A few things you should probably know about Thi Chi Zero since I'd guess you haven't heard about it before. It's a Hong Kong kung fu film with big sets, plenty of fights and lots wire work. It isn't, however, much like anything you've likely seen before. It's got a frenetic style that jumps around to every genre at the blink of an eye all while subtly parodying and paying homage to classic kung fu movies.
Why is an obscure kung fu film getting release in the U.S.? For one it's also got a slate of classic kung fu stars and up and comers that should satiate an fans of the genre. It's also directed by Stephen Fung whose been leaving his foot print on the Hong Kong film scene for the past decade.
It's also the first of two movies.
So now that you have a bit of background on the film, the question becomes should you see it.
Tai Chi Zero
Tai Chi Zero liberally steals from both classic kung fu films, anime and videogames, combing these three mediums into a movie that's almost schizophrenic it so all over the place. As the film starts we're introduced to The Freak or Yang Lu Chan (Yuan Xiaochao) who is a martial arts prodigy and has a special mark on his head, which makes him go crazy when hit. The problem is the mark is killing him and so he goes to Chen village to learn the only type of kung fu that can save his life. There he searches for Master Chen to teach him (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and runs into his daughter Chen Yunia (Angelbaby). Unfortuantely the town only teaches that style of kung fu to people who live there and so Yang Lu Chen is rebuffed.
While he strives to gain acceptance to the town an evil western corporation brings a giant steampunk robot to build a train track straight through the town. Threatening to destroy the town if they do not leave on their own the giant robot sets up the films major evil. Things are bit complicated though as the robot is controlled by an ex-town member and former lover of Chen Yunia. Love triangles, kung fu and a good dose of comedy wrap the story together in a bundle that may not be cohesive, but can be fun to watch.
Director Stephen Fung directs the movie like he's inside the head of a 15-year-old boy, and for the most part it works. When Yang Lu Chan has a series of challenges in front of him they're present as stages in a fighting game for instance, while text often pops up on screen either to hammer home a joke or to announce actors names. There's plenty of third wall breaking here as kung fu moves are diagrammed out as the fight goes on in a cool manner and the camera is constantly winked at. The film even randomly cuts to animation every so often, better connecting its heavily anime influenced fights by preparing you for them.
The fights are pretty spectacular too. The choreography on some is fantastic and Fung's insertion of Batman-eque sound effects makes them more fun. Sadly his stylistic choices sometimes get in the way of a good fight. Every so often during the film you want it to stop trying to be clever and just show the fight for what it is. There's some very good fighters in this film and often times it seems that Fung is more interested in making it look cool instead of actually letting it be cool. He also paces the film rather poorly with lulls popping up here and there that just aren't that interesting and other parts seeming a bit too rushed. It does make a bit more sense once you realize that it's the first part of a two part film, but it still could ahve been handled better.
They're marketing this as a steampunk/kung fu film, but really it leans more towards Scott Pilgrim in how it presents its world. By interweaving videogame elements and animation the movie feels more like a cartoon, which is both a bad and a good thing. The steampunk elements are definitely there, but it's not the true gist of the film. The true gist is a kung fu movie for the modern age: jam packed full of the hyper kinetic stimuli of an ADHD generation. For the most part it works, but like most films that jump in and out of different styles you kind of wish they toned it back every once in a while.