I had such a blast with Tai Chi Zero, that I was really looking forward to the follow up for more of the zany presentation style adopted by Stephen Fung, to tell a Zero to Hero story of a martial arts protagonist. The first film had protagonist Yang Lu Chan (Jayden Yuan) finally being accepted into the Chen clan through a proxy marriage to Yu Niang (Angelababy), daughter of village chief Master Chen (Tony Leung Kar Fai), since he had assisted in the defeat of their common nemesis Fang Zijing (Eddie Peng), and saved Yu Niang's life, earning admiration and general gratefulness from the villagers.
But Tai Chi Hero didn't quite live up to expectations on many fronts, and became somewhat of a pale shadow that the first film had set up. Sure, the elements are there in Yang Lu Chan's ascension to become a martial arts great, having the fortune to understudy both his wife and father-in-law's renowned kung fu, learning both the physical aspects as well as the philosophy behind the techniques. But it seemed that Stephen Fung had probably gone all out with the first installment, that the second one ran out of steam and suffered from a total burn out. I felt if this had been a trilogy then it wouldn't have to rely on an ending that was obviously so rushed that it ended at the drop of a hat, with story arcs miraculously closed with plenty of convenience poured in.
The fights, as choreographed by Sammo Hung, weren't as many nor as varied as the earlier film, given that Lu Chan is now battling using Tai Chi, and most of the mass battle sequences turned out to be a real blur, which is something of a cheat sheet escape from racking one's brains to come up with something innovative to wow an audience. One on one fights also became an impatient montage eager to get things over with, so the build up to the finale where Lu Chan has to battle against a few masters to get to the boss, became totally short-changed. Probably the only battle worth one's time and money here, is the test of skills between Lu Chan and a Bagua Zhang master (Yuen Biao) atop a series of kitchen panels reminiscence of the tabletop fight in Ip Man 2.
Perhaps the focus here was really more on the relationship between father and son, in Master Chen's estranged relationship with his prodigal oldest child Zai Yang (Feng Shaofeng), who made a quick cameo appearance toward the end of Tai Chi Zero as some martial arts expert. As it turns out, Zai Yang was more of a character than Lu Chan was in this installment, playing up on his martial arts prowess and his engineering smarts that allowed for more of the fantastical steampunk elements, gadgets and vehicles to grace the screen once again. Zai Yang and his wife seem to be on a mission to usurp leadership of the village for some dastardly reason, and much of the film's more emotional portions come from this father-son relationship, rather than from Lu Chan-Yu Niang as newlyweds trying to make sense of their marriage of convenience.
Villain wise, Eddie Peng returns to snarl a lot more on screen as Zijing, this time relying on the backing of the British East India Company's backing for him to assume a minor governor's role so that he has access to cannons and troops to lead the annihilation of the Chen village. But isn't this something we've already seen, and repeating it just isn't quite worthwhile, especially the unceremonious manner in dealing with this character. There's no clear cut, strong villain that's in Tai Chi Hero, which in turn makes Lu Chan's ascension quite hollow.
So I guess the sum of both films put together, only unfortunately averages it out, which is a pity, given the very light hearted fashion the narrative got presented, and the many fun elements and comedy being peppered around. It could have been a lot more should the story here be more focused, just as how Lu Chan is consistently reminded to be when dealing with formidable exponents, and balanced its more philosophical, dramatic moments with its action sequences.