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Tai Chi Zero (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 5, 2013 by  



“Tai Chi Zero” is not going to win people who grew up watching martial arts films with a captivating storyline or precision-based fight choreography.  This is not what “Tai Chi Zero” aims to be.  The film is literally a different, unique style of martial arts film targeted to those who are used to playing fighting video games, love crazy fight sequences, comedy, visual effects and popcorn action!

Images courtesy of © Huayi Brothers Media Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Tai Chi Zero

FILM RELEASE: 2012

DURATION: 95 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: PG-13 (For Violence and Martial Arts Action Throughout)

Release Date: January 22, 2013

Directed by Stephen Fung

Written by Kuo-fu Chen

Produced by Stephen Fung, Zhongjun Wang, Daniel Wu, Dajun Zhang

Executive Producer: Kuo-fu Chen, Zhongjun Wang

Associate Producer: David Chan, Helen Li, Ken Wu, Tingkai Yang

Cinematography by Yiu-Fai Lai

Edited by Hisao-tse Cheng, Matthew Hui, Zhang Jialu, Zhang Weili, Xiao Yang

Art Direction by Timmy Yip

Starring:

Yuan Xiaochao as Yang Lu Chan

Angelababy as Chen Yunia

Tony Leung Ka Fai as Master Chen

Eddie Peng as Fang Zijing

Shu Qi as Yang Lu Chan’s Mother

Jade Xu as Sister Mahjong

Shaofeng Feng as Chen Zai-Yang

In legendary Chen Village, everyone is a martial arts master, using their powerful Chen Style Tai Chi in all aspects of their lives. Lu Chan has arrived to train, but the villagers are forbidden to teach Chen Style to outsiders, and do their best to discourage him by challenging him to a series of fights. Everyone, from strong men to young children, defeats him using their Tai Chi moves.

But when a man from the village s past returns with a frightening steam-powered machine and plans to build a railroad through the village at any costs, the villagers realize they may have no choice but to put their faith in Ly Chan… who has a secret power of his own.

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” set for release in January 2013.

“Tai Chi Zero” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD in the United States in January 2013.

The film begins 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) 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 Yunia 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 Yunia, 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.

VIDEO:

“Tai Chi Zero” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio).  Picture quality is very good.  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.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Tai Chi Zero” 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) in 2012.  There is an English soundtrack for those who have a disdain of reading subtitles, I did not listen to the English dub but those who prefer it, should be happy it is included on this Blu-ray release.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Tai Chi Zero” come with the following special features:

  • Behind the Zenes – (5:43) A very short behind-the-scenes featurette.
  • Music Videoz – (3:52) A hip-hop/rock-based music video in Mandarin and English.
  • Trailerz – (4:19) The theatrical trailer for “Tai Chi Zero”.

EXTRAS:

“Tai Chi Zero” comes with a slipcover.

Stephen Fung sure has come a long way.  While debuting in the film “Sing si Poon Goon” in 1989, it’s 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.  Individuals who brought youth and a new style of Hong Kong cinema to a new generation.

Yeah, these guys were like MTV and cinema combined, music, style and young adulthood that was the epitome of Hong Kong cool!

For Stephen Fung, the young actor had his first chance as a director in the anthology “Heroes in Love” in 2001 and eventually would go on to direct “House of Fury” and “Jump”.

And with the success that Fung and Daniel Wu had in the last decade, the two would go 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”.

Wanting to get away from the previous tai chi martial arts films and create something cool for a new generation of audiences, this time, Fung and Wu wanted to create the film in 3D, incorporate steampunk elements (using high technology during a time when high technology was not practiced by regular people) and provide a visual flair with special effects and modernization.

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” is different.

From the many cameos that appear in the film to the visual style, this is a martial arts film for today’s generation who have been spoiled by video games and technology.  Almost like playing the training mode of a video game and seeing data of your character and the opposition, we see that with “Tai Chi Zero”.  Similar to Batman films with the sounds in text format showing up on the screen, we see that with “Tai Chi Zero” and of course, the steampunk element of seeing large robotic mechanized vehicles with robotic arms taking on a village of martial artists is rather fun, exciting and different.

I suppose the words “unique” and “different” can easily be applied to this martial arts film.  I found it enjoyable because the film doesn’t try to be like an epic Hong Kong action film, nor does it try to be a historic.  This is a straight-up pop culture-infused martial arts film with fascinating characters, cameos by well-known people in Asian cinema and martial arts with cool visual effects that if you are a martial arts fan with an open mind, you can’t help but be entertained by it.

While “Tai Chi Zero” is the first film and ends with a teaser of bigger things to come for the sequel, I have to say that for a first film for Stephen Fung and Daniel Wu’s production company, they brought that cool style that they typically incorporate with their films to “Tai Chi Zero” and I really do dig that!

Once again, I emphasize that this is a popcorn action film, so don’t expect anything too deep storywise.  Also, this Blu-ray release is a regular edition and not in 3D.

As for the Blu-ray itself, picture quality is fantastic and wnderful detail on close-ups (especially on Yang’s growth on the top of his head).  The lossless audio is crystal clear and great use of LFE and surround channels during the more action intense sequences.   Special features were rather basic and was hoping to see a bit more than what was featured, especially for a visual effects martial arts film like this.

Overall, “Tai Chi Zero” is not going to win people who grew up watching martial arts films with a captivating storyline or precision-based fight choreography.  This is not what “Tai Chi Zero” wanted to be.  The film is literally a different, unique style of martial arts film targeted to those who are used to playing fighting video games, love crazy fight sequences, comedy, visual effects and popcorn action!

An enjoyable film that is not necessarily great, but I do dig the uniqueness of “Tai Chi Zero” and I look forward to the sequel, “Tai Chi Hero”!






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Comments

  • Thanks for the warning about the thin plot Dennis. If the fight sequences are as crazy as you and the guys in my office at DISH keep describing, then I know I will enjoy Tai Chi Zero though. I am going to try it out weekend after I rent it from Blocksbuster @Home through DISH. They have over 100,000 different choices by mail, so I always have the best selection of new movies right at my finger tips. And since they give me unlimited rentals a month for one flat rate, I get more bang for the buck than ever.

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