95 min. (plus extras)
$24.98 (DVD)/$29.98 (Blu-ray)
Available January 22
Grade: 3 stars (out of 4)
Dubbed “a steampunk kung-fu throwdown,” Tai Chi Zero has quite a bit to live up to, and it doesn’t disappoint. This movie is the adrenalized lovechild of Scott Pilgrim and martial arts movies. It is that awesome.
So why not four stars? One, as with other recent Well Go USA releases, subtitles is a notable issue. Throughout the movie, many of the subtitles, including numerous lengthy sentences, are onscreen for a second or two and sometimes not even that long. Even speed readers can’t handle this while also paying attention to the action onscreen. Due to this, to completely follow the story, regular rewinding is required. Beyond that, there are some of the usual flaws that go with martial-arts movies, such as holes in the plot. Fortunately, the movie is well worth dealing with these issues.
To briefly summarize without spoilers, a young man named Yang Luchan travels to Chen Village to learn the Chen method of Tai Chi. However, the villagers — who are all very proficient in Chen fighting technique — are less than cooperative toward the eager and terminally persistent Yang. Hilarity and action galore ensue.
The action (say it!) kicks butt, the production is very well-done with no cheap-looking steampunk machinations and special effects, and the humor is consistent and solid. The excellent fighting choreography comes courtesy of martial-arts legend Sammo Hung. Altogether, director Stephen Fung has constructed a worthy addition to the genre.
Of course, perhaps you’ve heard that Tai Chi Zero is actually only half of the movie. It’s true: this one ends mid-conflict, and the credits feature the trailer for the conclusion, Tai Chi Hero. (Zero to Hero — get it?) While more moolah certainly served as one compelling reason to do this, I’m glad the producers did it that way. At 95 minutes, the complete story theoretically comes in at over 3 hours. That’s 190 minutes of largely non-stop kung-fu action. To some, that’s the promised land incarnate; to other die-hard martial-arts movie fans, that’s a lot to digest in one sitting. There are reasons that there aren’t many 3-hour movies in the martial-arts genre. That said, the sequel was released overseas in October, so look for it on video stateside in the near future.
Until then, watch Tai Chi Zero, repeatedly. Odds are you’ll pick up on things in later viewings that you missed the first time around. And if not, you still get to watch the movie more than once.
Ray Sidman is a former associate editor and longtime reviewer for Comics Buyer’s Guide. Read his reviews in CBG each month. You can read more Ray’s Reviews here.
(Image (c)2013 Well Go USA Entertainment)