero travels there and gets his butt kicked around a bit, then the evil British foreigners come to build a railroad and he helps defend the village. The end comes abruptly but really leaves you wanting to see the sequel, which is a good thing.
My 10 year old son really enjoyed it; he loves video games, and cartoons, kung fu and a good laugh so it was right up his alley. My kung fu Sifu found it to be a bit too slapstick and style over substance, but did acknowledge the Tai Chi was authentic. I found myself right in the middle; I really did enjoy the look and feel of the film, but it just fell short in the story and character department. Hopefully the sequel ties it all together. Fortunately Tai Chi Hero opens in January so I won't be waiting long to see how it turns out.
I am giving it 8 stars on the strength that the sequel brings it all home. If this was viewed as standalone I would prob be more in the 6 range.
The above just about sums it up: if you dig the film's sense of humour,
you'll enjoy it so much more. Alas, most western viewers probably
won't, so will brand its uniqueness simply as a "mess".
To be fair, this is a very "seen it all before" story, but with warp-speed cuts, great use of SFX, above par wire-fu and superb cinematography, the flick is elevated way beyond its humble plot. I think that when film fans talk about "vision", they mean something like what the director managed to convey on screen in this very film.
So, what's it all about?
A kid with the mark of a born kung fu legend is exploited into fighting for a cult, until a doctor warns how such violence will lead to his death and that he needs to learn the passive art of tai chi in order to live a happy life... as opposed to plain dying. Naturally then, our somewhat dim-witted lead ventures off to Chen village to learn, only to be constantly turned away, as the art isn't taught to outsiders. And on it goes...
With eye-candy galore, this film truly caters for men! I mean: a fast-paced kung fu flick full of gorgeous women? Yep, Tai Chi Zero ticks all the boxes, but again, it's that sense of humour that'll make or break the film for you, and for me, despite all its positives, there was only so much enjoyment from this that I could get.
It seems obvious, but I'll nutshell anyway: others will call Tai Chi Zero "dumb" or "awesome", but the only real way to determine if you'll enjoy this film for yourself, is to watch it.
First off, I would recommend Tai Chi 0-- if only I can decide whether
to recommend watching in the theaters or waiting to watch it
back-to-back with its sequel on DVD... Cos most of my issues with Tai
Chi 0 has to do with how it tries (& fails?) to "stand alone" as an
inconclusive (inconsequential?) prequel. I mean, how would you feel if
you found out that the hilariously "over-sold" trailer (in English,
Mandarin and various Chinese dialects) circulating for Tai Chi 0 is
actually a trailer for-- and contains footage from-- both this movie
and its sequel?
It is also easy to see why Tai Chi 0 elicits such a wide variety of opinions-- it has something old and something new, and they are not so much "meshed together" as "layered on"... The old stuff is everything you would expect from an old-school kung-fu flick, and the new stuff is the latest fads in video-game aesthetics-- so depending on which way you lean, you might find as much "forced humor" (if you expected kung-fu drama) as "forced melodrama" (if you expected video-game hi-jinks). Nowhere as wacky and creative as Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer nor as elegant and nostalgic as Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, director Stephen Fung's Tai Chi is more of a new take on the "kung-fu film as comic-book fantasy" genre in the vein of the "Storm Riders/Warriors" franchise.
And as someone who enjoys an old-school kung-fu flick as much as the latest video games, Tai Chi 0 literally pulled me around in different directions. On the one hand, I liked that the corny 1970's convention of kung-fu actors shouting out their styles/moves now comes with animated sur-titles and graphics; on other hand, the graphical "overlay" somewhat distracts from the sheer joy of watching Sammo Hung's seasoned fight choreography being pulled off by actors who's gone through martial arts training. So for my tastes, the core story and conflicts are presented too fluffily while the visual gimmicks are sprinkled on too liberally.
