Back when I was in elementary, THE arcade game to be playing was Street Fighter II. Though I couldn’t master the game, it seemed to be popular due to its colorful characters, funky combination of button punching to release special combos, and fantastical sets of special moves. I was reminded a lot of that video game from a bygone time as I sat there being entertained by Tai Chi 0.
What makes the film so fun is the playful way that tai chi is presented. While the the moves are fantastical and over the top, they are more workman like and utilitarian in nature. So while people still go flying around, it is a bit more believable than say what they were doing in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. What adds to the fun are the animated messages that pop up or are overlaid at different points in the film. A fun use of this is employed when tai chi moves are introduced. As the person is going through their move, schematic like diagrams explaining their move are shown. Finally, there are a few animated and comic book like cut sequences that also add to the playful nature of the film.
Tai Chi tells the story of Yang, an orphaned child with the unique ability to go “super saiyan” whenever his bodily abnormality on his forehead is punched. After long term use with life threatening consequences, Yang is urged to seek refuge at the legendary Chen village, where learning their special brand of tai chi may reverse the ill effects. Though everyone in towns knows tai chi, they do not teach it to outsiders.
You pretty much know where the story is going once our young protagonist gets to the village, so there’s no new ground being covered here. Undeterred, Yang turns the obstacles in front of him into a windfall when outside forces threaten the village. Throw in a love triangle, industrialization creeping into rural areas, years of village tradition, and a reclusive mentor; and the plot of the film provides the hero (and the audience) with enough to keep busy with. Probably the most interesting turn in the film is when a huge steampunky war train shows up at the gateway to the town threatening to bulldoze it over in the name of technological progress. That’s where the film kicks up the action and drama while featuring the best food fight I’ve ever seen of film.
I would be remiss not to mention that this film is the first in a trilogy of films so don’t expect everything to wrap up nicely at the end. In fact, many questions I had were not answered by the film; first and foremost being the non-resolution of Yang’s reasons for journeying to the Chen village. However, the film does end on a “just wait till you see the sequel” moment where it’s hinted at that things will be amped up in the next movie. The end credits sequence even previews some of the events in future by providing imagery of things that I’m sure others in my audience were dying to know.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking for a fun martial arts action movie, Tai Chi 0 won’t be your best choice, but it definitely will be a fun one and Down Right Fierce.
At my screening of Tai Chi 0 there were technical issues with the festival print and a DVD version was shown instead. We were told that since it was an evaluation copy of the film that we were watching, the word “Sample” would be plastered across the screen. Refunds and exchanges were offered, and while I don’t know how many people chose this option, a good number of people stayed and our theater was at least 85% full. Hats off to the HIFF staff for making the best out of a bad situation and still offering to show the film in some form rather than outright canceling it–while still offering refunds. Another hat tip as well to all of us that stayed to watch the film. You know people are true cinema fans when they don’t let low quality presentation ruin a night out.
Tai Chi 0 is currently out in limited release and is tentatively slated to open in Hawaii on Friday, October 26.
Rating 3/5 stars // PG-13 // 100 minutes