Hyperactive Tai Chi Zero a Kung Fu Downer
Lu Chan (Jayden Yuan) only wants to help people. Born with an oddly shaped fleshy bone on his head that turns him into a raging force of nature whenever someone hits it, he also has the innate ability to mimic any martial arts move he sees to perfection. When he learns this affliction has led him to the gate of a premature death, he’s urged by a friendly doctor to go to the secluded Chen Village and learn their mysterious form of kung fu known, unsurprisingly, as Chen Style Tai Chi.
Problem is, the villagers do not teach their martial arts to outsiders. No matter how badly Lu Chan wants to learn not a soul in the village is going to give him any help. Anyone, that is, except for the mysterious Uncle Laborer (Tony Leung Ka Fai). He urges the youngster to keep making attempts to enter the gates of the town and to mimic the moves of those trying to keep him out. But when Chen Village is attacked by a former resident intent on proving to the clueless citizens there’s more to the world than martial arts, Lu Chan teams up with the daughter of the Chen Style founder, Yuniang (Angelababy), to save the day.
I do not get all the fuss as it relates to Tai Chi Zero. Billed as a ‘steampunk kung fu throwdown,’ the movie is like a feverish video game martial arts hybrid made for viewers with now attention spans whatsoever. The whole thing is a phantasmagoric hyperactive daydream that doesn’t know when to stop. It’s so over the top, so frenzied, so out of control it ends up being an unintelligible mess. If director Stephen Fung and his team of writers had some sort of cohesive idea as to what this is all supposed to be about, after watching I sure as heck can’t say I have the first clue as to what that might be.
This thing makes no sense. None. More, I don’t think anyone who made it cares. It moves from gigantic battlefields to political interiors to windswept village streets to the chrome and steel walkways of a gigantic metal beetle that doubles as some sort of railroad facilitator without any attempt at narrative cohesion. The rules regarding Lu Chan’s horn seem to change from scene to scene, while his relationship with Yuniang is bewilderingly threadbare.
All of this might be fine if the action scenes worked, and considering they’re staged by the legendary Sammo Hung there’s no reason they shouldn’t be awesome. To be fair, now and then they do look fantastic, especially the one inside the metal demon, dubbed the ‘Troy,’ with Lu Chan and Yuniang fighting a never-ending onslaught of guards. But the camerawork and the editing work in direct opposition to the fight sequences, and while Sammo Hung has staged some extraordinary stuff in his career, much of what transpires here is so visually nonsensical making heads or tails out of anything that is happening is next to impossible.
There will be those who don’t care about any of this. There will be those that feel like Fung has taken the Hong Kong martial arts aesthetic into a brave new world. But in my opinion Tai Chi Zero is such a ghastly mess my regret for not feeling something similar is next to nonexistent. I think this is a bad movie, and I honestly don’t think there’s anything left for me to say.
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)