Tai Chi Hero (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
June 27, 2013 by Dennis Amith
“Tai Chi Hero” is a sequel that improves over the original with a focus on a coherent story and exciting martial arts battles. You also get Stephen Fung’s willingness to incorporate modern elements such as a rock track and flashy CG but not thrown in for the sake of being thrown in like the first film. And last, better use of its characters! For fans of the original “Tai Chi Zero” or fans wanting something different in a martial arts film, “Tai Chi Hero” is a film worth checking out!
TITLE: Tai Chi Hero
FILM RELEASE: 2014
DURATION: 106 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 16:9 Widescreen, Mandarin, English Stereo/5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English and Chinese
COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment
RATED: Not Rated
Release Date: July 2, 2013
Directed by Stephen Fung
Story by Kuo-fu Chen
Screenplay by Chia-lu Chang, Hsiao-tse Cheng
Produced by Kuo-fu Chen
Executive Producer: Kuo-fu Chen
Cinematography by Yiu-Fai Lai, Peter Ngor
Yuan Xiaochao as Yang Lu Chan
Angelababy as Chen Yu Niang
Tony Leung Ka Fai as Master Chen
Eddie Peng as Fang Zijing
Shu Qi as Yang Lu Chan’s Mother (Flashback)
Jade Xu as Sister Mahjong
Shaofeng Feng as Chen Zai-Yang
Daniel Wu as Mad Monk
Stephen Fung as Nan
Peter Stormare as Duke Fleming
Yin Tse as the 10th Grandmaster
Di Wu as Chen You Zhi
Wei Ai Xuan as Zhao Di
Biao Yuen as Li Qiankun
Chinese steampunk martial arts blockbuster about the early years of Tai chi master Yang Luchan, the man who founded in the 19th century what has now become the most popular Tai Chi style in the world. The second instalment of the “Tai Chi” trilogy continues the journey of Yang Luchan, a gifted child with a fleshy growth on his forehead who helped save a village from a frightening army of steampunk soldiers bearing strange machines with the knowledge of Tai Chi that they entrusted him with.
“Tai Chi Hero”, the sequel to Stephen Fung’s “Tai Chi Zero” has arrived on Blu-ray and this time around, the series is about family honor!
But like any sequel, can Stephen Fung’s foray into martial arts film by giving it a stylish 3D style in combination with wicked wire work and camera sequences to go along with contemporary music, you wouldn’t expect anything less from Stephen Fung.
Before discussing “Tai Chi Hero”, let’s first do a preface of the original film…”Tai Chi Zero”.
What was “Tai Chi Zero” about?
Martial arts for a new generation? That is the concept behind the 3D martial arts film “Tai Chi Zero”, the first film from actor Stephen Fung and Daniel Wu’s new production company, Diversion Pictures.
Wanting to go a different route of what one would think of Tai Chi films, “Tai Chi Zero” would put a more modern style that would incorporate steampunk, martial arts but also modern animation and effects to give the film a new look and feel. But also to showcase as many cameo appearances by filmmakers and stars of martial arts past and present.
So, the acting duo turned to writer Kuo-fu Chen (“Double Vision”, “Detective Dee”, “Warriors of Heaven and Earth”) for the story, Sammo Hung for the martial arts direction and Yiu-Fai Lai (“Infernal Affairs”, “Dragon”, “Initial D”) for cinematography.
And as the film would feature cameos by other talent in the Hong Kong film industry and also an appearance by both Stephen Fun and Daniel Wu, the film would feature the acting debut of Yuan Xiaochao, fashion model Angelababy, Taiwan actor Eddie Peng, veteran talents Tony Leung Ka Fai (“Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame”, “Infernal Affairs”, “Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone”), Shu Qi (“The Transporter”, “So Close”, “Millennium Mambo”) and many more.
The film was planned as a two-part film with “Tai Chi Zero” released in China in September 2012 and its sequel “Tai Chi Hero” released in January 2013.
To understand what is “Tai Chi Hero” is about, one must learn about the character Yang Lu Chan who was introduced in “Tai Chi Zero”.
