Probably the first steam-punk kung-fu movie to come out of Hong Kong, the bottom line is, despite the insanity present in terms of visuals, plotting and characterization, I enjoyed it. Yuan, who was a wushu gold medallist when it was a demo sport at the Olympics, makes his film debut as Yang Luchan - he was genuinely the creator of Tai Chi, but that's about where any similarity ends. Here, he is a martial arts wiz, but the birthmark on his head means to save his life, he needs to travel to a remote village and learn their style of kung-fu. Except, they won't teach it to any outsiders, and his pleasing falls on the deaf ears, in particularly those belonging to the daughter (Angelababy) of the master. Meanwhile, a prodigal son (Peng) has returned, trying to drive a railway line through the village. After being repelled, he brings a gargantuan, steam and clockwork powered, rail-laying machine, Yang sees a chance to make a good impression on the locals, by destroying it and saving the town.
At times, this plays like a manic video-game, with captions that don't just introduce the characters, but also the actors playing them, and helpfully, where you might have seen them before. Or, when characters move, control wheels appear on the ground: you have to resist the urge to push the 'B' button on your remote. When things are in motion - and that's most of the time - it's as slick as you'd expect, given the action was directed by Sammo Hung. The problems are more on the dramatic side, especially when some of the characters are trying to act in what's clearly their second language. It makes sense, plotwise, but mostly seems awkward and forced. Not that this goes against the video-game mentality, actually, though I also kept looking for a button here too, so I could skip the cutscenes. Still, it's imaginative, energetic and if the plotting is looser than your bowels after a bad curry, for now, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it'll all be sorted out in the next two parts of the trilogy. Which I am keenly anticipating.