Editor’s Note: To coincide with its limited release staring on October 19th, we’re republishing our Fantastic Fest review of Tai Chi Zero.
Have you ever found yourself wondering “what would a film look like if you threw Street Fighter II Turbo, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Shaolin Soccer and Red Cliff in a blender?” Well if so then you’re in luck because Stephen Fung has just that hybrid combination to offer us at the 2012 Fantastic Fest. A highly stylized period piece it shows its fondness for manga and video games that at times overshadows the story since the gimmick gets old. Still it’s really fun at times and the pick me ups mostly outweigh the bland moments.
Stephen Fung gives eager audiences his stylish interpretation of the origins of Tai Chi. Calling this revisionist history doesn’t even begin to describe the liberties taken but in a wold with Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, this fits right in. Because of a birth defect, Yang (Yuan Xiaochao) is one of the most dangerous warrior who ever lived. But his strength also his undoing fro if he is to uses his power too much he will die. So Yang travels to Chen Village to learn a powerful form of Tai Chi. He seeks to learn Internal Kung Fu (which will save his life) but villagers are forbidden from teaching outsiders. His initial journey has now become a quest with three end goals; winning over the village, learn Tai Chi and protect them all from a Westernized Chinese noble who plans to bring steam and trains to the country through Chen Village.
Tai Chi 0 is, in short, an amusement park ride posing as a period piece. But making no attempts to be historically accurate, Stephen Fung‘s picture is content and eager to have a laugh at itself. From extremely innovative cinematic kung fu to over the top visuals/props and exposition it’s a roller coaster ride that has a laugh at itself with no desire to take itself seriously. It is gorgeous in design and, like mentioned above easily recalls films like Red Cliff although, to Western audiences anyway, it’s tough not to think of Wild Wild West as the steam punk technology is entirely too advanced for the time and setting. But that might be detracting as just half of this flawed film is still tons better than Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1999 movie.
Jokes are in abundance and those familiar with Jackie Chan level of fight humor will be overjoyed at the entertaining nature of the choreography and innovative stunts. But even though it is fun the film jumps around a lot as it doesn’t want to commit to any one genre/category. Sometimes the schtick gets old and the both forced fight scenes and a digital effects become a smoke screen for some bland parts of the story. Tonally this is all over the map (in a good way) as the theme direction, even the music, takes us on a ride going from heavy metal to jazz/swing and orchestral so much so that you never know what’s going to come next; almost like you’re watching 3 different movies at times.
But if the skittish and ADHD narrative don’t throw you off, it’s guaranteed to be an entertaining time and a fun fight flick with solid laughs. A little bonus following the finale, the credits show scenes advertising the sequel Tai Chi Hero and based on the visuals and how they advance the story it actually looks better that what we just sat through. This world Fung shares with us is over the top and succeeds in being a very beautiful film. But there’s almost too much going on to view it as a solid feature. It feels like a Saturday morning cartoon or series of flashy and entertaining commercials strung together. But as a midnight (make that 1:00am) flick at Fantastic Fest it’s more fun than you can handle. Sensationally entertaining, Tai Chi 0 will more than tickle your kung fu funny bone.