The film began with a war between two groups and one group sending a young man named Yang Lu Chan (portrayed by Yuan Xiaochao) to fight. While enjoying his fight, his friend hits him on a growth on his forehead which slowly turns Yang into a fighting machine with supernatural ability.
The film then goes back in time to show us when Yang was born (and born with a growth on his forehead) and how his mother (portrayed by Shu Qi) tried to teach him good manners. As a fan of martial arts, Yang would watch and eventually has a photographic memory which allows him to learn a move quickly.
One day, while watching and eating a treat, kids steal his treat and knock him down. While the growth on his forehead is knock down, he immediately gets back up and becomes superhuman for a shortwhile, using the techniques that he just learned and beating the kids that stole his treat up with ease. But the fact that he learned the martial arts technique surprises the elder man who was showcasing his technique and decides he wants to take Yang in as an apprentice. Problem is that when Yang is hit in the forehead and becomes superhuman, the strain on his body is so much that blood starts to come out of his nose.
But while Yang is going home, his mother is beaten by her father and left for dead. She gives her son advice and also agrees for the elder to take in Yang as his fighting apprentice and she passes away.
Fastforward to the future and we learn that Yang has become an accomplished martial arts fighter and is being used as an instrument for war. But when a doctor comes to look at him, he sees the growth on Yang’s forehead is turning purple and the doctor tells him that if that growth turns black, he will die. The only way he can survive is by going to the Chen village up in the mountains and learn how to use Kung Fu within and it should reverse things back to normal.
But during the war, his friends and his side are ambushed and attack and everyone is nearly killed. The doctor tells Yang to leave to the Chen Village now or else he will die and so Yang leaves to the mountains.
When he arrives to the legendary Chen village, he quickly learns that the village has a policy, to never teach outsiders of the village their martial arts.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Chen Yunia (portrayed by Angelababy, note: other sites spell the name Chen Yu Niang) and her boyfriend, engineer Fang Zijing (portrayed by Eddie Peng) who is trying to bring new technology to the Chen village, such as electricity and also plans for a train station that would deliver supplies to the village. Fang grew up in the Chen village but left to pursue college and despite being called a “wimp” in the village, Fang wants to show that he has amounted to something with his engineering skills. Meanwhile, Chen Yuniang is an independent girl who tries to distance herself away from the practices of the Chen village.
Of course, the village elders are skeptical but due to two people accidentally sabotaging Fang’s mechanics which creates electricity for the lights, it instead overpowers the electricity and blowing the lights out and leaving him as a laughing stock of the village.
This causes Fang to leave the village for good and vows to bring his plans for a train station to Chen village someday soon.
As for Yang, he still has no luck of trying to get anyone from the village to teach him martial arts but one of the village elders, Master Chen (portrayed by Tony Leung Ka Fai), also the father of Yuniang, secretly gives Yang some advice that to learn the martial arts from the village, he must observe and mimic their moves.
And so Yang tries to learn and spar with everyone in the village from the elders to the children and eventually starts to learn the Tai Chi martial arts of the Chen village. When Yunia finds out that her father is assisting Yang (and warns him that teaching him is against the village rule), Master Chen tells her that he hasn’t taught him anything, he learned all by himself.
But Yang knows his life is expiring and he must learn how to use the Chen village martial arts in order to survive.
But just when Yang is starting to learn, out of nowhere comes a big mechanized robot controlled by Fang, with assistance of the British military. Fang wants to force the villagers to create the train station or else, he will destroy the village with his latest invention.
While the Chen Village are capable of defending their own, the problem is that their rules prevents them from hurting a human life or getting involved with outsider duties.
But since Yang is not from the Chen village, he may be the help that the village needs in ridding themselves of the British soldiers and Fang’s wicked invention.
The first film ended with Yang becoming a hero, but because the sacred rule of no foreigner must learn the Chen village martial arts, the Grandmaster has made Yunia betrothed to Yang, who saved the village from Fang. The film ended with the British going to China by boat.
