Following-up his goofy steam-punk martial arts film Tai Chi Zero, Stephen Fung returns with Tai Chi Hero, the second film in his zany Tai Chi trilogy of a simple minded man looking to become a great martial artist. The film kicks off roughly where the last one ended, Lu Chan (Jayden Yuan) is about to marry Yuniang (Angelababy) so that he can take on the name Chen and finally learn Chen-style Kung Fu thanks to the support of her father, Grandmaster Chen (Tony Leung Ka-Fai). The relationship is only for the purpose of training and Yuniang becomes Lu Chan’s Shifu (master) in hopes of making him a better fighter and to help shrink the magical but deadly mutant horn on his head that gives him physical power but mental weakness.
When Yuniang’s brother, Zai Yang Chen (Feng Shaofeng), returns after being banished by his father for so many years, the town is reminded of the Bronze Bell Prophecy that if an outsider learns Chen-style kung fu the village will be doomed. Soon the town believes Lu Chan is responsible for the troubles coming their way but soon enough the real threat and set-up is revealed, bringing back old faces from the first film like Fang Zijing (Eddie Peng Yu-Yen) and new ones in the form of the great Peter Stormare as Duke Fleming of the East India Company, who was a hilarious surprise.
Like the first film, this movie only has one or two actual steam-punk influences and that’s the inclusion of a flying machine called heavenly wings and a bodily mechanical element that I won’t spoil. Though the end of the film suggests that we’ll have a ton of mechanized toys to gaze upon, this movie is more your general period martial arts film than the steam-punk one that I was anxiously looking forward to. That being said, the elements that are there are really cool and make the movie so much more entertaining.
When it comes to the sound, Tai Chi Hero’s music selection is on the same level of Sucker Punch’s genre infusion, it’s just mash-up mayhem in this feature with the soundtrack ranging from heavy metal all the way to classy jazzy tunes that are reminiscent of a James Bond flick. Now that I think about it, the film’s visuals are just as eclectic with the movie taking a Scot Pilgrim vs. the World video game style approach as it heads towards its climax with Lu Chan battling seven bosses just to get some help.
Most of the humor from the first film came from the great interactions between Lu Chan and Grandmaster Chen along with the dimwitted day to day interactions of Lu Chan with others. In this film, since Lu Chan is learning Chen-style Kung Fu the powerful bump on his head is receding which is helping restore his normal intelligence level. As a result, there isn’t actually much humor in this film, instead Tai Chi Hero ends up feeling more like a light hearted action drama than a nifty action comedy.
There are a lot of predictable elements to the movie, which
is a shame, and the philosophical lessons aren’t subtle at all, but it seems as if Stephen Fung realizes all of this and doesn’t care, all he simply wants to do is make an enjoyable popcorn film. Thanks to the greatness of Tony Leung Ka-Fai’s performance along with some great action sequences (like a balance beam fight) and camerawork, Tai Chi Hero ends up being slightly better than its predecessor. It still has a way to go if it wants to be a truly fun film that audiences would want to see again, but this movie shows that Fung is learning and that hopefully he’ll be able to step up his game and deliver all the goods we want in the final chapter of this trilogy.
Rating: Better than the first thanks to the action and increased steam-punk influences but there is still plenty of room for improvement (5/10)