VENICE, Italy – Director Stephen Fung has incorporated comic book-style graphics and heavy metal music into "Tai Chi 0," as he reaches for a younger and perhaps global audience in his new martial arts trilogy.
"We wanted to do something new, something that is not what you usually see in the traditional kung fu movie," Fung said. "We wanted to break barriers. We wanted to test out the market."
"Tai Chi 0," the first installment in the trilogy, made its world premiere out of competition at the Venice Film Festival this week, ahead of its late September release in China, followed by the rest of Asia.
Fung already has the sequel ready for release a month later, and he's hoping strong audience response will guarantee he can make the third.
The big budget Chinese production brings together the Victorian age steam energy with high octane fight scenes.
The film is set during the dawn of industrialization, but the filmmakers readily mix in high-tech modern touches, including comic book graphics, to introduce chapters and graphic overlays to map the trajectory of the martial arts moves.
In the film, Yang Chi, played by martial arts champion Yuan Xiaochao, is born with a rare gift for marital arts, and his mother on her deathbed urges him to pursue his potential. Yang's journey takes him to a remote village that is famed for its particularly powerful form of tai chi — but only natives are allowed to learn it.
As Yang continues to run up against village resistance, a local man returns from abroad with a steam-powered locomotive — a fantastic iron monster operated from its cavernous inside as a sort-of submarine on rails.
Tony Leung Ka Fai, 54, known for his roles in auteur films such as "The Lover," plays the village tai chi master whose job it is to defend the town from the modern intruder while protecting its martial arts tradition.
"For 30 years, no director has discovered my skill in wushu (China's martial arts form). Now as I go into retirement, I had this opportunity to do a wushu film," he said.