Perhaps this is due to Tai Chi 0 being a prequel that sets up a main story and conflict which will only be seen in later movies-- despite a lengthy introduction of the protagonist's story arc early on, Tai Chi 0 is really about how the old master Chen and his daughter deal with the forced relocation of their village. And fortunately, veteran actor Tony Leung easily carried off the central drama of film as the old master Chen, while the newcomers simply played up their kung-fu movie stereotypes (feisty girl, dorky guy, etc). Tai Chi 0 starts hitting its stride in its 2nd half-- when this historically relevant but made-up narrative (the original Chen village, now a small town, is still around) comes to the fore-- and doesn't let up until old master Chen finally unleashes his kung-fu.
I mean, for all of Tai Chi 0's "light touch", there's no disguising the fact that this is an old-school "blood-and-gluts" kung-fu story in a historical-fantasy setting-- with 3 on-screen deaths of named characters in the first 15 minutes and another in the later half of the movie-- and had it gotten much better writing and directing, I'm sure I wouldn't have missed any of post-production stylistics one bit. Cos the final and best fight in the movie for me involved nothing more than getting Tony Leung into 2 months of Tai Chi boot camp, some good old-fashioned wire-work, and a big wind machine. But in contrast, one of my favorite bits was the protagonist running around the village like a first person RPG video gamer searching for a quest reward... See what I mean about this movie tearing me apart?
If I sound like I'm quibbling, I am.... Tai Chi 0 is quite enjoyable, if not really memorable, and does a good enough job setting up the sequel. But as a kung-fu film, it is just nowhere as coherent or satisfying as the classics-- cos where Stephen Chow or Ang Lee would take great care to introduce audiences to the "reality" of their kung-fu fantasies and set things up for dramatic/comic effect, Stephen Fung crams the protagonist's entire back-story into the first 15 minutes of the movie before dropping him into a side role-- and then randomly (cleverly?) adds glowing eyes, X-ray film perspectives and even a First-Person Sequence?!
So in the end, pardon me for submitting this review but reserving my vote until I get to see the sequel...
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is better than the average Asian kung fu movie for several
reasons. It has young and good looking actors and actresses, good use
of computer graphics, and good use of humor.
Plot-wise, there seems to be some holes. For example, after the freak is kicked out by the stage masters, how come he was able to advance to the next stage? Also, the village elderly seemed a bit inhumane near the end. The guy just saved the village and the elderly wants to cripple him?!
Some recent Chinese movies suffers from over use of computer graphics to the point the movie seem to be a showcase of computer graphics. This movie is able to use computer graphics perfectly to help tell the story, not distract it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Tai Chi Zero is as exceptional a mix of two creative talents- Stephen
Fung and Kuo-fu Chen (recent winner of the Pulitzer for Detective Dee
and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, his own masterpiece) as one could
imagine, as they converge on a story that in lessor hands would be just
a B movie. The story concerns a powerful form of Tai Chi..
More than this, it's also about as good a morality play as one could ask for, because it plays and tools and makes very serious questions about what is moral, or what isn't, or what is so ambiguous that it's all up to the toss of a coin or a chance ride out of town. There are a few interpretations to Chen's character Yang Lu Chan that could be taken, but one thing is certain- he's less a symbol than a real presence. You'll never look at a crate of oranges the same way again. Or an box cutter. Or fixing a bite wound in a leg. Or a hunt at an inn. Or even the aftermath of a zeppelin crash.
But at the same time it's the purest time of cinema, recalling Hitchcock and Leone and Welles's Touch of Evil and the best of noir and horrors. There are so many exceptional shots and lighting, so much depth to the perception of the characters through the mis-en-scene, so much tension, that through this it's all up to the actors to make or break the near-perfection that is the Chi source. - and it's obviously worthy of an Golden Horse or one of those berlin Silver Bear thingies. A level of connection with the character that makes the Hitchcock look like simpleton TV. Yuki Takenaka, who plays Yôzaburô's wife, is also excellent when called upon, especially in a crucial scene later in the film.
It's gut-wrenching, bleak, violent, super-tense (I clenched many a knuckle during some scenes), surprisingly funny in a darkly comic manner not seen by the world in many years, and artistically fashioned to a beat that is meditative (watch the opening moments with Yôzaburô's voice-over), simple, and doomed. It's beautiful and terribly tragic, for steampunk fans it finally strikes at what is truest to that material- and at the moment I can't think of any other film that would be the best pick of the year- maybe one of the best films I've ever seen.
