×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Tai Chi Hero’

A sporadically engaging martial-arts extravaganza that looks even better compared with its predecessor

With:
Jayden Yuan, Angelababy, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Yuan Wenkang, Shu Qi, Stephen Fung, Xiong Xin Xin, Shen Si, Wei Ai Xuan, Eddie Peng, Feng Shaofeng, Wu Di, Chen Sicheng, Xiong Nai-jin, Feng Tsui-fan, Nikki Hsieh Hsin-ying, Patrick Tse, Daniel Wu, Peter Stormare, Ying Da, Li Qiankun. (Mandarin, English dialogue)

The central paradox of Stephen Fung’s “Tai Chi” franchise is that it uses all manner of digital trickery to tell a story about the perils of modernization. That contradiction aside, “Tai Chi Hero,” the second entry in the projected trilogy, is a sporadically engaging martial-arts extravaganza that looks even better compared with its predecessor, last year’s borderline-insufferable “Tai Chi Zero.” While this 19th-century tale of provincial kung fu masters and their more technologically advanced enemies is a similarly rambunctious, CG-laden diversion, it boasts significant improvements with its less frenetic style and more focused storytelling. Expect the gravity-resistant sequel to land somewhere in “Zero’s” commercial ballpark ($24 million worldwide).

Once again the action swirls around Chen Village, an isolated mountain hamlet whose inhabitants practice a form of kung fu so extraordinary that no one from the outside world is allowed to learn it. The lone exception is Yang Luchan (Olympic champion martial artist Jayden Yuan), the mentally slow but physically formidable young fighter who managed to ingratiate his way into the town’s good graces by the end of “Tai Chi Zero.” Now Luchan is betrothed to Yuniang (Angelababy), the strong-willed daughter of village elder Master Chen (Tony Leung Ka-fai), a marriage of convenience intended to protect the town’s closely guarded secrets.

But their wedding occasions the unexpected return of Master Chen’s estranged, long-absent son, Zaiyang (Feng Shaofeng), who makes no secret of his disapproval of Luchan and invokes an ancient prophecy, spelling utter catastrophe should Chen-style kung fu spread to outsiders. Perhaps not coincidentally, the gun-wielding railroad builders who threatened Chen Village with destruction in the first film are looking for a rematch, their efforts again spearheaded by traitorous industrialist Fang Zijing (Eddie Peng) and the oily-menacing Duke Fleming (Peter Stormare).

That Zaiyang turns out to be a martial-arts underachiever and a gadget whiz, someone more comfortable tinkering with machinery than deflecting body blows, lends the story a touch of poignancy, anchored by the gravitas and emotional reserve that Leung and Feng bring to their roles. The tensions coursing through the film — between father and son, tradition and technology, hand-to-hand combat and Steampunk-style weaponry — may be plain and predictable, but Fung, again working from a script by Zhang Jialu and Cheng Hsiao-tse, manages to reconcile opposites in a dramatically and thematically satisfying manner.

Unlike the men and women who sail over landscapes and parapets here (most of them using only their minds, although there is one exceptionally lethal hang glider), “Tai Chi Hero” never soars. As a stylist, Fung is an irrepressible show-off and a bit of a prankster, though there’s far less of the pop-up graphics and inside jokes that made the earlier pic such a chore; having ostentatiously set the table for an all-star buffet in the first film, the director seems to have slowed down long enough to let character investment and narrative interest take hold. As the zero-to-hero progression of the title would suggest, Luchan comes off as less of a dunce here, making Yuan’s eager-to-please performance considerably easier to take, even if his fists remain his most expressive instrument.

A videogame aesthetic persists in some of the action sequences, marked by whooshing camerawork, chop-chop editing and a none-too-rigorous sense of visual coherence, neither enhancing nor detracting from this agreeably weightless diversion. By the end, most viewers will feel as if they’ve spent more than enough time in this historical fantasy world, although the path to the inevitable third and final installment is dutifully set out in the film’s closing minutes.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Tai Chi Hero'

Reviewed on DVD, Pasadena, Calif., April 29, 2013. Running time: 102 MIN.

