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June 20, 2013

Tai Chi Hero

tai chi hero.jpg

Stephen Fung - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

In between the time I saw Tai Chi Zero and the newly released sequel, I did a little bit of "homework", and caught Stephen Fung's 2005 film, House of Fury. Ideally, I would have seen that film earlier, because it combines martial arts with a whimsical premise on a smaller scale. Anthony Wong plays the practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, and the source of embarrassment to his image conscious teenage daughter. It turns out Wong is a former government hit man, and the walls and floors of his modest home hide some very elaborate and high tech rooms.

Martial arts and technology are very much at the forefront of Tai Chi Hero. Fung has had the good sense to substantially tone down some of the gimmickry of the first film, though superimposed titles to introduce various guest stars is repeated. The gimmicks here are what have given the series the description as steampunk, in particular the creation of a single manned airplane called Heaven's Wing. There are also a fight scenes and lots of wire work, primarily the work of Sammo Hung, working here as the action director.

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The main characters from Tai Chi Zero are back. And this film, like the last, can be interpreted as something of a parable about the westernization of China, and its role on the world stage. Western interests are personified by Peter Stormare as an unscrupulous industrialist named Duke Fleming, with what seems like an unlimited fortune.

The town of Chen is a proxy for the China that barricaded itself from outsiders and outside interests. Lu Chan, the zero turned hero, is still unable to be accepted, even after marriage to the Grandmaster's daughter, Yu Niang. The prodigal son of the Grandmaster, Zai's value is initially based on his martial arts prowess or lack thereof, until he is able to demonstrate what can be done with his interests in mechanical devices. The happy ending gives way to a hint of more to come with Duke Fleming entering a fortress with a skull-like entrance.

Maybe she's be seen more decisively in the third part of this trilogy, but Nikki Hsieh's character should have been more developed. As the deaf-mute wife of Zai, Hsieh appears as nothing more than the pretty wife who stays in the background. There's more than meets the eye when she briefly engages in a rooftop fight with Tony Leung Ka Fai. Hsieh disappears from the film soon after that scene. While it's nice that Stephen Fung has a large budget at his disposal, the best special effect in movies is still an intriguing character on the screen.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 20, 2013 03:13 AM