Published Oct 18, 2012What a strange set of stylistic filters to explore the origins of Tai Chi through. Chinese actor turned director Stephen Fung is obviously having a lot of fun with this fantastical kitchen-sink approach, drawing from a broad selection of cinematic and pop media influences to tell a wild story of how martial arts prodigy Yang-lu Chan began to formulate his energy conserving style of self-defence.
As a child, Yang is taunted because of a fleshy, horn-like protuberance on his scalp. Due to an uncanny aptitude for absorbing techniques used against him, the young boy is quickly singled out by military leaders for use as a weapon. We see where this path of violence leads him early on in the first of many ridiculously bombastic battles, though the first is by far the bloodiest.
After being struck on the flesh horn, which causes him to go into a berserker rages until he sneezes blood, Yang learns that his vicious energy is a death sentence — when the horn turns black, he will die. At the behest of his late mother and the village doctor, Yang travels to a remote village to learn Chen-style kung-fu, which can presumably save his life, if only the obstinate, insular villagers will agree to teach him.
Meanwhile, there's a side story about the encroaching influence of Western technology on Chinese culture, which gives Fung the chance to pit ridiculous steam punk machines against the physical abilities of disciplined tradition. It's an extremely convoluted plot — one that feels secondary to the sheer wackiness of Fung's technical vision.
Slapstick humour plays alongside videogame conventions (there's an over-world village map with floating name icons above the various shops, life bars pop on screen and there's even a first-person action scene), comic book framing techniques (including animated title credits) and cheeky meta-gags (bios pop up to introduce actors, along with multiple choice quizzes and at least one false ending), pushing this well into the realm of absurdity.
Confounding as it is, when considered as a narrative feature, Tai Chi 0 is a heck of a lot of fun when it sticks to revelling in buoyant, capricious weirdness. (Well Go)