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Special effects overwhelm action in martial arts sequel

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Wire work and outrageous (read: silly) plots have been a staple of Hong Kong, Chinese and Taiwanese martial arts films for decades, but when was the last time you saw a fight or a stunt you believed was actually happening? The often-injured Jackie Chan used to include outtakes of stunts gone wrong; if there had been outtakes of the new big-budget Chinese action comedy "Tai Chi Hero," it would have been that of a special effects technician pounding his fist on his console after entering some bad code, perhaps knocking over a Red Bull in the process.

‘TAI CHI HERO’
Not rated
**
Opens today at Pearlridge West 16

That’s about the threat level you’ll feel as a viewer as director Stephen Fung sends bullets, blades and cannon fodder made of zeroes and ones hurtling toward our heroes, who need only jump about three stories in the air to avoid certain death.

Set in the 19th century, it is a sequel to "Tai Chi Zero" (currently on Netflix streaming), a film I actually liked because of its odd melding of martial arts fantasy and steampunk anime. The sequel again stars Tony Leung Ka Fai as a small village’s resident martial arts wise man, Yuan Xiaochao as the young but daft phenom and Angelababy as his love interest and martial arts equal.

Again the villain (Eddie Peng) wants to level the town with the backing of the East India Co. (represented by Peter Stormare), but he doesn’t have a cool mechanical device this time, just a faceless army of hundreds.

This was a big box-office hit in China, and the production quality — sets, costumes, actors, etc. — is top notch. There is undeniably an entertainment value to it, albeit an empty one.

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