This now leads to “Tai Chi Hero” and Yuniang now engaged but as her father explained to her, in order to keep Yang’s spirit in check and without him turning into a wild beast, only hear Yin and calm his Yang. The problem is that Yuniang is not in love with Yang and is not too thrilled that she is engaged to him and must marry him.
But the main reason is because he won’t bring shame to the Chen Village for breaking the sacred rule.
Meanwhile, the British have arrived with new cannons to show the Chinese and led by East India Company’s Duke Fleming, he relies on Fang Zi Jing to get the job he failed the first time and that is by capturing the Grandmaster, Yang and Yunia. So, that the East India Company can build a railroad through the Chen Village and even if it means by lethal force using their new canon technology.
But the group also has a plan and that is to use the Grandmaster Chen Changxing’s estranged son Zaiyang (portrayed by William Feng) and his wife Jin Yuner (portrayed by Nikki Hsie) to return back to the Chen Village and take up the mantle to be the head of the family. But the Grandmaster knows his son is not being truthful and he must have returned for a reason.
So, as the village elders are about to declare Zaiyang as the successor to the Chen family, the Grandmaster intervenes and tells Yang to take on Zaiyang in a battle. And we see various mechanical equipment revealed and hiding in Zaiyang’s garments.
We are treated to a flashback and how a young Zaiyang tried to win his father’s affection by pretending to learn martial arts but in truth, his passion was to create machines, something his father was against. Because he lied to his father of practicing martial arts, when in fact, he build machines to make him look as if he’s perfected certain moves, both son and father were estranged and Zaiyang immediately moved away.
But it is revealed that Fang Zi Jing has been using Zaiyang, because he is in deep debt for his machines not working correctly and in order to get out of the debt, he is told to create a rumor that because the Chen Village has taught a foreigner their bad luck, bad luck will has been brought to the village because of Yang and that trouble will come to their village.
And for the most part, Zaiyang has managed to create fear with many people wanting Yang to leave their village immediately. But how much trouble did Zaiyang bring to his family and his former village?
“Tai Chi Hero” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio). Picture quality is very good with very good detail for the canons. Colors are natural, closeups showcase detail and really good clarity and for the most part, I didn’t see any problems with white specks, banding or artifacts during my viewing.
The film does have its stylish moments and its use of trying to bring that video game feel to the film. Where it was overdone in the first film, fortunately this is not the case with “Tai Chi Hero”. There are some moments where Fung tries to bring that video fighting game style to the film but I was pleased that this was toned down for the sequel.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Tai Chi Hero” is presented in Mandarin and English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. During the action sequences of the film, there is a good use of the surround channels and LFE. It’s probably one of the more active lossless soundtracks that I have listened to for Asian cinema on Blu-ray, so that is a plus.
As for the English dub, I tend to watch foreign films in their native language which I did with “Tai Chi Hero”, but I also decided to give the English dub a chance. And while not my cup of tea, it’s a lot better than the older English dubs for Asian cinema that turned me off back in the ’90s and early 2000’s. But the English dubbing is not horrible and it should suffice for those who do not like reading the subtitles.
Subtitles are in English, Chinese, French and Spanish.
“Tai Chi Hero” come with the following special features:
- From Zero to Hero – Making Of – (1:00:55) An hour long making-of featuring behind-the-scenes, interviews with director Stephen Fung, the talent and crew from the film.
“Tai Chi Hero” comes with a slipcover.
When I watched the first film, “Tai Chi Zero”, I wrote about how Stephen Fung had come a long way. From his debut with “Sing si Poon Goon” in 1989, his role in the 1999 film “Gen-X Cops” which generated interest in Hong Kong’s young and up-and-coming stars. Fung, Daniel Wu, Nicholas Tse and Sam Lee were individuals who brought youth and a new style of Hong Kong cinema to a new generation. These guys were like MTV and cinema combined, music, style and young adulthood that was the epitome of Hong Kong cool!
And with the success that Fung and Daniel Wu had in the last decade, the two went on to create their own production company, Diversion Pictures. And like the two have done earlier as actors, style and rock n’ roll once again comes into play with their new film “Tai Chi Zero”. But is that a good thing?
