Tai Chi Zero and Tai Chi Hero are basically two halves of the same film. Zero came out in the U.S. last fall, and Hero just came out a couple weeks ago. These movies had kung fu, steam punk, and a video game rpg-like quality to it. It had so much promise to be a really awesome fusion of some really cool elements. The first half, Tai Chi Zero, seemed to start out okay. The kung fu action was good, and I especially enjoyed the geometric graphic explanations of the techniques. The steam punk aspect was pretty fun, and as far as I know, it is the only steampunk kung fu movie out there. But here’s where the awesome stops and the bad begins.
Spoiler warning fairly given, this story is basically about a stupid guy with some weird affliction who happens to be gifted in martial arts. In order to resolve his life-threatening illness, he needs to learn tai chi, specifically the Chen style tai chi in the Chen village. Unfortunately, the villagers don’t teach outsiders their powerful kung fu, so he stubbornly refuses to leave and gets caught in the politics and conflicts of the village folk. An adopted orphan taken in by the villagers has come back as an adult to seek the permission of the elders to build a railroad by their village, but he’d been so ridiculed and poorly treated by the villagers, that he vows mega-revenge to destroy the village. Tai Chi Zero sets all of this up, and then Tai Chi Hero swoops in and completely makes a huge mess of things.
Not only is the martial arts action in the second installment lacking, the antagonist (vengeful adopted orphan) is constantly built up to have every reason to hate this stupid village full of stuck up elitists who are also childish, naive, and easily manipulated through their own system of inbred family politics, and then he gets kicked around and bullied some more. And then the main protagonist, the stupid guy, somehow becomes unbelievably awesome a la deus ex machina, and fast forward, everything is fixed by high emperor. What?
Tai Chi Zero to Hero is a mess of a story. I’m going to throw in the disclaimer that I’m seeing this from American eyes, but come on, bullies are bullies. If I grew up in a town of people who always called me “Wimpy” and pushed me around my whole life while not allowing me to learn the awesome kung fu that everyone else got to learn because they were “part of the family” and I was not, I’d totally want to burn that village down too and then jump on the remains for good measure. I’d like to say that’s just human nature and not “cultural perspective”.
So, I think the creators of these films really tried way too hard to ‘protagonize’ the antagonists. The real bad guys were the cruel villagers, especially that selfish girl and her cowardly dad (seen in the 2nd youtube video clip), the “main character” guy was just a mindless plot device that filled in the holes, and the antagonist was fully justified in his vengeful hate and desire to destroy the village (although, of course, it would have been nice if he could have resolved his hatred in a non-violent way). Disappointingly, the film tried so desperately hard to make unlikable characters seem like the good guys, and the whole thing just fell apart.
Don’t waste your time on this, and if you are interested enough to watch, just watch the first one and avoid the second.
There’s only so much steam-power robots can do to save a drowning plot.