Tai Chi Hero (2012)
Director: Stephen Fung
Writers: Chia-lu Chang, Kuo-fu Chen, and Hsiao-tse Cheng
Starring: Yuan Xiaochao, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Angelababy, and Eddie Pang

The Plot: Yang Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao), the protagonist from Tai Chi Zero, is back once again as he continues with his goal of learning the elusive Chen-style kung fu. After the events of the first movie, Lu Chan is in the process of marrying Yu Niang (Angelababy), but before the ceremony ends, a stranger from the past appears. Zai Yang (Feng Shaofeng) is a former member of the village who was once forced out by Master Chen Chang Xing (Tony Leung Ka Fai). Upon his return, he shows off a tremendous amount of physical prowess and a new understanding of kung fu. Zai Yang reminds the village of the ancient prophecy that told of the dangers that would befall Chen village if it were to teach any outsider their martial art. This puts Lu Chan right back to his starting point. Meanwhile, Zi Jing (Eddie Peng) finds himself recuperating from his defeat within the first film. Yet, his business partner Duke Fleming (Peter Stormare) refuses to let Zi Jing take a break from his battles, and instead helps lift him up in order to continue in his war against Chen village. So, Lu Chan must find someone in the village willing to teach him Chen-style kung fu, while also defending the village from these deadly external forces.

The Review
It is no secret that I am a pretty big fan of Tai Chi Zero. It’s a movie that might have mild problems, but the end result is something that provides tons of silly entertainment. After watching the first movie, I found myself eagerly awaiting the sequel. I knew that Well Go USA! would inevitably release the film, so it was only a matter of time before it showed up on my doorstep. However, the wait was certainly a difficult one. Continuing Well Go’s recent string of entertaining releases, Tai Chi Hero is the next step in cementing this franchise here in the west. So, now that the most recent adventure of Lu Chan has been released, does it live up to expectations? Well, if you hoped for a film that continues what the first movie started, without a lot of deviation, then you are likely to be entertained.

As familiar as the content may be, as a continuation of the Tai Chi Zero storyline, Tai Chi Hero isn’t exactly 100% what one might expect. After the situations faced during the first film, it seems as if the folks in Chen Village would feel somewhat in debt to the character of Lu Chan. However, it takes all of about five seconds for the entire town to be persuaded against him, and the explanation for why the town fears outsiders seems tacked on rather than expository. In this sense, the movie feels less like a direct continuation, which it actually is, and more like an alternate story set some time a little further from the events of the first movie. While it does help to have seen the first movie, I would argue that it isn’t completely necessary. While this is normally a good thing for any sequel, for me it became an entirely new learning experience that I had trouble adjusting to. Hero forfeits building upon the foundations established by the other movie and instead it hopes to create an entirely new experience. It’s a situation that offers its own positive and negative merits. While some viewers (like myself) would have preferred a movie that starts off with the speed and charisma with which the first film developed throughout its runtime, it only takes a bit of patience to wait for the foundation for this movie to be laid. Once everything smooths out, Tai Chi Hero is back up and running.

Interestingly enough, the movie opens with a scroll that sets up the subtext for the remainder of the film and the basic moral seems to be that Western influences are a nuisance on Chinese culture. Immediately, one might get the feeling that this movie wasn’t specifically targeted towards Western audiences, despite the way it features tons of content that would beg to differ. It’s the same song-and-dance that we see in many recent Chinese films. These titles pack big budgets, high production values, bad CGI (for the most part, these films are fairly solid in this regard), and a very obvious patriotic chip on the shoulder. This was not an intangible element in the first movie, it was definitely there, but the abrupt introduction of it in this film makes it seem all the more prevalent. This is the irony of the Tai Chi Zero franchise, because these films are easily the most Hollywood-ized Chinese productions that I can remember seeing. The debt that it owes to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is unbound, so much so that I simply must make the reference each time I mention these films. The series borrows liberally from Scott Pilgrim, even to the point where Lu Chan at one point during this movie faces off with seven various masters. Then, while doing it, there is even a level-select screen that showcases his opponent. There’s nothing wrong with borrowing such aesthetic cues when the movies are so obviously different, but this movie obviously comes across as a bit conflicted in what it has to say.

Tai Chi Zero was already a bit confusing in its overall message, but Tai Chi Hero simply reinforces the bizarre and potentially hypocritical nature of the movie. The problem lies in the film’s overall condemnation of Western influences. It is often vocalized throughout the film that Western influences are downright evil, but while doing this, it is easily one of the most Westernized films to come out of China in the past decade. I’ve had difficulty pinning down what the movie hopes to say about China, modernity, and traditionalism. Not that I think the film should argue that all change is good, because that certainly wasn’t the case for China during the turn of the twentieth century, but there seems to be very little middle-ground within Tai Chi Hero. Inevitably, one character becomes a spokesperson for the decent things that can come from modern technology, but this character still has far more negative attributes than positive ones.

Despite its very modern vibe, the action still feels like the vintage Hong Kong wuxia style. The wirework is fluid, and the work behind the camera is very much a part of this unique blend of old and new. The choreography is pretty spectacular, and while the fight sequences in the film seem as if they are brief, the kung fu is very solid. The best choreography is of course reserved for the final third of the movie, but there is some decent action spread throughout. The highlight would certainly be the fight sequence between Yuan Xiaochao and Yuen Biao. Taking place atop several intricately placed beams, their fight sequence brings everything together and showcases the best elements of Tai Chi Hero‘s action.

The Conclusion
Overall, Tai Chi Hero is certainly a movie filled with mixed messages. Similarly, this review is filled with the same things. While everything I have said is certainly true, I am still a pretty big fan of this series. Tai Chi Hero is a step-down when seeing it as a sequel, as it doesn’t seem to have as much innovation within it, but it still packs a great deal of fun. It has the action audiences expect, it is filled with wild visuals, and it isn’t afraid to occasionally poke fun at itself. Although I am rating it a three out of five, I do consider it closer to a four. Upon further viewings, I expect it to become more endearing. I would certainly recommend picking this one up if you enjoyed the first movie.