Tai Chi 0, the latest offering from actor-turned-director, Stephen Fung, is a throwback to period kung fu comedies from the early nineties. The film’s style steps away from the swordplay movies re-popularized in the west, towards the more simplistic kung fu genre. Avoiding supernatural themes, the film embraces an en vogue steampunk style; this time, hostility towards industrialization represents the typical anti-European sentiment familiar to the genre. Unfortunately, Tai Chi 0 is overcrowded by some CG comic book and videogame effects; but on the upside, the film introduces an exciting new generation of stars, notably 24-year-old Yuan Xiaochao (an Olympic gold medallist) in his first acting role.
Yuan Xiaochao plays the character of Yang Luchan who, following his mother’s wishes, travels to Chen village to learn their unique form of Tai Chi. Upon realising that Master Chen (Tony Leung Ka Fai) is unwilling to teach the art to those outside the village, Yang sets out to challenge a mishmash of the town’s humble residents in an effort to prove himself. Action is interspersed with comedy; Fung’s typical comedic style seems heightened by his recent collaborations with Stephen Chow. Yuan Xiaochao indeed proves himself in the film’s fight scenes –- choreographed by none other than Sammo Hung — but the frenetic visual style of these scenes sometimes distracts from his skills. The film’s female lead, relative newcomer Angela Yeung Wing – aka “Angelababy” – aside from having a great stage name, also proves impressive in action.
Behind the 3D glasses, animation, and special effects, Tai Chi 0 is a simple story – and I would argue a good one. Though its pace and structure have confused some critics, these should be familiar enough to those comfortable with the genre. After an admittedly shaky start, the film finds its feet in a simple story that recalls HK period films of the early 1990s. Tai Chi 0 reminds me of films like Johnnie To’s The Barefooted Kid or The Mad Monk: always simple, often silly and now overshadowed by the epics.
Just like many HK films before it, Tai Chi 0 emphasizes an anti-European sentiment – this time with a steampunk aesthetic. Western modernity is represented in the film by an anachronistic steam powered monster, not just the usual dubbed and mustached colonial soldiers (not to say there aren’t any of those in the film). The preview for the film’s sequel, Tai Chi Hero, which conveniently screened after the feature, alludes to bigger and even better mechanical mayhem to come – all the more reason to get on board with the trilogy now.
Hoyts have signed on to screen the entire trilogy distributed by Icon. More recently, it seems that numbers are dwindling at HK screenings by Hoyts, and half-empty screenings stand in contrast to the sold-out Ip Man and Ip Man 2 sessions, where the experience of the film was enhanced by a crowd of people laughing and cheering together. Whilst I haven’t been supportive of Hoyts’ move to digital projection, perhaps the eventual savings in distribution from digital projection will make it more likely for them to screen foreign imports. One can only hope.
If you’ve ever enjoyed yourself watching a Tsui Hark film, or a Stephen Chow comedy, don’t miss your chance to see this one on the big screen.