Tai Chi II

Tai Chi II (1996)
Tai Seng Video Marketing
Cast: Jacky Wu, Christy Chung
Extras: Trailers, Biographies

After a series of excellent domestic releases and tastefully selected titles, Tai Seng have now released Yuen Woo Ping’s "Tai Chi II" on DVD. This director, with films like "Wing Chun" or "Drunken Master" to his credit, is probably best known for his staging of lightning-fast fight sequences and acrobatic action spectacles. "Tai Chi II" is one of his lesser-known films, but is a jewel nevertheless and a breathtaking film for every martial arts and Hong Kong film lover. "Tai Chi II" tells the story of the young Tai Chi scholar Hawk-man (Jacky Wu). His father,

Yang, used to be the Tai Chi Master before his retirement and is now dedicating all of his time to educate his son in the traditional ways of Tai Chi. While growing up, the young boy watches his father’s skills admiringly, and trains hard to become a master in the art of Tai Chi himself. On the side, unbeknownst to his father, he is reading and practicing other Kung Fu techniques, which are not part of the traditional Tai Chi. Hawk-man grows more and more interested in the world outside his studying confinements and one day he sneaks out with his cousin.

During a celebration he sees Yueng Wan (Christy Chung) and is caught in the midst of a rowdy street brawl. When, as part of the ceremony, two small children are supposed to be sacrificed to the gods and thrown into the sea, he jumps in to save their lives. He uses the skills taught to him by his father and his self-education, immediately earning Yueng Wan’s attention and winning her heart. Unfortunately, she has been promised to a high-ranking official as part of an arranged marriage, and her fiancé doesn’t like to see the two mingling. Yueng Wan and some of her friends just returned to China from their studies abroad, and as they return for their vacations, they see the corruption rife throughout their beloved home country. They immediately form an underground league fighting those politics, publicly pillorying government officials and Hawk-man becomes a part of it so that he can be closer to Yueng. Nurtured and supported by his mother, he manages to sneak out and see Yueng more often, and quickly their bonds grow. At the same time, Hawk-man uncovers a huge British opium smuggling ring, so huge that even Yueng’s straight and honest fiancée is peripherally part of it. A vicious war erupts, with Hawk-man on one side and city officials and gangsters on the other. Only Hawk-man’s Tai Chi can now save his life and the lives of his friends.

Tai Chi is a much less aggressive branch of Kung Fu than many others. It consists more relaxed movements and defensive techniques, as opposed to other, more offensive Kung Fu teachings. As a direct result, "Tai Chi II" exhibits a different look and feel in its action sequences than the films of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan for example. These staggering sequences are nevertheless extremely well staged and executed at lightning-fast speed with spectacular stunts and amazing acrobatics. Surrounded by intricate and colorful sets, these action sequences are memorable and work especially well within the film’s context.

Aside from the action content, director Yue Woo Ping created an enchanting tale of love and heroism in "Tai Chi", throwing plenty of comic elements into the mix. Through his somewhat naïve innocence, Hawk-man is the perfect target for both the revolutionary league and the corrupt gangsters. Jackie Wu creates an entertaining character with his portrayal of Hawk-man, sympathetic from the start and strong despite his naiveté. The romantic love story that builds the backbone for this film integrates well with the action plot, and Christy Chung’s headstrong character meshes perfectly with Hawk-man’s innocence, creating a couple that could be no further from Chinese traditions. The story introduces young rebels who were educated abroad, and who inevitably collide with traditional Chinese etiquette. This element creates a stark contrast to the flamboyant Chinese culture and costumes, and gives the story the momentum it needs to propel itself towards the final showdown.

Tai Seng has released "Tai Chi II" in a very clean version on this DVD. The transfer is excellent, although the film itself shows some signs of grain. The image quality is also superb with strong, rich colors that bring out the best of the film’s fantastic cinematography and production design. The image contains plenty of detail in every environment; even the nighttime scenes and the heavily tinged shots contain a superb, clearly defined level of detail. Color reproduction is very faithful, too, with faithfully rendered fleshtones and deep, solid blacks.

"Tai Chi II" contains a light-hearted musical score that nicely blends traditional Chinese elements with more modern leanings. It is a soundtrack that matches the film’s overall atmosphere and greatly enhances the movie’s style. Like most of Tai Seng’s domestic releases, this disc contains English, Cantonese and Mandarin soundtracks, all of them in monaural <$DD,Dolby Digital>. The disc also comes with yellow English subtitles, which are selectable from the well-designed interactive menu. When starting the disc it defaults to the Cantonese language track with activated English subtitles, the setup most Hong Kong film aficionados certainly prefer.

This film is another great entry in Tai Seng’s domestic release line-up. It is a lighthearted romantic comedy with plenty of great action sequences. It is a pleasure to watch Tai Chi executed so well, although it is spiced up with elements of other Kung Fu schools. If you have ever wondered what those people do in your local park, standing on one leg, slowly rocking from one side to the other, while making slow gestures, you should give "Tai Chi" a closer look, if only to understand what the art is about and what it looks like when executed to perfection. This film is a far cry from the cheesy Hong Kong films you see on TV every once in a while. It is a well produced kung fu action film with charming images and an intriguing story. Check it out!