Posts tagged ‘martial arts’

Fade Away and Radiate: Tai Chi 0 film review

Angelababy, text, and explosions, Tai Chi 0, 2012

Tai Chi 0, actor-turned-director Stephen Fung’s new-school martial arts movie, opens this weekend in the U.S. after a pretty successful theatrical run in China. The first of a trilogy, Tai Chi 0  is chock full of what we in the nineties used to call self-reflexivity and is loaded with Brechtian bells and whistles, but ultimately the movie doesn’t have a lot of substance below it’s clever exterior. Although it was a lot of fun while I was watching it, the effects of Tai Chi 0 faded pretty quickly after I left the theater.

The movie’s premise is a nice homage to classic kung fu flicks: talented but naïve youngster attempts to hone his martial-arts chops by seeking out an elusive gong fu master, with many obstacles barring his way. Tai Chi 0’s main character, Yang Lu Chan, is born with a small fleshy horn on the side of his forehead that portends his inborn martial arts prowess. Unfortunately, whenever Yang starts an ass-kicking his life essence is dangerously depleted. In an attempt to counter the deleterious effects of using his powers, Yang journeys to Chen village in hopes of training with the master residing there, but tradition forbids any outsiders learning the village’s kung fu secrets. The movie has fun pitting Yang against villagers using mah jong tiles and tofu to defeat his attempts at learning their ways and Tai Chi 0 is best when it riffs on these familiar tropes. Sammo Hung’s classic action choreography carries the movie’s fight scenes, though it’s undercut a bit by Fung’s shaky-cam and too-quick editing.

Jayden Yuan Xiaochao, flexible newbie, Tai Chi 0, 2012

Showing some moxie in her role, Angelababy acquits herself pretty well as the spunky heroine, while Eddie Peng as her conflicted boyfriend torn between tradition and the lure of modernity epitomizes duBois’s double consciousness. Newcomer Jayden Yuan Xiaochao as Yang is good as the archetypal kung fu neophyte, though he doesn’t get to do much but fight sporadically and look innocently confused, and Tony Leung Ka-Fei is excellent as a laborer who secretly aids Yang’s quest to learn Chen village kung fu. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Big Tony’s been transitioning nicely to character roles, both here and in Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.

Big Tony, Tai Chi 0, 2012

Where Tai Chi 0 departs from its martial arts movie predecessors is through its constant use of quirky onscreen titles, constantly traveling camerawork, and other gaming effects. Recalling an old kung fu movie tradition (more recently adopted by big-budget mainland China agitprop flicks like 1911 and Founding of a Republic), actors are introduced by brief onscreen titles that also declare their resume (ie, “that’s Andrew Lau as Yang’s father: he directed the Infernal Affairs trilogy.”) Other titles both informative and ironic constantly pop up throughout the movie, including those detailing the progress of Yang through his quest, as well as onscreen diagrams tracing the speed and vector of a flying kick and other gameboyesque techniques. The movie also features a steampunky locomotive that resembles a huge cast-iron teapot, with grinding gears and smoking cogs straight out of Modern Times. While this is all very adroit and adds interesting visual texture to the movie, the tricksiness still doesn’t make for a really memorable cinematic experience, unlike, say, Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, Tsui Hark’s recent foray into 3-D IMAX which successfully exploited the latest innovations in movie technology to full and insane effect.

But Tai Chi 0 is certainly as diverting as most Hollywood blockbusters and it’s definitely worth seeing on the big screen, if only to catch all of the rapid-fire DFX. It’s fun to see a lot of expensive postproduction imaginatively utilized in a Chinese-language film and I’m all for expanding the boundaries of cinematic expression, so I’ll go see the next two movies in the trilogy. Especially if they make it to the U.S. in 3-D IMAX.

Tai Chi 0 opens October 19, 2012. Go here for showtimes.

October 22, 2012 at 6:08 am Leave a comment

Quickie fangirl post: teaser trailer for new Francis Ng 吳鎮宇wuxia movie Tracing Shadow 追影

First stills for Chasing Shadow!

Francis Ng & deadly chopsticks, Tracing Shadow 追影, 2009

Just wanted to fire off a fast post about the appearance of a new, very brief teaser trailer (see below) for the upcoming Francis Ng wuxia pic Chasing Shadows. Looks like the movie will be full of the old-school 1990s style wire-fu & special effects that I cut my teeth on back in the day.

The very first Hong Kong movie that I saw long ago at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco was A Chinese Ghost Story, with its amazing action choreography by the great Ching Siu-Tung. His trademark style includes lots of beautiful night photography, swirling fog, gravity-defying synchronized stunt performers, flowing robes, and flying people bounding over rooftops and through forests. He’s the action director for classics including Swordsman 2, New Dragon Inn, and House of Flying Daggers, among many more.

Chasing Shadows, in which Francis Ng not only stars but codirects, with Marco Mak, looks like a throwback to those glorious movies. According to news sources,

“As a form of tribute to past wuxia films, not only does the film contain various well-worn wuxia elements, but it also has the protagonist, his nemesis, and the four exponents named directly, onomatopoeically, metaphorically, in part or combination after the famed wuxia directors: Chang Cheh, Li Han Hsiang, Tsui Hark, Chor Yuen, Sammo Hung, Liu Chia Liang, Tong Gai and King Hu, possibly with some of them doing cameos.”

