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“Tai Chi Zero,” a Chinese martial arts film by director Stephen Fung, has a thin plotline with a in tongue-in-cheek tone, manic steampunk and video game interpolation and, of course, plenty of hand-to-hand combat.
The film stars Yuan Xiaochao as Yang Lu Chan, a boy born with an ugly boil on his forehead. Known colloquially as “three blossoms on the crown,” it gives him an impressive prowess in kung fu and increased strength from too much damage. This situation makes for a nice show as kicks and blows make glitched numbers erupt for a huge score or a huge “K.O.” reminiscent of “Street Fighter” video games.
Chan’s abilities do not prevent him from coming close to death, however. A tenuous battle and the arson of his military base lead him to seek the famous Chen village in hopes of learning a rare Tai Chi from its belligerently stubborn residents. They refuse his every plea, sometimes beating him up in the process, which forces him to learn through frequent tiffs with the local baker or even a cheeky schoolgirl. It also helps since he ends up fighting against an anachronistic machine threatening to raze the village.
The film gives its fair share of humor due to Chan’s bumbling attempts and his naive outlook, but the story is fairly bland. The sideplot involving Fang Zijing (Eddie Peng), the hamlet’s pariah engineer and the woman in control of the mechanized fall flat. Also, if not for the competent gaming references and enthralling cinematography, Chan’s journey could barely fulfill audiences on its own.
Tai Chi Zero is a film that engages on a surface level but comes off as no real fault due to how most kung fu films work. Audiences usually expect a heavy dose of ethnically-based pugilism, and receive that along with a cool touch of visual flair.