Presumably the Zero in Tai Chi Zero‘s title indicates a second installment is forthcoming, because this one ends on two cliffhangers. The film joyously embraces its artificiality–there’s no attempt at making the kung fu fighting seem realistic; instead, director Fung concentrates on making it look good and drawing attention to that effort. The opening titles all have annotations, informing the viewer where they might have seen cast members before. The method makes Zero a lot of fun, when it otherwise might not be.
It’s not a particularly fun story. Yuan Xiaochao plays an orphan who ends up in a possibly villainous army, his commander knowingly endangering his life because of a mysterious kung fu-enabling ailment. He journeys to an idyllic village, hoping to save his own life, where he’s met with derision from the townsfolk.
Meanwhile, Eddie Peng plays another outsider who’s never been accepted, but now he’s back to build a railroad through his old village.
Angelababy is the girl; she pines for Peng and constantly kicks Yuan’s ass with the kung fu he desperately wants to learn. All three give good performances, especially Peng. And Tony Leung Ka Fai’s great as Yuan’s reluctant friend.
While the film’s constantly trying to be amusing–and it succeeds almost all of the time–the technical achievements are significant. The photography’s fantastic, as is Katsunori Ishida’s music. Katsunori toggles between grand melodramatic scoring and playful action instantly.
It’s hard to hold the problematic ending against Zero. It’s just too fun.
Directed by Stephen Fung; screenplay by Cheng Hsiao-tse and Zhang Jialu, based on a story by Chen Kuo-fu; directors of photography, Peter Ngor, Lai Yiu-Fai and Du Jie; edited by Cheng, Matthew Hui, Zhang Jialu and Zhang Weili; music by Katsunori Ishida; production designer, Timmy Yip; produced by Wang Zhongjun, Daniel Wu and Zhang Dajun; released by Huayi Brothers Media.
Starring Yuan Xiaochao (Yang Lu Chan), Angelababy (Chen Yunia), Tony Leung Ka Fai (Uncle Laborer), Eddie Peng (Fang Zi Jing), Shu Qi (Yang Lu Chan’s Mother) and Feng Shaofeng (Chen Zai-Yang).