Early last year, Huayi Brothers Media Corp. announced plans for a trilogy of films based on the life of Yang style tai chi founder Yang Luchan. Jet Li was attached to the project, and Stephen Fung (HOUSE OF FURY) was on board as director. Although it’s now unclear if Li is still involved (IMDb lists him as a producer), the first film is currently in post-production and has been picked up for US release by Well Go USA. The action choreography is handled by Sammo Hung, which bodes well, and it looks like the film will be hyped as a visual extravaganza a la DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (2010), another Huayi project. The most unexpected element, considering that Yang Luchan was a revered 19th century martial artist with a fairly well documented life, is that part one of the trilogy is being promoted as a steampunk fantasy.
TAI CHI 0, also called TAI CHI ZERO, will be followed by TAI CHI HERO and TAI CHI SUMMIT. There’s not much information out there about the cast, but here’s the synopsis, from the Huayi website:
As an uncommonly gifted child, Yang Luchan had a fleshy abnormality that holds tremendous power growing on his forehead. However being teased as the town fool, Yang’s mother spurs him to practice martial arts, and following her wishes, Yang travels the distance to come to Chen Village to learn TAI CHI. At this legendary village, everyone practices TAI CHI and uses TAI CHI in every aspect of their lives. Nevertheless, it is forbidden for a villager to disclose TAICHI to an outsider, and Yang learned this the hard way. Upon arriving at the village, locals discourage Yang by challenging him with fights. From the strong men to hold ladies to children, everyone defeats Yang with their TAICHI moves. After facing the toughest battle and being defeated by Master Chen’s beautiful daughter Yuniang, Yang is determined to master the art of TAICHI and he needs to find Master Chen. Little does Yang know, the poor strange man who he befriended with is in fact Master Chen who then saved him from the duel with Yuniang. Master Chen realizes Yang’s genius and disguises himself to secretly guide Yang to his self realization of TAICHI. One day, a frightening steam-powered machine came to the village, lead by Fang Zijing, a childhood friend of Yuniang. He has bribed government officials to permit him to build a railway that will run straight through the village. Yang decided to join forces with Yuniang to defeat Fang Zijing and destroy the machine. This brave act may just win the hearts of the villagers….
The story of Yang Luchan has been told before, most notably in the 1997 TV series choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping and starring Wu Jing as Yang (it was later edited down to feature length and released as TAI CHI MASTER by Tai Seng). The forehead abnormality thingie is new to me, and it inescapably brings to mind the young hero of THE LAST AIRBENDER (2010). According to an online diary by martial arts actor Keoni Everington, eight foreign fighters were cast as the tank crew. I wasn’t too impressed with the way the fight scenes were shot and edited in DECTECTIVE DEE, but HOUSE OF FURY was good fun, and we can only hope that Stephen Fung will let Sammo’s choreography shine in this project.
Keanu Reeves and Yuen Woo-ping on the set of MAN OF TAI CHI.
TAI CHI 0 is not the only tai chi-themed film in production right now. Keanu Reeves is shooting MAN OF TAI CHI with Tiger Chen and Karen Mok in Beijing right now, with choreography courtesy of Yuen Woo-ping, and rumors continue to circulate that Stephen Chow is prepping a remake of WAY OF THE DRAGON (1972) to be titled TAI CHI.
Jet Li • Sammo Hung • Stephen Fung • Yuen Woo-ping