Production: (China) A Well Go USA Entertainment (in U.S.) release of a Huayi Brothers Media Corp. and Huayi Brothers Intl. presentation, in association with Shanghai Stone-Capital Culture Investment, Hunan Highland Culture Media Venture Partnership, of a Diversion Pictures production. Produced by Wang Zhongjun, Wang Liqun, Zhu Jing. Executive producers, Wang Zhonglei, Chen Kuofu. Co-executive producers, Zhang Dajun, Stephen Fung, Daniel Wu.

Crew: Directed by Stephen Fung. Screenplay, Zhang Jialu, Cheng Hsiao-tse; story, Chen Kuofu. Camera (color, widescreen), Ngor Chi-kwan, Lai Yiu-fai, Du Jie; editors, Cheng, Mathew Hui, Zhang Weili; music, Katsunori Ishida; production designers, Yip Kam-tim; costume designer, Liu Xuequn; sound, Li Tao; supervising sound editor, Nopawat Likitwong; re-recording mixers, Traithep Wongpaiboon, Likitwong; special effects supervisors, Fok Kim Tong, To Kwok Keung, Chan Shing, Cheung Shui Kim; visual effects supervisors, Chas Chau Chi-shing; Kim Ho Pui-kin, Ng Yuen-fai, A Law; action director, Sammo Hung; associate producers, Bernard Yang, Helen Li, Ken Wu, David Chan; assistant directors, Eddy Yeung Kwok Wai, Lo Kim Wah, Chan Wai Hung, Liu Chuan-hui; casting, Tang Sheqing.

With: Jayden Yuan, Angelababy, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Yuan Wenkang, Shu Qi, Stephen Fung, Xiong Xin Xin, Shen Si, Wei Ai Xuan, Eddie Peng, Feng Shaofeng, Wu Di, Chen Sicheng, Xiong Nai-jin, Feng Tsui-fan, Nikki Hsieh Hsin-ying, Patrick Tse, Daniel Wu, Peter Stormare, Ying Da, Li Qiankun. (Mandarin, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

  • Hereditary

    The Best Horror Films to Stream Right Now

    Good horror movies aren’t always easy to scare up, but with Halloween on the horizon, Variety has compiled a list of some of the best horror films available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. NETFLIX Apostle Cult horror meets religious hypocrisy in this creepy gothic thriller, which follows prodigal son Thomas Richardson, who returns home [...]

  • Brett Gelman

    'Stranger Things' Star Brett Gelman Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse'

    Brett Gelman, best known for his scene-stealing roles in “Fleabag,” “Stranger Things” and “Love,” has joined Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Jamie Bell and Jodie Turner-Smith are also on board. Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known as John Terrence Kelly, a former Navy SEAL who [...]

  • US director Francis Ford Coppola holds

    Francis Ford Coppola Honored With Prestigious Lumiere Prize by Thierry Fremaux, Bong Joon Ho

    Francis Ford Coppola took the stage to claim the Lumière Festival’s lifetime achievement honor, the Lumière Prize, in a stirring celebration that marked the festival’s 10th edition on Friday night in Lyon, France. The four-time Academy Award winner accepted the prize after a series of video tributes, musical performances and testimonials from family, friends and [...]

  • 'Human Capital' Sells to Vertical Entertainment,

    Liev Schreiber, Maya Hawke's 'Human Capital' Sells Rights to DirecTV, Vertical Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV have jointly acquired the North American distribution rights to “Human Capital,” an official selection of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival from director Marc Meyers. The film stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maya Hawke. The ensemble drama follows numerous interconnected stories surrounding a hit and run, [...]

  • Robert Zemeckis

    Robert Zemeckis in Talks to Direct Live-Action 'Pinocchio' for Disney (EXCLUSIVE)

    Robert Zemeckis is in early talks to direct Disney’s live-action “Pinocchio.” Andrew Miano and Chris Weitz will produce through their company Depth of Field with Weitz penning the script. “Paddington” director Paul King had originally been tapped to direct but had to leave the project for unknown reasons at the beginning of the year. David [...]

  • Taron Egerton Elton John Rocketman Live

    Elton John and Taron Egerton Duet at 'Rocketman' Awards Season Event at the Greek Theatre

    “Rocketman” has officially launched into awards season. Paramount hosted a screening of the film with a live-performance of the score by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a headlining performance by Elton John and the film’s star Taron Egerton. John and Egerton — who is in contention for best actor for his portrayal of the singer [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content