Well Go USA // 2012 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // July 24th, 2013
The throwdown continues?
The setting: Chen Village, a place where all the inhabitants know a very special brand of kung fu. Previously, an outsider named Lu Chan (Jayden Yuan, Tai Chi Zero) came to stay, desperate to learn the famed fighting skill. Even after helping the town battle technologically advanced enemies from within and without, our hero is still struggling to be accepted. He is, even now, marrying the daughter (Angelababy, Love in Space) of the man he hopes will become his mentor (Tony Leung Ka-fai, Prison on Fire). But when the Master's long lost son (Feng Shaofeng, A Better Tomorrow) returns with a secret agenda to stop the nuptials, he causes chaos. Suggesting that Lu Chan'c inclusion in the secret art will cause a horrific prophecy to come true, he allows for the village's former enemies-businessman Fang Zijing (Eddie Peng, Cold War) and the diabolic Duke Fleming (Peter Stormare, Constantine)-to regain their footing and return for a rematch. Into this mix comes a bit more modern technology, old family animosities, and lots of hand to hand combat.
Dang! There ain't nothing worse that walking into a franchise without the first part set-up. Yours truly has no frame of reference when it comes to Tai Chi Hero, except that it was assigned to him. Apparently, back in 2012, there was a movie entitled Tai Chi Zero, and this is its sequel. Okay. In addition, a little Wiki-search indicates that both films were produced back to back, perhaps to maintain continuity, casting, or cash flow. Whatever the case, this review will be the critical equivalent of walking into a play right before the finish of Act One. The second Act will try its best to fill you in, but without witnessing what came before, it's hard to imagine the impact this continuation will actually have. That being said, this is one oddball bit of martial arts madness. Reading over the first film's synopsis, we learn that our hero came to the village of Chen to learn their secretive kung-fu from a proposed master, fell in love with the enigmatic Yunia, and helped the town take on a bunch of cutthroat Westerners (including Peter Stormare). There was a cartoony, video game quality to the production with asides and added elements inserted into the mix to turn things crazy and chaotic.
Now, the self-described "steampunk" approach is back, if a bit less manic, in Tai Chi Hero. In this middle section of a proposed trilogy, we pick up where Zero left off, watch as Lu Chan prepares to marry Yunia, and finally find out who those strangers were that wandered into view during the first film's cliffhanger ending. Naturally, it's a kind of continuation of the cabal present from the first film. The new antagonist, Yunia's brother and estranged son of Master Chen, Zai Yang, is a formidable foe, requiring Lu Chan to become what will ultimate be a true titan of the title discipline. Again, director Stephen Fung puts on his Scott Pilgrim vs. The World facade (if reviews of Zero are to be believed) in order to keep things as loose and lively (and ludicrous) as possible. Sammo Hung-THE Sammo Hung-is also back behind the scenes choreographing fights that allow for the director's often interfering flights of fancy (do we really need to stop the action for title cards telling us who everyone is?). The action is indeed enticing, but it also suffers a bit from a sense of familiarity. With the West adopting so many moves (so to speak) from the East, there's a distinct feeling with Hero like we've seen some of these things before.
Still, if you were suckered in by the first film and want to see where this sequel goes (again, it is really more of a continuation, since the first ended on a note suggesting more story to come) you will really enjoy Tai Chi Hero. The acting is uniformly good, the design and approach can be equally excellent, and the whole steampunk notion, when not pushed too hard, is evocative. As a matter of fact, just check out the oddball oater The Good The Bad The Weird to see an equally enticing post-modern mash-up. Granted, there is material here that will grate on your nerves, in-jokes and references that mean nothing without the first film as a frame of reference and there is only so much over the top chop sockey one can sit through before they call aesthetic "uncle" and pray for something more.
Again, imagine walking into Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back or The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and trying to pick up the pieces of the plot while understanding all the interpersonal dynamics and possibilities present. It would be a tough go, and Tai Chi Hero isn't as complicated in its mythology as those movies are. This is fun. It's also frustrating.
Well Go Usa offers an stellar 2.35:1/1080p transfer that takes the often overblown compositions of Fung and turns them into colorful, clear images. There is a lot of detail present at the HD print really highlights to epic scope of this storyline. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is a bit more problematic, only in that you should avoid the English language dubbed version at all costs. It's awful. The original Mandarin (in the same sonic format) is much, much better, with the subtitles doing a great job of keeping us clued in as to what is going on. As for added content, there is an excellent hour long documentary which highlights how Fung brought this material to life. We get interviews and glimpses behind the scenes, and hints at the possible final film. We are also treated to trailers for this and other offerings from the company.
While it may sound like pounding the collapsed corpse of Secretariat for the umpteenth time today, one should really sit down with Tai Chi Zero before jumping into this Hero's lap. You won't hate the experience if you don't, but one imagines you'll get more out of this likeable effort if you do.
Not guilty. A nice follow-up to the first film...apparently.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Mandarin)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Mandarin)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated