Tai Chi Hero (2013) – By Duane L. Martin

Lu Chan and the Chen clan are back in this sequel to Tai Chi Zero. In this film, Lu Chan has married Yu Niang, the daughter of the grand master, and both she and her father are teaching Lu Chan how to balance his mind, body and energy so that he can take control of his gift, known as Three Blossoms in the Crown, which will eventually kill him if he doesn’t get control of his energies. For those who haven’t seen the first film, Three Blossoms in the Crown is a tiny horn on Lu Chan’s forehead that when struck, causes him to go into a crazy, kung fu rage, at the end of which, blood shoots out his nose and he passes out.

In this sequel, Yu Niang’s brother You Zhi returns home after many years away. He and their father had never seen eye to eye, and he didn’t like to practice Chen-style kung fu. He was more of an inventor, and used his inventions as a crutch to make it appear as though his kung fu was better than it really was. When his father discovered this, he and You Zhi had a fight and You Zhi left to pursue his dreams of becoming an inventor. Now he was back in the village, but his homecoming is more than mere coincidence. He came home during the wedding of Lu Chan and Yu Niang, and from that moment on, he worked some pre-arranged machinations, along with help from his deaf mute, kung fu expert wife, to take over as the grand master of the village. Little did they know that he was actually sent there by another former villager who turned against them in the first film…Fan Zi Jing.

Fang had bought himself into a Lieutennant Governor position, and was now using that position to take revenge upon the village for the events that transpired in the first film. Now with his plan in motion, he’s using his new found power to manipulate the Governor so he can use the military and their newly purchased cannons against the village. Now it’s up to Master Chen (Tony Leung), Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao) and Yu Niang (Angelababy) to stop his evil plans. When You Zhi is betrayed by Fang and realizes the error of his ways, he joins in the fight against Fang as well, and now it’s up to the four of them to save the village and to expose Fang’s corruption to Prince Yu, before it’s too late.

This is a woefully inadequate synopsis of the film, because there’s just so much going on and so much that related to events in the first film that it makes it really difficult to give a general sense of what the film is about without going into a lot of detail. As this is the second film in the trilogy, you’ll want to see the first film, Tai Chi Zero, before you see this one anyway, and that will explain everything.

As for this film, well…

Let me just start off by saying that I LOVED Tai Chi Zero. It was different, full of great action and humor and was visually, not only stunning, but different. These films have a unique look to them that I can’t quite put my finger on, but they’re very colorful, nicely contrasted and look absolutely amazing. Now, that said, you can imagine how badly I’ve been wanting to get my hands on the sequel. When it finally showed up in my mailbox from Well Go USA for me to do the review, I was as giddy as a schoolgirl. Seriously, I was excited. So how did I feel after I saw it? Well…

While the first film had some good story elements to it, the real stars were the action, and then giant steampunk style tank of doom, for lack of a better expression for it. This film was different. It too had great action and those steampunk elements, but in this one, those elements weren’t the star of the film. This film was more story driven, and we get a lot of background about why the Chen village won’t teach any outsiders their Chen-style kung fu. We also get to see Lu Chan grow and develop his skills and his energy focus until he reaches a point where his horn actually disappears and he is in full control of his mind, body and energy. There’s a transformational process that he goes through in the film. His gift had drained his energies to a point to where it had left him as sort of a simpleton. As he trained and grew, his mind regained focus and once the transformation had completed, he had become a true master of kung fu.

Another great thing we get in this film, is that we get a lot more of the relationships between the characters, including some historical background that explains various aspects of why things are the way they are, and why some people act the way they do. Essentially we’re given less of the goofy fun of the first one, and it’s replaced with a different kind of fun that’s more involved, and far more character driven.

A lot of people didn’t care for this sequel much. I think the reason for that is that they were expecting it to be just like the first film. To them I would say that if this film had been just like the first, then the story wouldn’t have been able to progress or to have gained the depth that it did. The characters wouldn’t have been alowed to develop, and what we’d have ended up with was a fun film that would be entertaining, but at the same time, less satisfying. This is a trilogy, and for the films to truly work together, the story has to develop and the characters have to grow. They did do that somewhat in the first film, but this film really explored it all in a much deeper way, without losing the fun, the humor and all the great action.

Think of it this way. In the first season of any television season, the show is new, and both the actors and the writers generally spend the entire first season getting in touch with and developing their characters. As such, the characters lack a lot of the depth they have in season two, and as seasons two and three progress, so does the depth of the characters. That’s what we have here with this trilogy of films. Think of the first film as sort of the intro, and now this film explores and develops the characters a lot more. By the time the third film rolls around, these characters are going to feel really comfortable and familiar, and all of the story elements will have fallen into place beautifully as they come to fruition.

So to those who didn’t care for this film, I say, take it for what it is, not for what you thought it was going to be. If you wanted to see a clone of the first one, watch the first one again. If you want more of the characters, more amazing action, and some new and really great steampunk elements, then take this one for what it is, because it delivers on all of those fronts in spades.

For special features, this release comes with a "making of" featurette called From Zero to Hero, an optional English dubbed language track and trailers for other films from Well Go USA. The visual quality of the film itself is simply stunning and the sound is absolutely amazing.

I could sit here and write for another hour about all the great things in this film, but you don’t want to read a film. Films are for watching. So go grab yourself a copy and watch it, but make sure you watch the first one first, otherwise you’re missing the whole first third of the story, and that’s just not cricket. I honestly can’t recommend these films enough. So whether you end up watching them on Netflix or buying them for your own collection, which is what I’d recommend, make sure you see them. They’re wonderfully entertaining.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out its page on the Well Go USA website here, and if you’d like to pick up a copy for yourself, you can get the DVD or blu-ray from Amazon, or from any of the other usual outlets.