Chinese steampunk martial arts blockbuster about the early years of Tai chi master Yang Luchan, the man who founded in the 19th century what has now become the most popular Tai Chi style in the world. The second instalment of the “Tai Chi” trilogy continues the journey of Yang Luchan, a gifted child with a fleshy growth on his forehead who helped save a village from a frightening army of steampunk soldiers bearing strange machines with the knowledge of Tai Chi that they entrusted him with.
In short a martial arts village must survive against the evil steampunk death machines and armies who want to build a railway which would destroy the town. The story is really secondary. It carries the film, but the effects, action, strong characters are flawless if you understand the genre. Most of it is quite unique and visionary while not compromising on the values of a good dramatised Kung Fu adventure. I mean it is really slick how they merge effects, big graphic overlays to convey action and humour which is really good. My only regret after watching them was that I never saw them in the cinema. If you like Kung Fu films this must be one of the most rewarding films you will ever see. The vision made reality is really epic.
There’s also a bunch of subplots involving Fang, the villain from part I returning to endure further humiliation, a mysterious Westerner (played by Peter Stormare, the menacing giant of Fargo) who takes us nowhere and a flying machine called Heaven’s Wings (an odd bit of pre-Wright brothers historical revisionism), all of which clutter up the story that, we’re assured by the narrator, will be resolved in part III. The best bits of the film should be the fighting. But director Stephen Fung fails to fully capitalize on a battle scene pitting Lu Chan and two others against an elite army unit, which ends up feeling rather bloodless. The second big fight scene, a mano-a-mano contest between Lu Chan and a kung fu master, is smaller in scale but nicely captures the grace and skill of the discipline.
The sum of both films put together, only unfortunately averages it out. Inconsistency works fine for the music, however, which ranges from off-kilter European waltzes to thrash metal and traditional classical arrangements — the clashing tones fit with the erratic stylistic jumps of the filmmaking. If he continues to refine his methods of repurposing a wide variety of pop culture influences, Fung’s brave risk-taking should eventually cohere into something as fluid as it is unique.