Fusing a 16th century kung fu style and innovative video game techniques together, the eye-popping film known as Tai Chi Zero, is blowing away audiences everywhere.
In this film, currently showing at Tin Pan Theater, Hong Kong-based director Stephen Fung blends graphic-novel inspired cinematography and video game imagery into his fifth directorial piece.
Fung's steampunk kung fu masterpiece is the tale of the resilient journey of keen Yang Lu Chan, played by Olympic Gold-winning Wushu champion Yuan Xiaochao, in his path to learn the ancient kung fu known as Chen-style tai chi.
The infusion of Steampunk, a science fiction sub-genre involving steam-powered creations, and the harmonious Chinese lifestyle, gives viewers a sense of how technology dramatically influenced life in China.
Battle ensues from the start for Lu Chan, a rebel soldier for the Divine Truth Cult, as he fights through a mass of Imperial forces. With the clash looking bleak for the cult, they unleash their secret weapon known as "the Freak." A fleshy devil-like nub on top of Lu Chan's head known as "Three blossoms on the Crown," transforms him into a toxic luminescent warrior.
Video game fans will notice the transformation as similar to glowing characters like Street Fighter's Raiden and Mortal Kombat's Sub-Zero. The blessed, or cursed, horn storyline is also reminiscent of the internal struggle Hellboy faced in the 2004 supernatural blockbuster.
But back to the action. After the CGI-charged melee nearly hinders Lu Chan's fighting ability, he meets a mysterious Chen-style savant who punctures his psyche with a life-or-death ultimatum.
Loosely based on the real life story of tai chi master Yang Lu-ch'an, the eager heroine treks to legendary Chen village in search of one man who may be able to repair the yin to his yang, Master Chen.
Master Chen is played by award-winning Chinese actor Tony Leung Ka Fai, who has become one of Hong Kong's premiere performers with over 100 films to his name. He takes the character to a monk-like level with constant wisdom and a devotion to the well being of his people.
The young warrior is repeatedly denied access to the village, which is gorgeous and an accurate representation of the beauty of Chinese architecture.
The ancient Chen-style tai chi, which the main character wishes to learn, is showcased throughout the film with a plethora of animal-like techniques that gives this whole film a "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" vibe.
The difference here is that instead of bamboo-nature based fight scenes, Lu Chan goes at it in a much more video game style. The fights involve a mahjong tile expert (Jade Xu) and a Cha Siu Bao bun keeper (Shaofeng Feng).
The steampunk revolution is shown in full vigor as the movie turns into a dark, technology-induced nightmare where, in a twist, Lu Chan becomes the villagers only hope.
At the heart of this fracas is a love triangle between Master Chen's daughter Fang (Angelababy), which showcases the softer side of director Fung's usual kung-fu heavy releases.
Throughout the prolonged skirmish, the film displays spectacular fight scenes peppered with anime-infused creativity and tai chi moves.
The minds behind Tai Chi Zero, the first addition of a planned trilogy, have taken hints from director Stephen Chow's kung fu comedies, Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, to create gripping storylines and transfixing tai chi mastery in a well-balanced film that will leave martial arts aficionados drooling for more.
The second installment of the trilogy, Tai Chi Hero, was released last month in China and will be kicking its way to a theater soon. In the meantime, get yourself down to Tin Pan to catch this flick.
Tai Chi Zero
Yuan Xiaochao, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Angelababy