Starring Yuan Xiaochao, Angelababy, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Eddie Peng, Shu Qi, Xin Xin Xiong, Fung Hak-On, Leung Sui-lung
Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung
Directed by Stephen Fung
Steampunk is a sub genre of science fiction that has, pardon the pun, been gathering steam for the last decade or so. Steampunk is known for alternate histories usually set around either the Victorian British period or in the American Wild West in which steam power is the dominant power source that is used to create futuristic weapons, and vehicles like air ships. Lately books have sprung up, as have conventions, an entire subculture, and even a few movies like the Japanese anime Steamboy and The Wild, Wild West. Despite this, no film has really just gone all-in with steampunk, but now fans can rejoice, as director Stephen Fung has made a kung-fu film that without a doubt is as steampunk as it gets!
Tai Chi 0 tells the story of Lu Chan (Xiaochao) who is a kung fu prodigy, as evidenced by a small horn that protrudes from his head, the sign of a once-in-a-lifetime master. Strike Lu Chan’s horn and he becomes a glowing-eyed-kung fu badass, but there’s a catch. The more he fights the darker his horn becomes, and once it turns black he’s done for. As a child his mother (Shi Qui) steals money from his father (Andrew Lau, Director of Infernal Affairs) to give Lu Chan a future. It is at this point that two events occur that changes Lu Chan’s young life: he shows that he has the ability to copy a practicing kung fu master (Hak-on) and his mother’s theft is discovered, and she commits suicide, but not before making Lu Chan promise to be a great kung fu master. Fast forward to the present, and Lu Chan, after a great battle as a soldier, decides to go to Chen village and learn Chen style kung fu from Master Chen (Ka Fai), to reverse the internal energies that is slowly killing him. After arriving at the village, he is greeted by a town folk that will fight him, in order to keep him from learning Chen style, especially Chen Yu Niang (Angelababy), daughter of Master Chen, who is having problems of her own with Fang Zijing (Peng), her betrothed who has returned from the west, but a series of events, both heroic and tragic, befall them all, and Lu Chan finds himself fighting for a village that doesn’t want him, but he has no idea the steam-powered weapons that are aligned to bring him and the entire village down…
I’ve been extremely critical of Hong Kong films of late, finding many of them unimaginative and bland, while overseas other Asian countries are pushing the genre forward, but Tai Chi 0 is a great and thankful exception. The film has a rock n’ roll soundtrack, and the film has moments that come right out of Scott Pilgrim vs The World, like the use of text in places, giving the film a comic book feel. There is slapstick comedy, and there is even a Street Fighter 4-style K.O. moment that had me smiling, as ridiculous as it is. I’m trying to think of a film technique that Stephen Fung didn’t use, and I’m hard pressed to think of one. The story, with all the flash behind it, manages to tell a coherent and exciting story. Xiaochao is good as Lu Chan, balancing flashy kung fu fighting with youthful exuberance and handles the dramatic moments just as well. Angelababy also does a fine job as Lu Chan’s rival and potential friend Chen Yu Niang, and plays her as both sympathetic leader of her village and kung fu badass. Tony Leung Ka Fai (Bodyguards and Assassins, The Lover) plays Master Chen with a mischievous slant even in his most dramatic scenes. The best actor, in my opinion, is Eddie Peng as Fang Zijing, and he gets the biggest character arc, going from the village outsider who returns home a westernized educated man, to a man who finds a moment of happiness that is ultimately destroyed, to the greatest threat facing the village, and Peng plays every moment of his arc well, and I could sympathize with him even though his decisions turn him into the villain.
The fight choreography is also well done by the legendary Sammo Hung. It is well shot, and even though there are some quick edits, they don’t take anything away from the fights, and you can follow the battles without any problems. In my opinion the best fight are the scenes where Lu Chan tries to enter the village, and different villagers step up to beat him down, with even the neighborhood kids getting in on the fun. The other scene that really jumped out to me was the fight between Master Chen and the soldiers toward the end of the film. The choreography is really well done here, with wire work that actually becomes part of the story and not a distraction.
One caveat, and the one thing that drove me batty, was at the very end, where, and I admit I wasn’t aware of this, it ends with a cliffhanger followed by a trailer for Part 2 !
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 9
Tai Chi 0 is a steam-fueled roller coaster Kung Fu/Steampunk mashup that combines story, action and special effects to create a rocket-propelled piece of cinema. Bring on Part 2!
Tai Chi 0 opens in North America Friday, October 19th!