Starring Yuan Xiaochao, Angelababy, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Eddie Peng, Daniel Wu, Yuen Biao, Peter Stormare
Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung
Directed by Stephen Fung
Tai Chi Zero was a fantastic mashup of kung-fu, comedy, special effects, and a great steampunk story, coming from the hit-and-miss Stephen Fung. This is the second (?) film in the trilogy, so can it live up to the original film’s success and deliver another steampunk epic?
The film picks up right where Tai Chi Zero ends, with Lu Chan about to marry Yu Niang, and once he does so he’ll be able to learn Chen style Tai Chi, but for those who saw the last film, someone was about to interrupt the festive proceedings. That someone was Yu Niang’s brother, Zhi Yang, who has returned home for more reasons than just to attend a wedding. His return tears open all wounds for the seemingly invincible Master Chen and Yu Niang, but amidst all this their old foe Zi Jing (Peng) returns, still smarting from the asskicking he received in the previous film, and vowing revenge for the death of Claire. He finds an ally with Duke Fleming (Stormare) of the East India Company, and both men plot to bring down Chen Village once and for all, and Lu Chan has to save the village and somehow win the love of his new master…and wife, Yu Niang. Can Lu Chan overcome his affliction using Tai Chi in time to save his people?
Now that the novelty of the first film has passed, this film has to live and die on its own merits, and lives quite well. Xiaochao does a great job as the hapless Lu Chan, and as his affliction heals, he is great at showing Lu Chan getting smarter, which wasn’t really expressed as an issue in the previous film, but explains his actions in that film and parts of this one. Angelababy does a great job as Yu Niang, a nicer person this time out, now that she is starting to find that she does indeed have feelings for Lu Chan, and becomes a partner with him. Tony Leung Ka Fai is once again fantastic as Master Chen, and even better he gets a true story arc for himself this time around, and we find out the real reason he wanted to train Lu Chan so badly, and why the village was forbidden from teaching Chen style kung fu. Eddie Peng was pretty good as Zi Jiang, but he doesn’t get as much screen time here, nor does Peter Stormare. Daniel Wu gets a small cameo as a Mad Monk, and the makeup people did a good job as it took a moment for me to recognize him. Seeing Yuen Biao face off with Xiaochao for the final fight of the film was great, and while their fight was effects-filled, it still had enough good kung fu to be exciting.
Stephen Fung brings back his inventive transitions and visual storytelling techniques here, and doesn’t really go for the same tricks he used in the previous film, using more forced perspective, slow and fast motion, but just as the first film, the cinematography is still gorgeous.
The fights are all special effects and wirework-heavy, but there is enough traditional kung fu and concepts for the more die hard traditionalists (of which I am one) to like. The best scenes are the series of fights Lu Chan must win, patterned after Tekken or Street Fighter battles, with costumed fighters of various types and even the VS graphic for each fighter, and the graphic of the fighters’ wheel of opponents as Lu Chan defeats them!
Is Tai Chi Hero better than Zero? In many ways it is more fun, now that we don’t have to be introduced to the characters and can just go for it, but the ending here, while hinting at the next film, isn’t as clean as the first film, and wraps things up too easily and quickly, and while I look forward to see how things resolve themselves, the ending of this film left something to be desired, but doesn’t detract from the fun!
Kiai-Kick’s Grade: 8
Tai Chi Hero is a worthy sequel that push-hands the fun with fantastic Steampunk action and kung fu asskickery!