John Bleasdale

Venice 2012: ‘Tai Chi 0’ review

★★★☆☆

Directed by Stephen Fung, choreographed by Sammo Hung and starring a whole host of Kung Fu legends, Tai Chi 0 (2012) is a kinetic frenzy of a movie, whose giddy inventiveness will be far too much for some, but a giggle for anyone who enjoys the frenetic quality of filmed martial arts. Those grasping for comparison pieces would be best off visualising a heady blend of Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) – without the insipid irritant that is Michael Cera.

Fung’s film follows the story of martial arts prodigy Yang Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao), who is born with a special gift – a horn-like lump of flesh that when struck turns him into a demonic fighting machine. Able to instantly copy every move of Kung Fu he witnesses, Lu Chan is adopted and exploited by a master who recruits him to the army of ‘Divine Warriors’, before being thrown into the fray. After one such battle, a kindly doctor tells him that his gift is killing him – and that when his horn becomes black, his death is nigh,

It transpire that the only way Lu Chan can save his own life is to travel to Chen Village and study Tai Chi under Master Chen himself. This he endeavours to do, only to find that the village has a very, very strict policy of not teaching their moves to an outsider. What’s more, the village also finds itself threatened by the building of a new railway, pioneered by the weakling villain who is betrothed to marry Master Chen’s daughter (Angelababy).

Tai Chi 0 is full of irreverent jokes and some frankly bonkers nonsense. The influence of video games upon Fung is apparent not only in his visual style (complete with eye-popping graphics), but also the structure of his film’s narrative, with Lu Chan having to complete his task in a series of levels. Also added to this Manga-style-melee are some very busy subtitles, as well as a whole section of Lu Chan’s back story played out as a black and white silent movie. Hung’s fight scenes are similarly fun, brief and refreshingly inventive – if you’ve ever see a fruit and veg battle as good as the one in Tai Chi 0, we’ll eat our own nunchucked turnips.

The influence of Western cinema crops up in the form of femme fatale figure Clare Heathrow and a monstrous railway-making tank that’s pure steam punk. But this is no simple tale of Chinese tradition beating off Western industrialisation. The film’s heroine, Master Chen’s daughter, is someone who sees the benefit of the West, with Chen himself a huge fan of the phonograph. With luck, Fung’s Tai Chi 0 will make its way to our shores in the near future, with its sequel – Tai Chi Hero – already nearing completion.

The 69th Venice Film Festival runs from 29 August-8 September. For more of our Venice 2012 coverage, simply follow this link.

John Bleasdale