The movie also stars Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee Chan and Pace Wu. Ching Siu-Tung’s protege, Ma Yuk Sing, is the action choreographer for Chasing Shadows and Ching’s influence is pretty clear in the trailer.

First stills for Chasing Shadow!

The lady in red, Tracing Shadow 追影, 2009

Needless to say, my anticipation meter is off the charts with this one.

UPDATE: According to Twitch, as of late March the film’s title has been altered to “Tracing Shadow 追影,” which I’m not sure I like more than the original. “Chasing” seems a bit more active and dynamic than “tracing,” but I’m not the marketing expert so who am I to say? Looking forward to it at any rate & hoping it rocks.

Here’s the teaser trailer for your viewing pleasure. There’s a very short subliminal of Francis at the very end of the clip fyi.

UPDATE 2: New trailer for Tracing Shadow 追影 below, which lists a July 2009 release date. It’s mostly in Mandarin, except for one cryptic English intertitle that states “kung fu all star,” and seems to be living up to previous reports that the film will be a martial arts comedy. Francis Ng appears briefly about halfway through, getting water thrown in his face, striding across the screen, and later comically twitching his eyebrow. The rest of the trailer heavily features clips of Jaycee Chan, backed by a raucous electric guitar riff, no doubt aiming straight for the lucrative youth market. I’m sure I’m missing lots of other significant information due to my lack of Chinese-language skills–if anyone else wants to fill in the blanks it would be much appreciated.

Director Ng & cast at Tracing Shadow press conference, June 16, 2009

Director Ng & cast at Tracing Shadow 追影 press conference, June 16, 2009

There’s also a lot of information in the Chinese press this week about the launching of the film’s website but the translation I got through google translate gives me a headache so I can offer little insight. But here’s a picture from the press conference. Francis has his hair in the little topknot he seems to have adopted for his role in Laughing Gor, which he’s shooting at the moment.

UPDATE 3: English translation about the press conference here, plus another view of Francis’ topknot.

Happy Francis Ng with topknot, Tracing Shadow press conference, June 2009

Happy Francis with topknot, Tracing Shadow 追影 press conference, June 2009

UPDATE 4: Go here for The Making Of Tracing Shadow 追影. Caveat: it’s on youku.com, the Chinese streaming site, which sometimes loads awfully slow, and the video is all in Mandarin. But it’s got nice behind-the-scenes footage of the movie shoot, with interviews with all of the stars including Francis, Jaycee Chan, and Pace Wu. With the movie being released in just a couple weeks the hype is becoming deafening. Huayi Brothers are obviously banking on this to be a big summer hit and every other day there are more movie stills, interviews, and other fluff about the movie all over the Chinese press. It will be interesting to see the actual box office once the movie’s out.

Tracing Shadow movie poster, July 2009

Tracing Shadow 追影 movie poster, July 2009

UPDATE 5: Here’s the latest Tracing Shadow 追影 poster, and here’s the official website. Navigation is in English, though the movie clips, synopsis and other info are in Chinese. The gallery has tons of stills that showcase the movie’s fancy costumes and art direction, featuring lots of animal furs, elaborate upswept hairdos, and saturated blacks and reds.

twitchfilm.net also has the first English-language review of the film and it’s pretty favorable.

And here’s the cool little music video from the movie—it takes several scenes from the film and incorporates them into a comic-book style layout. The song is Zhui Ying 追影 and the singer is Cong Haonan 丛浩楠.

Francis Ng drowns his sorrows at Laughing Gor: Turning Point premiere

Francis Ng drowns his sorrows at Laughing Gor: Turning Point premiere

UPDATE 6: Alas, despite the massive hype, it looks like Tracing Shadow has tanked at the box office in mainland China. Apparently it went head-to-head with Wong Jing’s latest inane comedy, On His Majesty’s Secret Service, and lost big time–according to NetEase Enterntainment, OHMSS earned over $100 million yuan at the box office, while Tracing Shadow took in a measly $13 million. Not only that, but Wong Jing apparently claimed in an interview that he wasn’t afraid of duking it out with Tracing Shadow because Francis Ng’s earlier directorial efforts (9413; What Is A Good Teacher; and Dancing Lion) also tanked at the box office. Way to rub salt in the wound, dude! It’s especially painful because earlier Francis had predicted that Tracing Shadow would easily take in at least $100 million. No wonder Francis Ng looked so tweaky at the Laughing Gor: Turning Point premiere. He had probably just heard the bad news about ticket sales for Tracing Shadow.

The film opened today (Sept. 2) in Hong Kong to much less fanfare. Wonder if HK audiences will give their homeboy some support or if the movie will die a slow death in the Special Administrative Region as well.

UPDATE 7: Tracing Shadow just hit the torrent streams so that probably spells an end to any theatrical box office. Some commentators on twitter were less than charitable about the film.

tracing shadow is a very indiscriminate mess

tracing shadow is a lousy movie. i’m sad that I spent more than half an hour to get to this conclusion.

watched the film tracing shadow online, download a waste of time, a waste of computer hard-disk space

You know it’s bad when people who watch the movie for free are dissing it.

But Francis might take some comfort in the fact that On His Majesty’s Secret Service also got reamed by the tweeters:

this is really a rare year of lousy movies—tracing shadow and OHMSS are tied.

Strangely enough, Huayi Brothers might not be too fussed about Tracing Shadows less-than-stellar performance. The film presold to several Asian territories, so chances are that HB got its investment back even before it was released.

January 25, 2009 at 11:02 pm 2 comments


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