Wanting to get away from the previous Tai Chi martial arts films and create something cool for a new generation of audiences, at that time, Fung and Wu wanted to create the film in 3D, incorporate steampunk elements (using impressive technology during a time when technology was not practiced by regular people) and provide a visual flair with special effects and modernization.
I felt it was overdone in “Tai Chi Zero”. While I always appreciated Stephen Fung wanting to be creative, bringing style and music to martial arts, the problem was that the original film was trying to incorporate elements from many films. From your traditional epic war film, your martial arts film and even a superhero film like the “Incredible Hulk”, it’s not always an easy thing to take in.
From the introduction of the film, the crew literally turns the martial arts genre upside down with its hip-hop/rock soundtrack, its use of animation in the intro., a protagonist who gains supernatural powers and using silent cinema with no verbal acting (for a short while). It’s a style that I have never seen in my decades of reviewing martial arts films but while there is part of me who doesn’t want to see things to modernized and filled with popcorn action over story, the fact is that a lot of films are becoming that way and if you want something traditional and storyline-based, there are always the martial arts classics.
But for those open to modernization and for something different when it comes to martial arts, “Tai Chi Zero” was different. It incorporated a steam punk element, a lot of action and a lot of humor.
But despite the different approach to a martial arts film, “Tai Chi Zero” was a popcorn action film at best. Many celebrity cameos, many special effects and too many things that made the film seem like a video game. But if anything, too much incorporated visually and not enough to its storyline.
With the sequel “Tai Chi Hero”, it looks as if Stephen Fung may have been told to simplify things and make a coherent story. While the first film tends to focus primarily on Yang, this time around, the film focuses on the family.
Grandmaster Chen Changxing (portrayed by Tony Leung Ka-fai) has much more of a presence as a father. Concerned for his daughter Yuniang but also seeing great promise in the son-in-law to be… Yang, but also having to deal with his estranged son Zaiyang making a return and wanting to become the leader of the house (despite not knowing martial arts) and now having to deal with the East India Trading Company who is now more intent to finding ways to make the villagers move in order for them to build a railroad.
The story is much more comprehensible, there is not a focus on Yang going crazy. If anything, Yang plays an important part primarily as a representative of the Grandmaster Chen’s clan. This time the story focuses on integrating a storyline that utilizes Grandmaster Chen Changxing, Yuniang and Yang together. And that is a very good thing as a talented actor such as Tony Leung Ka-fai is utilized much better.
There are also less flashy gimmicks. Yes, you will see graphic elements that play out like a video game but not too much. You will see computer graphics show up on screen, but very few times. If anything, the focus is on the action and the weaponry created for this film. From giant cannons, mechanical devices and an air vehicle.
But because of the many battles in this film, people are going to enjoy the action scenes so much more. Great wirework, great use of one-on-one-combat and if anything, a martial arts film with modern elements done much better than the first film. I found “Tai Chi Hero” to be satisfying, action-packed and exciting.
As for the Blu-ray itself, picture quality is fantastic and wonderful detail on close-ups to the mechanical design for this film. The lossless audio is crystal clear and great use of LFE and surround channels during the more action intense sequences. And you get a making-of special feature over an hour long.
Overall, “Tai Chi Hero” is a sequel that improves over the original with a focus on a coherent story and exciting martial arts battles. You also get Stephen Fung’s willingness to incorporate modern elements such as a rock track and flashy CG but not thrown in for the sake of being thrown in like the first film. And last, better use of its characters!
There is no doubt that this film will now become a trilogy after the events of this second film but I do look forward to it!
For fans of the original “Tai Chi Zero” or fans wanting something different in a martial arts film, “Tai Chi Hero” is a film worth checking out!
J!-ENT has not received any compensation from the company for this post. J!-ENT has no material connection to the brands, products, or services that are mentioned in this post.
For Product Reviews:
For product reviews, J!-ENT has purchased the above product for review purposes or may have received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free by the company which in no way affects our reviews, may it be positive or negative. We only recommend products or services we have tested/reviewed and believe will be good for our readers.
Some of the links in our posts are "affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, J!-ENT will receive an affiliate commission.
J!-ENT is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”