I am certainly rooting for Tai Chi Zero to come away with the hardware from Cannes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
KUNG-FU movies are a dime a dozen, what more if they are about a callow
youth wanting to study it under a master and then getting a chance to
impress the master's pretty daughter. Even having Sammo Hung
choreographing the action scenes will have little effect.
There's a little commentary in Tai Chi 0 (Tai Chi Zero) about the dangers of aping decadent Western culture and how Chinese ingenuity can resist any white invasion. By this time, however, viewers would have lost interest in the narrative and, like me, would have been fighting to stay awake.
Director Stephen Fung's story about Yang Lu Chan, the founder of tai chi, uses Japanese animation and video games to up the movie's ante, but maybe he just wasn't too confident in the flick.
At the start, viewers are introduced to Lu Chan (2008 wushu champion Yuan Xiaochao, which is proudly announced on the screen). He's a tiger in battle because he has a horn-like stump on his head that can be hit to escalate his anger and increase his fighting prowess, just like the Incredible Hulk. But his downtime is also considerable. .
There's a flashback using black-and-white silent movies to describe his birth and childhood, including showing how far is mother (former soft porn star Shu Qi) would go to raise him.
In battle, his team is cut to pieces. So he heads for the mountains to learn a special kind of kung fu from Master Chen of the Chen Village, but this village is finicky because it won't teach it to outsiders.
Lu Chan is at his wits' end and fights villagers to show them his worth. These include Master Chen's pretty daughter Yu Niang (Angelababy). But he's beaten back at every step, until a labourer (Tony Leung) tells him to mimic the villagers' kung fu and use it against them.
Yu Niang's fiancé is Zi Jing (Eddie Peng), who is at odds with the culture of his country with his British clothing and snobby demeanour. He wants to build a railroad that will take it across the village, but this is met by fierce resistance from the villagers.
So he calls in the artillery, or a monstrous metallic ogre that's part tractor and part train. I don't know why but I thought about the metallic steam-powered spider in the desert in Wild Wild West (1999).
Lu Chan and Yu Niang conspire to bring the machine to a grinding halt, but not before taking down a regiment of hopelessly dressed white soldiers and a huge white guy.
A romantic subplot has Zi Jing working with a white woman whom he met in London. Her last moment on earth is to hear him tell her that he loves her, all within earshot of Yu Niang. Zi Jing should not mix business and pleasure.
The movie then ends abruptly, either living viewers unsatisfied or glad the movie ended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The movie starts well (for a few minutes only) but it quickly becomes
an accumulation of short sequences which leave no place to any serious
story/ carachter development, while the action scenes are shoot with
what I'd call a below average skill level (the camera shake, turn
quickly into many directions but you get no feeling of actually
watching peoples fighting together).
also, if you didn't watch yet the first episode, Tai Chi Hero, be aware the the directors and producers had no concern at all about you, as the story line is unfolding hectically without any serious recall of what happens in the previous movie, even if these previous events do affect the plot from the start of this new episode.
the concept looked interesting on the paper, but the outcome is weak, below average and headache to watch kung fu movie.
Watching this movie reminded me to Bunraku, or Scott Pilgrim where
there are comic elements fused in, but better. After a while I lost
interest in watching Bunraku or Scott Pilgrim, they became boring and
dull while Tai Chi 0 still has lots of things to offer till the end.
This is the 1st Stephen Fung's movie that I watched and he surely does a good jobs. The fight choreography by Sammo Hung, visual (and comical)& sound effects, scores, some camera works, the acting from Tony Leung and Angelababy (gosh, she's so fresh n pretty) are the good part of this movie.
However, the acting of both leading male and that British woman are wooden, even the village people give better performance. While Angelababy delivers decent acting but her moves as a fighter is not convincing. The pace drags a bit in the middle of the movie, the camera work inside that giant machine are dull/not creative, the story is quite thin - without any elements add in, it may only make half of a movie. I should give '8' to this movie, but considering these lacks, I can only give 6.
Kudos especially to Stephen Fung and Sammo Hung, which from this poor script and resources still can make an enjoyable flick. And I still want to see the sequel "Tai Chi Hero", hopefully it will be better.
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