Billed as a sequel of sorts to the great Tai Chi Master, Tai Chi II is actually not only narratively unrelated to the illustrious Jet Li/Michelle Yeoh pair-up (also directed by Yuen Woo-Ping), but also spiritually disconnected from it : there’s not much Tai Chi in it. It tells of Jackie, a young Tai Chi disciple (ok, that’s the main Tai Chi connection) who spends his time pissing off his parents (a likeable pairing of Yu Hai and Sibelle Hu in her last film role), a beautiful girl’s (gorgeous Christy Chung) current boyfriend (Mark Cheng), and more dangerously, a gang of opium smugglers led by an angry Gweilo (Darren Shahlavi) who spouts such penetratingly written lines as “Damn you devil Chinaman”. It is notable for being Yuen Woo-Ping last feature film as a director before a 14-year hiatus that ended with 2010’s True Legend. But it is also the feature film debut of Jacky Wu Jing, a national Wushu champion who once seemed destined to be the next Jet Li, but through some bad career management has for now ended up a very reliable and likeable martial arts supporting actor instead (he was recently superb in Benny Chan’s Shaolin).
Tai Chi II doesn’t do much as a showcase for his considerable talents, however. It’s a disjointed half-comedy that spends too much time on its central character’s very moderately funny hijinks, and with rather lacklustre fights (at least by its legendary’s fight choreographer’s very high standards), that never really settle for either graceful realism or inflated wire-fu. The use Jackie makes of his unusually strong braid is actually the only original touch to be gleaned here. The film itself never crosses into awfulness territory : the comedy is never too crass, the fighting always at least adequate, Christy Chung is unparalleled eye-candy, and though Wu Jing would go on to showcase greater charisma in his later roles after maturing a bit, he is already a likeable presence here. In the end though, it was another 5 years before he appeared again on the big screen, in Tsui Hark’s Zu… Talk about not being able to catch a break.